I decide to get down from the car and walk to the gate of the pizza restaurant. I am brusquely detained by the exterior gate by security guards.
“Stop there. What are you looking for here?” the short guard sneered, contorting his face and scrutinising me up and down.
“Is this M pizza restaurant?” I ask, puzzled.
Perhaps I have the wrong address. Security guards in restaurants do not usually ask customers the purpose of their visit. I would be at a pizza parlor to get some pizza…
“We don’t allow Free Girls here.”
A car honks behind me. A car with a portly middle aged woman and a young man is waved in. More cars of men drive in and his plastic smile sets once more as he looks at me.
“Free Girls? Pardon me?”
I am confused.
“Girls that come here for business. Free Girls.” he says stonily.
I am horrified. I have just been ‘Whorified’: that is to say sexualized and excluded based on my gender and youth.
By ‘Free Girls’ he meant unaccompanied young women who must of course be prostitutes. Never mind that I am fully covered up in a shirt, jeans and a head scarf this blustery harmattan evening. It matters not that I am not a ‘girl’, but a thirty year old woman. Or that I have two degrees from Cambridge University and a professional writer and a musician. By virtue of my youth, gender, and the fact that I was not accompanied by a man, his logical conclusion was that I was a prostitute.
I cannot blame the guard alone for his ignorance. After all, the contemporary media is partly responsible. Young women are the overwhelming majority of sexualized images in the media, fashion, music and porn industries. Yet where are the celebrated young African women inventors, business and national leaders of history in the media? Nowhere. According to the mainstream media, the non-sexualized autonomously successful young African woman does not exist.
Yet positive countless powerful Young African women role models exist. How about the likes of the Nobel Prize Winner Leyma Gbowe, broadcaster Funmi Iyanda, Conservative politician, Kemi Adegoke, singer Nneka, filmmaker Kemi Adetiba, writer Chimamanda Adichie, publisher Anita Ibru, musician Simphiwe Dana, designer Lanre Da-Silva Ajayi, writer Helen Oyeyemi and the countless other examples of empowered young African women in all sectors?
Yet, the media’s silencing and blackout of this demographic only repeats history. The historical position for the young, black female was also as a passive object. She was a sex object -to be lusted after by the male gaze. She was a chattel everywhere, mere property– to be sold into slavery (between Europeans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade), or to be sold into marriage (with a literal bride price exchanged between her African father and an African husband).
Historically, a combination of racism, sexism, and ageism perpetrated by an old, white, patriarchy meant that for centuries, the young black woman was silenced and objectified. The old, white male was the symbol of economic and social power, and the young black female was utterly devoid of it.
Little has changed: a young woman in contemporary Africa still has no autonomous authority or voice except with the ‘validating ownership’ and often physical presence of her father or husband. In Africa, young unmarried or unaccompanied women are perceived as – prostitutes, ‘damaged goods’, mistresses, sexually unscrupulous.
The restaurant incident is an example of Africa’s Gender-Apartheid. Like a black person under a race based apartheid, young women in Africa cannot go unaccompanied to hotels, bars, restaurants, or even walk down the street alone past dusk. Gender Apartheid goes further and deeper: young women in Africa are the only demographic markedly excluded from the corridors of power: the seats of government and the boardrooms of business. Yes, there are some notable powerful older women, largely with powerful husbands. But in Nigeria, not a single young woman under forty is in government or a CEO of a listed company.
This is the Systematic Whorification of The Young African Woman. It is a system that is designed to keep young women objectified, silent and powerless. Its premise is that young African women ought to be excluded from or ‘accompanied’ to literal and figurative places. Lest they are fair game to be raped, viewed as a prostitutes or harangued. In Africa, just by being a young woman, I am ‘asking for it’.
The ‘It’ for which young African women are asking, according to the statistics is : war rapes, female genital mutilation, child marriage, witch hunts, female illiteracy, domestic abuse, sexual objectification in the workplace, sexual discrimination, and high infant mortality. These are the dividends of The Systematic Whorification of the Young African Woman.
I care about this notion that a young woman is primarily a passive, dependent object. And I will stand up and be counted as a full, complete and powerful individual. I care because I am a young African female and my future daughters and their daughters will be young African females also. And we deserve the same basic respect and autonomy as any other group of people on earth.
Young African women are enslaved by the nefarious perceptions, objectification of our bodies, and by the societal refusal of our autonomy. It is up to us young African women to challenge, expose and fight misrepresentation, and the patronization of our worth and our abilities. We have unfortunately internalized these external limitations and must challenge our collective self-esteem.
We can change the world and achieve whatever we dream. We are worth the same as any human being and do not need to be validated by anyone but ourselves. We must value ourselves and hold ourselves up to high moral and economic standards. Instead of tolerating a society of Whorification, we need to create an equal African society of Glorification based on hard earned merit for all.
We cannot afford to dumb ourselves down, covertly ‘play the game’ by accepting second class treatment, or remain absent and silent from the dialogue of societal and economic power. Any group of liberated people that achieved autonomy and true equality in the stakes of social power did so not by playing a game but by rising up and being counted, even though it was uncomfortable.
African men also cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the The Systematic Whorification of the Young African Woman. The African man too must shift his paradigms, attitudes and perceptions and join in this struggle for empowerment and equality. He owes this to his daughters, his sisters, his wife, and his mother who for half of their lives would be young African women. The young African woman is the future mother of all Africans, and her Whorification is the Whorification of the values and self-esteem all Africans by extension.