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He Called Me Ashawo

Two weeks ago, I was called a bedpreneur, or in popular Nigerian parlance, an Ashawo. On Instagram too, for that matter.

But how did we get there? Summarily, two teenagers, a boy and a girl, were caught exploring each other in ways that were sexual in nature. The adults present, horrified that something like that was happening with teenagers, reportedly proceeded to punish the girl while admonishing her. All the while, the boy, her partner in exploration, was almost excluded from the conversation, almost as if the words of reproach had nothing to do with him.

A man, a witness to this spectacle, became angry and proceeded to give the boy some tongue and hand lashing, on the grounds that he was an equal part stakeholder and should be punished too.

Now, I made a comment on that post. Here is what I said; “I am afraid of the society we are building. This mentality where we expect a child to do better JUST because she’s a girl is dangerous. We keep widening the divide to really really worrying proportions.

Anyone with any kind of comprehension skill will realize that my comment had nothing to do with championing their act and everything to do with the uneven, and unfair playing field, we keep demanding that women play in. This push to be everything less than human, one deeply flawed and deserving of second chances like any other, is why you have young women put themselves in highly dangerous situations to keep up with a facade.

This person responded to my comment by saying; “you’re certainly not afraid if the prostitution that has become the norm amongst you and your fellow girls.” LOL.

I am a prostitute because I think that societal rules must respect all of us in our glorious and messy humaneness. I must be a prostitute because I think it is hypocritical how the society thinks the possession of a vagina somehow must come with more solid moral standing with no room for mistakes or missteps. I must be a prostitute to recognize that this is how it starts, how we plant the seeds in childhood that create a society of men and women who think that a man being adulterous is living up to his true “manly” nature while a mother who needs a few hours to just be by herself is tagged irresponsible.

The audacity of it.

When I shared this title without any additional information, a lady I know and respect shared a story with me; of how she had been outside the mall in Kano, her attention completely focused on her phone while trying to call the friend she was supposed to meet and go home with.

There, a random man kept saying to her in Hausa that he would triple whatever the person she was speaking with intended to pay her so she should leave her phone. Now, the only part of her body she shows are her hands, feet and face, so this was not about dressing a particular way.

What was interesting to me was the way it made her feel. “…and I am telling you, I have never felt so cheap in my life,” she told me. It’s interesting that her instinctive feeling was not disgust or even anger at this stranger who was making wild assumptions, but shame that the assumption was made.

Why was that burden of shame hers to carry? Because we live in a society that has consistently told women they are responsible for the way men view and consequently interact with their body when they show up in the world as themselves.

If a woman rides a nice car, it is because some big man somewhere bought it for her. Far be it from the truth that she worked hard to make her dreams a reality. When she travels to Dubai today and London in another month, of course a sugar daddy has to be the one footing the bill. And if she raises her voice even slightly in a conversation, then you best believe some ‘monied’ man is the one giving her “liver”.

Even the teenage boy who begs by the roadside has quickly learned to hurl this one word like a bullet when you refuse to part with your money. “Ashawo!” he calls you, because Nigeria has somehow made him believe that is the highest form of insult that could be levied on a woman.

Some women are called this name simply because of the way their body is molded, as if they should bear some form of shame for being voluptuous instead of the randy individuals who mentally perform an undressing ritual whenever they see them.

These things, these little things, are the start of a process that leads us to a place where we dehumanize people and reduce them to one thing or the other – their body, their pocket worth.

Don’t be a part of the problem.

I create worlds with words. I think the universe is a canvass, and I want to paint it with the color of my dreams.

10 Comments

  • Qudus Yusuf

    This is fantastic. A reflection of our society, however At the end part, you contextualised the discussion, bringing Nigeria into the scene. However, while this act has become dominant here, I think it is predominantly an African thing, or probably the world in general. Albeit very disgusting and awefull. This is a very good write up. Let the conversation begins, maybe one day our society can be washed up its ills.

    • Jade

      Thank you, Qudus!

      I used Nigeria because I wanted to localize the conversation, you know? Because I am Nigerian and the scenarios I have shared are of experiences living in Nigeria.

  • La_Jits

    You already know you’re my forever favourite! Thank you for writing this article and not giving up on our country and saying that’s the way things are. The irony of the commenter saying women engaging in prostitution is rampant when men are the patrons engaging prostitutes!!!! That they will shame the girl whilst the boy just goes Scott free. The Kano story you told even ended well at least the man didn’t also call her a prostitute for not agreeing to him or insult her further. People like you give me hope that maybe in the next few generations we can begin to have Nigerian children that are socialized a different way.

    • Jade

      You made me smileeee. Thank you, Jite!

      You know; the sheer audacity to shame the supply end while doing nothing about the demand that ensures the supply remains relevant. But isn’t hypocrisy an art form we are particularly good at?

      We won’t be quiet. And it will get better.

  • Hikmat Buruji

    This is a beautiful write up,
    I just discussed about the Girl Child on my program today and a man called in to say that He doesn’t care a girl child because after trying to train them, they end up growing up to be useless (like they turn to “Ashewo” when they get to school) and they are never useful.
    And my question to him was that “Who trained the Male that Fornicate with them????

  • Oyeleke

    This is just a tale of little people.
    Scared people projecting their flaws on others.
    This society you write of comprises of men and women. This sensitization should target all demography.
    Maybe we do have some hope still.
    I hate that you need to write this. I love how it’s written though. Hopefully we can create a future where you’ll only need to write about beautiful encounters.

    • Jade

      I don’t think we’re ever going to create a world where we only have beautiful encounters, but it sure is nice to imagine.

      Thank you for engaging, and I do agree with you that men and women alike are guilty of this. My particular experience involved a man and I wanted to tell the story from that angle.

  • Chidera

    I’m not even sure what to comment. This is a really good piece. I can’t be surprised that the narrator of the kano story felt shame. That’s because that word has been used to shame women a lot.Also some women don’t make it easy for other women, thus the generalisation. I just hope, as someone said, that we can turn deaf ears to this term used to insult women such that we and those throwing out the words know how truly unbothered women are about being called that especially when they are not. Keep writing and using your voice to speak for those who lack the courage, based on all they’ve seen or been through, to do so. Well done, girl.

    • Jade

      Thank you, Chidera.

      For me, mostly it’s not just about us. It’s also about them, those young ones coming after us. It’s nuts how we have had to come to terms with this horrible word brandished as a mark. No, it’s not normal, and it’s disheartening that it happens often enough that we almost think it is.

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