Lanaire Aderemi pens a riveting essay on feminism and her book

“To find yourself, think for yourself,
I learnt to find myself and think for myself,
I learnt that I have no limits, no preset variables to follow, just me.”
—random thoughts documented.

For years, my life has been full of realizations. I have become a Discovery Channel of sorts. I discovered myself by watching my ink caress my paper, as my words danced on paper, attempting to avoid each tear drop. I soon became a frequent witness to my thoughts through poetry.

I have always asked why. I challenge what I’m fed and ensure I develop my own independent assessment of reality before accepting what I have been taught as truth. As Chimamanda Adichie’s character said in her book ‘The Thing Around Your Neck,’ a book I read when I started keeping journals, “to find yourself, think for yourself.” I found myself unsettled and angry about the ill treatment of women, the why-I-am-less-of-a human-because-I-am-a-woman? kind of anger. The why me? lyrics to a song my mind constantly sang. The do I even have agency? dark hues to threads of a fabric I never finished sewing.

Similar to my sudden realization that I was black when I left Nigeria two years ago for school, I realized that I was no more ‘feminist lite’ but a full on feminist. I realized after many years of social conditioning, of subtle insinuations that I was inferior to a man because I bled every month, of endless arguments with people who believed in notions of equality between the two sexes but could not be called a feminist, of women and men who believed cooking was pre-installed in my vagina, that I was a feminist.

I realized after several spoken word performances which addressed how the laws of my land rule women out of completing a seven-thousand-word dissertation which involved remarkable personal discoveries such as Section 55 of Nigeria’ s Penal Code which legalizes corrective beating of a wife or child as long as this does not lead to grievous bodily harm, of the rejection of the Gender Equality Bill on the 15th of March 2016 based on ‘religious’ and ‘cultural’ reasons, of not being able to express my thoughts in words that Nigeria has a penal code that requires corroboration of at least three witnesses before a rapist can be convicted—that I became a feminist. So I learnt to think for myself by myself and in doing so, did my own unlearning and learning.

‘powerful. raised fists. broken chains.
that is my poetry
it is laced with truth
drenched in tears
filled with sweat
soaked in ink
that can make you think
of loving yourself over and over again
of unlearning and learning what you blindly accepted
of understanding and realizing
that you are bold and brave enough to tell your story
so cheers to my creative teacher in year four who taught me to always tell mine.’
—remember me

I started writing on Independence Day. My poem about my love for Nigeria appeared on the school yearbook and I haven’t forgotten my Year Four teacher’s smile. I think it was this smile that encouraged me to continue what I now believe is God’s gift to me. So cheers to my creative writing teacher in Year Four who taught me to ‘always tell mine.’ Before my Ninth birthday, I had written several poems on my love for my country and the importance of diligence and hard work. I made sure I included the rhetorical questions, the proverbs, and the frequent third persons. My poetry became a sort of propaganda. At Eight, after winning the Jumoke Fola Alade Award For Poetry, all I wanted to do was spark minds that could change the world. I had written thirty poems I believed would do just that and submitted it to an Editor who worked with a national newspaper. Then, something happened. Disappointment. Drenched in tears. Thirty poems were misplaced. So, I was an eight-year-old with a dream to spark minds that could change the world but had nothing to show the world. Then I heard my teacher’s words to keep writing, my mum’s words to keep going and my reminder to myself to never stop asking why.

‘My mirrors and journals have two things in common
reflections and reflecting my medium of self-expression
One speaks my thoughts,
The other seeks my works.’
—random thoughts documented

I read a line in the bible about the importance of reflecting and examining my motives. Ever since I wrote those lines in my journal, I have become more aware of how I think and why I think the way I think. Like the introspective tone my narrator, as well as myself, adopt in my book, Of Ivory and Ink,’ I tend to reflect more than I ever did before.

Ten years later. I am the writer of ‘Of Ivory and Ink,’ my resurrection. A book with thirty different poems. My Discovery Channel. I write to tell my truth and I make sure I lace my poetry with that truth.
Ten years later, I am a spoken-word-performer. My poetry is described as powerful. I perform for two main reasons; to make you think of loving yourself over and over again, and to allow my listeners unlearn and learn what they blindly accepted. Ten years later. I am a black woman. I am a Nigerian woman and I am a feminist. So, I shall raise my fists and break the invisible chains.

I believe that art is powerful enough to educate the uneducated and ignorant, which is why I research and read extensively on my truth and the truths of others. Writing and performing is my way of confronting the oppressor. I am angry that 43 percent of girls in Nigeria are married off before their Eighteenth birthday. I am angry that over 20 million girls have had their genitals removed for cultural and religious reasons, and endure terrible pains in adulthood as a result.

‘you have now reached the end of ivory and ink
let your small hands rub the rubber
I mean the paper
of which my first character-lanaire
wrote her poem,
she called hers
have you ever been free?
because women like her are never truly free
might never have any agency
so please ensure you replace the personal pronouns you thought were hers

(the ‘she’s and ‘you’s’ especially)

lanaire, speak up! with passion! with anger!
have you ever been free?
you, yes you!
woman plaiting cornrows for the little girl in the candle lit room
silently wondering why wax melts
you were never taught science were you
no, your fathers and brothers mistook you for a bride
child not bride
seven hundred and twenty days after that painful cut
but you shall rise
you, yes you!
like the smoke from the candle’s flame
woman, you shall rise.’
I am angry that pregnancy discrimination still exists in the workplace and I am angry that the country that colonized mine celebrates women who fought for equal opportunities more than Nigeria has, ‘since Nigerian history has a reputation of conveniently forgetting our women’s names.’

Do you still doubt me?
have you heard of Nana Asma’u, a poet, and fighter for women’s education?
please excuse my mispronunciation
but you’ve heard of her father Usman Danfodio—a teacher and scholar.
and don’t you just know Funmilayo Ransome Kuti as just the first woman to drive a car?
but she was also the leader of the Egba Market Women;
or are you aware of the Aba Women’s Riot of 1929?
don’t you know there was an anti-colonial feminist protest
made of women who fought and resisted patriarchy disguised as a white man?

Although I write about social and political issues such as gender and race, I also write about my personal battles. Solange’s ‘Weary’ epitomizes how confident I have become in my black skin and black body although I still question why there is a social hierarchy based on race, gender, class, and sexuality. On a more personal level, I have stopped being weary of my wide nose or my thick thighs or my tummy folds because I have become comfortable in my own skin. I am also more aware of the power I possess internally.

I think for women and men, especially black women who are fed what I like to call ‘utopian body images,‘ it can be difficult to resist conforming to western beauty standards. Although I am aware that beauty is far more complex than a dark skinned/light skinned dichotomy, I attempt to write about the colorism that is ingrained in the minds of many who believe whiteness or any image close to whiteness is the standard of beauty. Although there are many issues in the world I wish we could solve, as a writer, my responsibility is to lace my poetry with truth and so, writing ‘Of Ivory And Ink’ is, till date, one of the most vulnerable mes (Lanaire Aderemi) you might ever find. I have not only learnt so many lessons from this process, but I have also learnt to accept my own insecurities; one of which was having close up photos which Wami took of me in this shoot.

You must pay attention to the next poem.
It is for men and women who place western beauty standards on a high pedestal
For you, I have two simultaneous equations:
equation 1: whiteness + me + light
equation 2: blackness + me = darkness
Can you imagine? Nigeria has one of the highest bleaching rates in the world.
Can you imagine?
So Lanaire, perform this poem with passion, with anger, with might.

‘I sang my hymn like this
all women bright and beautiful
all women great and small
all women wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all
slim thighs, no thick thighs, and wide noses
arched brows that resembled the curves of girls and their mothers
clear in lace wrappers, but sometimes hidden in their covers
I learnt that beauty can be made of all shapes and sizes
can be light skinned or dark skinned
could have acne or freckles
could have rosy lips or big dark large ones too
which western media once viewed as taboo.’

I ended my spoken word performance like this and joy flowed like a river:

‘powerful. raised fists. broken chains.
that is my poetry
it is laced with truth
drenched in tears
soaked in sweat
filled in ink
that can make you think of loving yourself over and over again
of unlearning and learning what you blindly accepted
of understanding and realizing that you are bold and brave enough to tell your story
so cheers to my creative teacher in year four who taught me to always tell mine.’

Until girls are taught to believe that their role in life is not limited to the home front as housewives, producers and minders of children, girls will continue to see themselves as inferior to boys, as supporters and followers, never leaders. Until we teach our boys and girls to dismantle the social institutions that perpetuate and preserve patriarchy, women will continue to be socialized into a culture of gender inequality. Until we realize that the most powerful agency for change for the modern woman is education, we might never ever progress.

Our art can educate, our literature can educate, our music and film can educate and so can our history, geography, maths, and sciences.

Creative Credits
Text by Lanaire Aderemi
Photography and Creative Direction by Wami Aluko
Makeup by Gisselle

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