On May 8th or what is internationally celebrated as Mothers’ Day, an Addis Ababa bar posted a Facebook advert that offended many who came across the post. All including AfricanFeminism (AF) team members were shocked and speculated a compromised account. We reached out to the establishment to understand the ‘why’ behind the post. The exchanges with the establishment’s owner nudged us to be a little bit more curious about the thinking behind the doing. While by no means does AF condone the contents of the post, we also believe in cultivating a culture of dialogue even on ideas that we don’t quite agree with or get. Therefore, in initiating a constructive exchange, we discovered some interesting points that are worthy of further exploration and conversation in our communities as it relates to motherhood, female sexuality, sexual objectification, night culture in Ethiopia, etc.
While the responses/views in the interview do not necessarily reflect that of the AF team and writers, we also believe that feminism is about engaging in constructive conversations for change and stirring dialogue to understand underlying mindsets, even when those conversations can be difficult. Therefore, we ask you, our readers to engage in deconstructing some of the ideas and points raised herein in a constructive approach.
AF: A few days ago you posted a Mothers’ Day update on the Jolly Facebook page that has created a lot of controversy. What was the thinking behind the post?
Bobby: I posted what I thought was a funny update on our Jolly Facebook page, which honestly was a stab at a light, hearted and humorous mother’s day joke with sexual innuendo. But it turns out that some people didn’t get it, and in fact, many were offended and found it extremely distasteful. In a society where through Internet access content is easily available and the type of content that is at its highest R and X rated form, we believe that what we said wasn’t all that crazy to our demographic audience. Filtering content isn’t our job, it’s our parents or from the sound of this, our children’s because they have moms that shouldn’t think about sex. We all love women in this city, but men in this country see them differently once they become mothers. They’re taken too seriously. No more jokes, no more sexual attraction, nothing. “Ye’lojochay enat” is the common phrase. Maybe it’s time to take sexuality to a different level for mothers. Mothers are sexy and wiser and they can also have fun. They need to believe that as well.
I get our culture and African culture as a whole is a bit different when it comes to dirty humor, but is the culture and demographic of Jolly really that conservative and different from the West? Jolly is known to push the boundaries in marketing and getting our word out there. I mean look at some of the commercials out there, numerous beer agencies, the Axe deodorant campaign, and many others. So I ask you, was I really that off for making a witty comment on mother’s day in regards to a bar that we run. Or is Mother’s Day a holy day in which some of us didn’t get the memo? Or do women change after becoming moms? Are we supposed to approach moms differently than a younger woman with no children? Should we not be attracted to moms anymore or flirt with moms the same way we would a younger woman?
AF: Well a lot of commercials do lean towards sexism by positioning women in compromising roles, especially as it relates to their sexuality. Women are often portrayed as sexual objects centered on men’s pleasure. What do you make of that? And what is the responsibility of media agencies and establishments such as yours in not perpetuating such depictions of women in our society?
Bobby: Look, honestly speaking ad agencies will continue to do what grabs people’s attention the most. We’ve heard it said a million times before…sex sells. I think its how nature built us. To gravitate toward the opposite sex. Look at what our post did…it’s the reality, be it may a positive or negative thing. Men are highly sexualized too except we never pay attention to that sector. And yes some agencies do push the boundaries revolving around human sexuality when it comes to a product with adult content, and that’s what we were doing to begin with. Bottom line, just because some men focus on female sexuality it doesn’t mean those men are sexist. Humans focus on relationships all the time; men tend to lean toward sexuality and women toward emotions. And it’s perfectly fine. It’s how we were programmed in this world. But the question is why did the comment make such Facebook headlines? Or was there something deeper…something far darker related to female sexuality?
AF: You said men tend to lean toward sexuality and women towards emotions. Is this always the case though? In your view, is socialization not a factor in how men and women think about sexuality and emotions?
Bobby: In my personal opinion I believe it is the case most of the time. I do believe the male species are more aggressive toward sexual advances. It’s in the genetic makeup. Science and all the studies point that way. However, I do also believe heterosexual men are taught to be aggressive about sex and that somehow their manhood equates to how many women they slept with. It’s like the more girls you’ve had in bed, the more you’ve conquered in the alpha male points department. On the flip side, women are more nurturing by nature but again I also believe women are taught to control their urges for sexual desire. Women are taught, almost beaten into their heads that sexual desire must come from the man alone and she must just follow the lead. Never should a woman sexually lead or exude sexual prowess. This could make the male very uncomfortable and even lose his ability to perform thus making him angry; in addition, the male will assume she is promiscuous and disobedient to his needs by voicing her own needs. This learned behavior becomes quickly embraced by both sexes, and over years of manipulation, becomes the norm. Of course this is mainly the case in countries still developing vs more open minded cultures. Take Norway for instance where women are more dominant in almost all aspects of a relationship.
AF: Sexuality is a very taboo and little understood topic in our society. Even more so, female sexuality is considered almost absent with the focus primarily on male needs, desires and ability or inability for control. You mentioned that the controversy made you question if there is something darker about female sexuality. What do you mean by that?
Bobby: Let’s be honest, after Mother’s Day celebrations are over, Moms might be yearning for romantic love as well as affection from their children. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of taking care of a child, but mothers need romantic relationships, too. After all, just because you have a child doesn’t mean you no longer want to feel sexy or desired. And it sure doesn’t mean that men should stop talking to you about “sex”. Unless of course, it’s imposed upon the woman not to feel that way, and she somehow believes it. In a culture that suppresses female sexuality and allows it only to float in shrouded yet open secrecy, it’s no wonder that some statements cause uproar. As I stated before, it may even anger them and lead to serious repercussions.
We all love our moms, and this was never ever an attack on moms despite what many wanted to make it out to be. If anything maybe this uproar comes from a fascination with moms. Perhaps it is because dating moms or older women is still taboo in most cultures. Most people in our culture want the man to marry a younger woman for the purpose of giving birth and pleasuring the man. And perhaps dating an older woman or a mom might just be for her own selfish reasons and so it’s not something to bring up. Why would anyone want to date a mom or joke with a mom? She already has children and now she shouldn’t want or need anything else but to quietly and submissively raise her kids. The reality is most men do enjoy the company of women that are moms. Personally I think wisdom, maturity and confidence that comes with being a mom is something a lot of men find very attractive, including myself.
Look, this topic has always been a touchy subject for many people over thousands of years. And Ethiopia is no exception. It’s almost threatening to bring it up. People have been taught to stay away from this forbidden topic. And women have come to accept this notion because of men. Perhaps there are those that fear one may unleash Pandora’s Box.
AF: What makes it particularly different in Ethiopia?
Bobby: In Ethiopia, specifically, it’s a bit complicated. I have come to see and observe most Ethiopian mothers are incredibly loving toward their children. It’s true and it’s amazing. But I may be a bit biased because I had an amazing Ethiopian mother. Amazing doesn’t quite cut it but you get the point. I say this with almost full certainty compared to other cultures I have observed. Majority of Ethiopian moms are way into their children. Sometimes it is unhealthy because they forget to live for themselves, but as a son or daughter, I guess you can’t complain. Why would you? Unless maybe you’re strolling down the beach or having dinner or whatever and you ask your mom if she was ever really happy and she has tears in eyes and says she never really had a romantic life…maybe then you’ll stop and ask what else she missed out on.
We get it; every mom is a saint for her sons and daughters. And that’s how the guy upstairs intended it to be (nature at its finest). But moms still have a life and need to enjoy themselves. Is it okay to have fun with a younger woman and flirt and bring up dirty jokes with a younger 21-year-old girl but not a 45-year-old mom? Well I say moms do enjoy the occasional witty sexual conversation they once heard in their younger years now and then so why don’t we stop being selfish and let her have some fun if that’s what she wants. And if not, then this is not a topic we’re forcing upon her or you or anyone else.
We grew up holding such reverence to moms especially in this country that anything else (i.e their sexuality or desire for romantic happiness) felt extremely unnatural perhaps even uncomfortable. We could never imagine our moms thinking of something so un-motherly (because after all motherhood is all about the children not the mother…how dare she). Leave those desires to the men because, well, it’s nature after all. And so it remains a topic never to be explored until the very end when it doesn’t really matter anymore. But let’s be honest, do you really wonder about her happiness besides having you and your siblings? Do you ever stop and think she was no different, once upon a time, than the girl you’re dating now that’s maybe 23 or whatever? You would have no problem bringing up anything sexual with the 23 year old today, would you? So if we revere our moms so much, why don’t we all treat everyday women the same way we would our mothers?
Some men tell me they truly love their wives but don’t feel attracted to her like before after she has given birth to their children. When I ask them why, they tell me she’s an amazing person and an incredible mom…but now that’s she’s the mother of their children it’s not the same to see her in a sexual way, it almost feels wrong. This sentiment was repeated among many younger married male counterparts. So I ask, is it possible that maybe men make women believe their life is over after entering motherhood? There is no shared responsibility and the entire burden falls to the mother along with an illusionary title and a place on an invisible throne called “motherhood” while he’s out there enjoying the fruits of their kingdom.
AF: From your explanation it sounds like you may be celebrating women’s sexuality. But I’m not sure your Jolly Mother’s Day post came off in the way you are describing it now. Rather, it may have set the scene of sexual objectification by centering the focus on the male part and pleasure, and not on a mother’s sexual agency.
Bobby: I hear you and I respect it. Maybe it did seem to focus on male pleasure, but that wasn’t my intention. I rather intended to make the mothers out there smile or giggle like they once did in their younger years. Basically making mothers feel sexy and desired. Sure our culture is so conservative when it comes to moms. It’s like once she has babies, she’s the Virgin Mary and now he can’t touch her so he’s off to a younger woman. But he still loves her because she’s his children’s mother. Maybe women are partially to blame for that by letting themselves go and becoming more serious. And it turns into this vicious cycle. Why do men talk with young girls about sex but not with moms or older women? I wasn’t insinuating we do that toward married moms but we all know there are a lot of single moms that don’t get attention or love. And even a lot of married moms are not happy in their marriages because the sex or passion has died – she is after all a mother now. She’s not part of the “fun club” anymore. Only the young 21 year olds are viewed as fun that is until they become “moms” and then it’s shaky all over again. Welcome to Addis ultra conservative views where all women have their place. God forbid a single mom goes out and parties and enjoys herself!
AF: “Letting themselves go”? Isn’t that too harsh? Especially, when you factor in the role that mothers play in our society, carrying most of the responsibility of rearing children and sustaining the household, in addition to maintaining their professional and social lives. In a society where women are tasked with many roles, responsibilities and expectations, is it her duty then to also play seductress to keep the man in her life committed and interested?
Bobby: I think it goes both ways, honestly. Men and women should play their part to keep each other interested. We still don’t have a definite and resolute answer of what true love is. Unless of course it’s between a mother and a child, I believe. Other than that, when it comes to romantic love, I think that area is still a bit hazy. So maybe part of love is the very first idea or look or wit that attracted you to a person. Men who once were ambitious and funny should not stop being ambitious and funny or else he runs the risk of losing the woman that found those traits attractive in him and ultimately fell in love with him. If he was athletic and fit, he should not turn into a couch potatoe because it’s not what she signed up for. Similarly, if a man enjoyed her beauty and her sexual prowess and her kink, she should not change those attributes especially after becoming a mom. Yes women are amazing when it comes to nurturing but I also believe when motherhood kicks in, Ethiopian women especially devote so much time to their children that they unknowingly show disinterest in their partner. That part takes work. It takes work to make time to be interested but also it takes time to make him interested again. It’s not easy for her or him but it can be done.
AF: You refer to many cases of jokes or sexual comments in comedy culture, in advertising, etc. Jokes centered on women have often carried an underlying bias – that of a specific society’s view about the worth of women and girls. Jokes also perpetuate sexist stereotypes? Where does one draw the line between harmless comedy and reinforcing sexism through jokes?
Bobby: First of all, if I have to be 100% honest, there’s a bit of bias in all of us. Especially us Ethiopians, but for example, if a comedian gets on stage and says women can’t drive, to me that’s just being biased and not sexist. We do need to let some things slide or we get into a perpetual cat and mouse game. As Winston Churchill said, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” I think the overall issue of the African female feminist movement is much broader and its mission is truly global. We must learn to discern between the malicious attacks on female rights and the powerful female voice that is being suffocated in many cultures including our own, to those that are truly just everyday human (male & female) sexual banter. Remember, in some cultures if a woman shows any interest in any sexual activity including looking at a young man, she could pay the ultimate price.
So again, the bottom line is that sex sells, and in my opinion, a lot of advertisers are just trying to grab your attention. I don’t believe it has anything to do with sexism (at least most of the time). But maybe, sometimes… some men, agencies, or whatever may say things or make comments which may be sexist out of anger; however, I highly doubt a reputable brand or comedian would hurt their brand by using hate and anger to attack women. But anything is possible.
But Jolly is definitely not one of those agencies. In fact, we see ourselves as many western media outlets and agencies that have empowered women by making them the alphas. Often times, homes are a mess, offices are in shambles, meetings are disorganized, until all of a sudden the female protagonist shows up and saves the day with a sigh and a smile. We empower the women, and yes, sometimes that will piss off some people…including women that are truly not keen on seeing an educated woman rise to power.
AF: What do you say to those that were deeply offended by your post?
Bobby: Well I truly in my heart know that our Facebook joke had nothing to do with disrespect at all. I respect all mothers beyond words. In fact, I believe that by what we posted we have empowered women on a different level – mothers and older women that society especially in Africa deem unworthy of sexual attention, we have proudly proclaimed that you are still our demographic. If you think about the Jolly Brand, we haven’t done anything differently except focus on mothers instead of younger girls. We’ve made witty sexual comments before and there has never ever been such a backlash towards us. This time it almost felt like a personal attack not just at the establishment but also against me.
AF: How did the whole controversy make you feel?
Bobby: I felt a bit defeated honestly and depressed about the whole thing. It’s gotten out of hand. My mom was everything to me and people came at me as if I even disrespected her. But I must say that I’m also very honored by the people that understood our humor and knew it was not out of malice, or sexism, or chauvinism.
AF: What final thoughts would you like to share, especially as it relates to male-female relationships and dynamics in our society?
Bobby: I think we’re living in a society (here in Addis) between men and women where we truly don’t listen to each other that much anymore. It’s like we each have something to prove, but we ourselves don’t even know what it is we are trying to prove. We look for the negative when the positive is blatantly shining right in front of us. I just want to say that we should open up a little more and seek to understand others first so that we may be understood better ourselves.
AF: Bobby, thank you for your courage in responding to our questions and providing entry points for a broader discussion.
Bobby: Thank you so much AF. Of all the people and organizations out there, I didn’t honestly think AF would sit down and talk to me about my comments in such a positive manner to understand what I meant. I feel humbled and grateful to have had the chance to explain myself to you guys. I do hope some good will come out of it and more positive vibes for better and more constructive change.
While our interviewee shared a perspective somewhat different from ours here at AF, he nevertheless made us curious about the dominant narrative in our city with regards to female sexuality, motherhood, masculinity (wondinet), etc. What do you our readers make of it?