We can learn a thing or two about slut-shaming from Tiwa Savage and Seyi Shay

There is power in language we often fail to recognise because of how easily language seems to come to us. “Words have meaning” is a common phrase you hear when someone throws the generally accepted meaning of a word to use it as they deem fit, perhaps within a context that is specific to them or not. What you don’t hear is that this phrase conveys the message that meanings is given shape and legitimacy by our collective unspoken agreement.

Take the word ‘Ashewo’ for instance.

For generations, Nigerian women have been insulted with it in a larger tapestry of slut-shaming that is almost integral to the workings of patriarchal societies around the globe.

Slut-shaming is the practice of criticizing people, especially women and girls, who are perceived to violate expectations of behavior and appearance regarding issues related to sexuality.

Thanks to the thankless work of feminists and women’s rights allies raising awareness on the inherent dangers of language and social attitudes that discriminate against women and girls, that word is slowly being reclaimed and drained of its derogatory power.

“You be ashewo. I be ashewo. Everybody, ashewo,” an interviewee declared in a now-viral vox pop.

It isn’t just the vox pop, however.

Ahead of the historic Market March that many women testify changed the way male traders interact with women who either pass through the market or go there to purchase items, many women shared harrowing stories about harassment and slut-shaming.

It works this way.

You get groped, cat-called, and followed around. If you resist this traumatising treatment you get slurs hurled at you for resisting.

You no even fine like that.”

See as you dress like ashewo.”

This classic good ‘ol slut-shaming has been a part and parcel of Nigeria’s culture and far from being the preserve of the uneducated, it is everywhere.

It is in our institutions of higher learning where universities, rather than teach consent and respecting the bodily autonomy of women, force women to dress modestly to ‘avoid being harassed.’ There is a defence for this that says dress-code policies target both genders, but even a cursory glance at the pictures conveying what these dress-codes expect of you will show the unbiased how women are the target of these things.

It is in our mosques and churches that preach modesty to girls and tell boys to be wary of wayward women and girls.

It is in the chambers of governance across the country where women are excluded from opportunities to prevent them from ‘distracting/seducing’ men.

These ideas reinforced over time culminate in what we see in markets and street corners where men and boys guffaw at the slut-shaming of women to ‘put them in their place.’

Not anymore

The recent back and forth between singers Seyi Shay and Tiwa Savage, besides being entertainment fodder for Nigeria’s long-suffering oppressed youth, could teach us something.

Back in 2019 when the whole beef started with Seyi Shay and Victoria Kimani released their covers of Kizz Daniel’s hit song, ‘Fuck You’, where they both dissed Tiwa Savage, the landscape of the conversation on slut-shaming was not so liberal.

Seyi Shay had sang in the cover, “You know I’m not Savage, I pay my bills.” A classic broke-shaming diss.

Victoria Kimani, in her part, had sang; “Grandma African bad gyal, turning 45 and still claiming bad girl. You can block me from a show but you can’t block my blessings. We all know you selling pu*ssy and it’s so depressing,” a sly use of Tiwa’s moniker African Bad Gyal in full-blown slut-shaming diatribe.

Tiwa, in a heated exchange is heard in a now-viral video saying, “Your ‘nyansh’ is the dirtiest in this industry. You f*cking hoe, slut!”

The conversation on Nigeria’s VPN-facilitated Twitter is both about the needlessness of the slut-shaming and Tiwa’s right to dish back what she was dished. It is also about how ineffectual ‘ashewo’ has become as an insult since as recent a time as 2019.

You can’t insult one of us with a term if you can’t insult any of us because we have reclaimed the term of your insult, the conversation landscape say.

We are all ashewo. Next.

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