"Voice babe of the week"

Hey Babe! What’s gender equality?

I just found one of the previous issues of the newspaper THE VOICE which is comparable to any popular paper like The Sun or BILD-Zeitung. As in those newspapers – at least in the german BILD-Zeitung – there’s a column called something like the “Girl of the week”. In THE VOICE it is called “the week’s voice babe”.

This makes me thinking about the very popular thing to call women “babe”.

I know that this is something like a pet name. I guess it is used a lot in the USA, even for men.
I know it is used a lot in Botswana.
And I know that it’s hardly used in Germany.
Basically, I assume that babe is said to the girlfriend.
In Botswana, this seems to be extented to either girls who are in the interest of a guy or to any girl at all.
It happened to me that guys call me babe, like I have explained in one of my previous entries. People I know but also strangers on the street called me babe or ngwanuza (which is the setswana translation, as far as I know).
I don’t like it.
I freak out if strange guys call me babe.
And I also don’t get along when male friends call me like that.
First, I don’t see the sense in it.
Second, I don’t like how a woman is portrayed when she is called babe.
In my view, a babe is a nice little doll or in the case of the “voice babe” a “hot chick”. In other words: a woman reduced to a sexual object. Beyond that a babe is a little creature who has to be taken care about.
I know that those women in THE VOICE do it because they want to do it. But has anyone considered what is behind that babe-label?
Gender equality is a big issuse, also in Botswana.
Eish…Hey Babe! What’s gender equality?

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Being in touch!

This is going to be kind of a funny story not just because it’s about boobs but also it’s about my own participant observation! I am posting this story because it fits perfect to the previous post about different cultural perceptions…and can there be a blog about sexuality without a story about boobs? Then I have to say, that there must be a story about dicks at some point, too. Gender equality..ee! Hahaha! Science should be funny from time to time. But now, let’s go!

Once, I was in a supermarket with a friend (a man*). I carried a bag and the belt went diagonal from my shoulder to my hips (ok that’s sounds maybe weird…). The belt went over my breast and it looked like it put pressure on it (hahaa…even more weird, but it won’t get worse! :-)). And this friend just took the belt straight over my breast in his hand, put it away and said:

“Doesn’t it hurt you?”

In this few seconds that action happened I was looking down to his hand there and my mind was like:

“What the hell is he doing?”

I was just about to say something about that. I looked into his eyes. I couldn’t recognize any reaction of seeing that as a sexual action or that he was somehow excited about it. He just put the belt away and turned over to the woman at the counter and made his order as it would have been the most normal thing ever!
So, what was that?
I was quite unsure if I should see that as an offense. Though, maybe all the feminists would cry out loud…what can I say? Boobs are not so much of a big thing in Botswana. At least that’s what I figuered out through (participant) observation (ok, now it’s getting funny, too!). And once, somebody told me that among the Batswana the breasts of a woman are a less attractive sexual attribute then the thighs of a woman! Is it?
I asked a male interview partner what he think is more attractive: Boobs or thighs? His answer: “Ass!”
As a matter of fact this is a very subjective topic, but the breasts of a women seem really not so much at the heart of interest. I rather her something like: “Yah, breasts are nice, but….”.

But back to my case! The question is: Was that an offense from a feminist perspective? Was it a sign of seeing women as mere sexual objects? That a man can touch the breasts of a woman? Or can such an occasion be explained with cultural differences? And more: can it be accepted as something like that? Or does it have to be an offense in any way?
Well, I can’t speak for other women. In my case two things influenced my reasoning about not seeing it as an offense: The one thing was, I know him. If I wouldn’t have known him I would have freaked out! And the other thing was, that he didn’t grab at my breasts. So the reason for that were not my breasts (yah…it’s really funny to write something like that…), but rather thinking about I could feel uncomfortable. If the men who read that start laughing: Well, do so, but men have to care here. Not just about breasts…

I will try to put this in a broader picture because this post is not supposed to be about (my) breasts. Maybe “this touching” goes all back to that, that in Botswana, it’s much more common to virtually be in touch with each other: After I greet somebody it is kind of normal that this person holds my hand a little longer, or people stand sometimes very close next to me which I would consider as too close, or somebody may put her hand on my shoulder while we are talking.
To have that sensual touch seems therefore very important in this culture. After the outbreak of Ebola in Westafrica there was an article in a newspaper which complained that the Ministry of Health tried to halt this close physical contact between the Batswana. The article says that this would tackle the heart of the culture, too much.
So, while I would go mad about too much touching, Batswana people don’t even think about it. And probably if this friend would read this post, he would think: “Why is she writing about this? This is nothing worth talking about.”

I could start thinking about if this says something about the understanding of community? If this maybe says something about the perception of belonging? And the other way: Does this say something about individuality? And what does it say about the importance of the body? What is the body? I understand, that this has to be continued at some other point. For now, to end this: I don’t want to say that holding hands is equal to touching breasts. Obviously, it’s not the same. But for me, it explains to a certain extent why touching each others body is perceived as normal. Plus, if breasts are a less important sexual attribute, it is for me a great example of the different cultural meaning – even of the perception of different body parts!

*Actually, it looks like I would have a LOT of male friends. But in reality they’re just a few. I just want to keep their anonymity that’s why it sounds like they would be many….Am I justifying here myself? Looks like, isn’t it? This is all because of me as a woman doing research about sex.

Behind the looking glass of culture

“You are stubborn!” I heard this sentence during the last weeks from two of my male friends. I was like: “Stubborn?! Me? I am not!”, knowing by saying that it could be interpreted right away as a sign of stubbornness.
As the first friend of mine said it to me I just thought to myself: “Ok, maybe he has a certain type of personality and that’s the reason why he is saying that.” But as this other friend said that I might could be considered as stubborn in Batswana culture it made me think about it more. So the message I got from him was that, traditionally spoken, a Mosadi (a Motswana woman) would never behave like that. Stubbornness is a bad habit which women shouldn’t have. Why not?
So I asked this first friend why he says I am stubborn. And he said to me that I am not able to take orders.
Yah….why would I? Should I?
He didn’t tell me to do specific things for him. This topic came up in a discussion about being a Motswana. He said to me:

“A Mosadi is to be expected not to ask when her boyfriend comes home late at night. So, if he said he comes at nine but comes at ten she should not ask where he was.”

This is a very traditional view, but I guess it still exists in some people’s minds. In fact, this kind of behaviour has been told – and is still told – to the bride on her wedding day. For that, older women go together with the bride in a separate room and tell her about her duties as a good mosadi. Besides cooking for the husband, doing his laundry and preparing the bathwater, not asking too much questions belong to that good qualities of a mosadi. That’s what other people told me. And this is a traditional view, of course. But they told me that this kind of ritual is still practiced but nobody would give much about the content. It’s more like a remains of some important cultural value.

So, I asked this friend why a woman should not ask when the boyfriend comes home late, and this is where the stubornness talk about me started.
Actually, I felt like I had to defend women in general. But he said, that this is not a case of oppressing women. I would scream: What else? But cultures are different, aren’t they? And this means at least try to understand where the difference is coming from and that maybe it’s just too easy to scream out lout: of course, it’s a way of opressing women!
So, I tried to shift away from my own point of view which was not easy because when it comes to gender inequality it gets to the core of my own identity. But I tried thinking about other situations which are comparable. I found some of them in my memory but one is very good to illuminate my thoughts further:
In Botswana, it is quite common to call girls or women “babe”, even if they are not the girlfriend. Even that friend I am acutally talking about called me in the beginning like that. I told him that in my culture it’s not common to call a girl, which is not the girlfriend, like that. And personally, I feel very indifferent of being called “babe”. It feels like I am subordinated to men, being something like a “little one” who has to be taken care about. On the other side it has something flattering…however: with all the men I talked about this topic I had discussions about why it is a problem to call a nice girl “babe”. Everyone was just surprised where there could be a problem! They would say: It’s normal!
And this is the link to the stubbornness-topic: for them it is normal. But what is normal? Normal is what is in general accepted, but though it hasn’t to be right. Normal is not universal, but cultural. We easily forget that in everyday life.
For my examples that means that it is normal for men not being asked by their women: “Where do you come from late at night?” And for women it is normal to be called “babe”.
There’s no problem as long as nobody complains. And for me it is important to emphasize that men are not just perpetrators. If there are no women to tell the men that they might feel accused of being stubborn or feeling offended being called “babe” who could blame only the men? If the women don’t tell their guys what they’re up to, those women play their role in the game as well. And I am convinced that women in Botswana can tell to a great deal if they like something or not. It’s rather a problem of not being used to it, or maybe don’t even recognize something as problematic. What’s wrong in being called “babe”? Maybe the ladies go crazy about that? And maybe the girls also don’t scrutinize if their guys come home late? Who knows?
Does that automatically mean that it’s a case of oppression even if there’s no perception about it?
But if there’s somebody who complains all of a sudden, then people are forced to look upon their own perception of that cultural meanings (by the way: this opens the space for change in that particular perception…).
This is valid for both directions, so not only I say: “Listen guys, call any girl a ‘babe’ is disrespectful”, but also listen to what they say. So they would say: “I call a girl a babe when I think she’s beautiful”. So from their point of view it’s an act of honouring.
Now: Who is right and who is wrong?
I think it has to begin and end with respect.
I explained this friend about my indifferent feeling being called “babe” by him. So he just stopped calling me like that. So easy. That’s how I felt honoured.
But concerning our conversation about me being stubborn, I have to say that we didn’t get along with that. Actually, we almost had a fight about it. And it is an ongoing topic in our discussions: He keep’s on saying that I am stubborn and that it drives him crazy and I am saying that I am not, but that I just have my own clear opinion.
Culture works!

“Is there another boyfriend inside? I will kill you!”

Again, I found myself with the police in my backyard…
The ex-boyfriend of my neighbour girl came back last night.
Almost everyone of us, were fast asleep, so I felt like somebody dumped a bucket of cold water onto me when I was woken up. I was like: “What? Where? Who?”
I tried to sort out my thoughts and think about what to do. First thing, of course: Calling the police! I called them, while I was standing behind the curtain and there I saw this guy with a big brick in his hand, shouting something I didn’t understand and smashing the brick again and again against the door until the lock was damaged and the door opened. I thought my neighbour girl was not at home because I didn’t see a light the whole evening, but when the door went open I saw her with her baby on the arm crying. And this guy just throws the brick at her……fortunately it just hit the fridge. I was screeming to my boyfriend: Get out to her! He is attacking her! The same moment somebody was saying something in my ear: the police on the phone. I totally forgot about that. I tried to explain what’s going on there. The policeman was just like: “Ok, Give me your number, someboday will call you back!” And I thought: “What the hell? Somebeody is calling me back? Somebody has to get to this place!”
Of course, nobody called back.
In the meantime our teenage neighbour boy ran out as well. In that moment the ex-boyfriend ran away, but throwed another brick at this boy so that he got hurt on the hip. After that, everyone of us got in the house and for a moment we were just sitting there. Thinking about if this happened for real, again?! We called our neighbour which came immediately. He called the police and they said that they can’t come right now because they are short on vehicles. What??? They said, they have just one vehicle for the night! No, no, no…is this a police station or a charade? Eventually they came. Five police officers. They were more interested in that case than the last time, but I thought they were standing there for ever while they should go and hunt this guy. Interestingly, after a few minutes came another car – a pick up – with two other policemen. They wore a different dress. They took a look at a picture of this guy and went off. Later, we found out that this was the armed combat unit – the hunting guys!
For safety reason the police took our neighbour girl and her baby to the police station to give her shelter during the night.

This was the night and now it’s the morning.
It’s just one sentence who’s in my mind. It’s the sentence this guy shouted at his ex-girlfriend: “Is there another boyfriend inside? I will kill you!” So, again I think about gender! Of course, the majority of men don’t act in this violent way, but this guy did and I am sure this is not the only one.
Unfortunately, Botswana is also famous for the so called “passion killings” were jealous boyfriends kill the lovers of their girlfriend or/and the girlfriend and then commit suicide. Sure, to catch the girlfriend with another guy is bad, really, really bad. But is this a reason to kill them and commit suicide? Certainly, not! The problem of that whole scenario starts way before!
For example, there was this case in Mochudi were a guy killed his girlfriend. He removed her heart and put it on top of her chest. After that the guy commited suicide. Since then this place is called “Ko pelong”. The place where the heart is.

What is it that people get furious like that? Why can’t they deal with their feelings?
And in our case: Why does this guy care? He already made another girl pregnant. If our neighbour girl should have another boyfriend now, wouldn’t it be her right? They broke up!
When is a relationship over? Only, when the guy says so? Or is there never really an end, while people want to keep up the possiblitiy in coming back? And is this maybe part of the reason why one could speak about sexual NETWORKS, because they can be activated at any time?

I don’t want to be a lekgowa, but damn: I am!

Earlier on that blog I wrote about being a white woman in Botswana. For quite a while I didn’t think about it, but the last days I was confronted with that topic again. This time it was much about less being a white woman, but just about being a white person – a lekgowa.This is how Batswana call a white person in setswana.
Of course, I cannot change the colour of my skin and I neither want to. And of course, too, it’s just normal to arouse interest. People ask themselves what is that lekgowa doing here in Mochudi. She lives here. She drives just a small car. She does not have a maid. Her kid is going to a local nursery school. What’s up with her?
Normally, white people don’t live in Mochudi (expect of a little hand full of volunteers who work in different non-governmental organizations). White people (makgowa) live in the high end parts of Gabs like Phakalane. With fancy houses. And big cars. Even myself recognized that if there’s a big car the chance is big that a white person drives it. I don’t like that kind of lifestyle. But this kind of “white people’s lifestyle” leads to that specific impression of a lekgowa. And I have to get along with it.

I had some various experiences around being a lekgowa with my friend Tumelo.
I met him again at the University. When we got some lunch for ourselves the young guys behind the counter started talking to my friend, looking once in a while at me. When we sat down around a table to eat our lunch he told me, that they asked him: “So, you are with a white girl?!” And how that goes along. He tried to explain to them that it’s not a fancy thing a all and that I am a person like everyone else. Tumelo said that they don’t really believe that. There is this “superior-inferior complex” in some people’s mind.
This goes down to relationships, sex and love again:
Girls want to be fancy (fancy clothes, fancy jewelery, fancy gadgets, etc.) because they think white people are like that. And who can blame that. There are a lot of makgowa who are like that. But not all are like that. Everyone should consider that.
Tumelo asked me if girls in Germany are fancy (e.g. materialistic), too. Of course, there are, but not everyone. One thing I love about Germany is that variety in lifestyles is key. So I told him that and said: “Look at me am I fancy? Certainly not!”
Concerning that “superior-inferior complex” I recognized for example that a lot of – I mean really a lot of – girls and women wear perukes. Once I recognized, it’s like perukes are all over the place. And of course, this perukes are all with straight hair.
Tumelo laughed when I said that, but he agreed that this goes along with admiring makgowa.

If there's any single Motswana girl out there who 
reads this post and wears a peruke: "Please,
tell me why? I would love to have curly hair, 
but damn I haven't!"

When I talked to a female interview partner she confirmed that, especially, in Botswana girls wants to have light and flawless skin. This is the ultimate sign of beauty!
And guys go after white women because it comes with a kind of prestige and status. Tumelo told me that if he would introduce me to his guys no one would really speak to me because they wouldn’t know about what to talk with a white girl.

White people are considered as special. This is something a lekgowa has to live it, though I try to introduce another perspective. My family and I were invited to a graduation party from a young women who just had made her Bachelor Degree at University of Botswana. To some extent we were invited because we are white. I recognized that when we were told to sit under the white tend right next to the elder Motswana men and we were served with food amongst the first people. I really felt honoured about that because I believe that it’s not just showing the community that this woman who graduated knows makgowa but also that this hospitality comes from the heart. I tried to honour this hospitality in that way to answer in setswana as best as I could (which is reall not much for now :-)) and show my respect for being provided with delicious food and also some traditional beer by talking to the old ladies who cooked since the early morning and brew the beer over the course of five days. Later, when the party went on, we exchanged our place under the tent with the space behind the house, were the real party was going on. This was, where the young people hang out and all of a sudden my family and I were in the spotlight of everyone. I felt like a celebrity because the girls and some guys came with their cellphones to take pictures. And they said “Lekgowa, lekgowa. We like you!” After the first euphoria was over I tried to intervene. Everytime someone called me lekgowa, I said:”Stop it I’m not!”. “But you are a white!”. I said: “Yes, I am, but I am far away from that image of a lekgowa!” They looked at me, like: “What the hell is she talking about?”.
So…I don’t want to be a lekgowa. But damn: I am!

A little afterword: I know that this is a very sensitive topic due to colonial past, so this is not meant to blame the people here! I just wanted to show my own personal experiences.

“Show me how much you love me: give me P500!”

Last week, I met Tumelo, a friend of mine, at the University of Botswana (UB) to chat a bit. We had a general conversation about materiality and love as we were sitting in one of the cafeterias.
He said to me that it’s not unsual that girls just say to their boyfriends or guys they go out with “Show me how much you love me: give me P500”, which are roughly 40€.
I knew already that providing girls with material things plays a significant part within a relationship, but I didn’t know the whole extent of it.
Eish…if I may allowed to give an emotional statement about that: this is quite shocking how materialistic relationships are.
It also makes me think about if the concept of romantic or passionate love is really a “western phenomenon” as some literature in the past pictured it?
On the other side it is maybe just a cultural expression of love. It reminds me of a paper I read long ago. Teenage girls from Uganda have been asked why they ask for money and other goods and if they do it because of their own weak financial situation. 51 percent said that they also want to have money even if they had enough of it. They said, that it’s not just about a poor economic background but also that it represents a value: „nothing is free”, „he would not take me seriously if I just gave in” or „I can never have enough money” (Nyanzi et al. 2001: 88). I got a similar impression when I was in Botswana for the first time in 2009. Different persons I talked to told me that those young girls would name their partners after the function he fulfills. So there might be a minister of transport who drives the girl around or the minister of finance who provides the girl with money.
Of course, one has to ask for the question if this happens because of a poor economical background and I, personally, don’t want to say, that girls don’t have a need, but it was quite interesting that different interview partner told me that it’s not just about this weak financial situation but more about lazyness. Very often I heard that “women and girls are lazy”. I am not sure if I would call it lazyness. I tend to say that it is a certain attitude. For example, I asked Tumelo what it means to him to be a Motswana. And he responded that – besides a lot of other things – it means to provide goods for his girlfriend and that he does it with joy. He rather buys his girlfriend airtime, sweets, treats, earrings or whatever instead of buying himself things. So from that point of view the title of this post looses his shocking materialistic connotation…a little bit…because it looks like that it is indeed a way of showing love.
Men are clear about that they are expected to provide a girl if they want to have a relationship – and sex. This is at least valid for a certain type of girls which we called fancy girls within our conversation. On the other side, I heard very often the statement that allmost all girls are materialistic. So it’s maybe not only for that fancy girls, but instead the foundation of a relationship.
My friend explained it to me like that:

Tumelo: If I want to have sex with a fancy girl I have to make sure that I can afford her. I can have maybe sex with her one time without spending too much money, but if I want to have sex again I need money because this type of girl can demand out of nothing P400 for a new hairstyle or somehting else.

I asked him if there’s something like true love:

Tumelo: True love does not exist because there’s always materialistic thinking involved. If you say to a girl that you love her with all of your heart she will ask you what else you can offer her. What does that tell about love?

I asked him directly if it is a open secret that girls want to be provided with goods and services and guys want to have sex in return…and that both sexes are aware of that kind of deal. He agreed that it’s easy like that.
This shows clearly that there’s a correlation between love, sex and goods. I got the feeling that it’s almost unimaginable to uncouple it. Like I wrote in the previous post love looks like a game between men and women. Everyone is aware of that. Most people complain about that game. But everyone plays the game very well.
Literature mentioned in this post:
Nyanzi, S.; Pool, Robert; Kinsman, J. (2001):The negotiation of sexual relationships among school pupils in South-western Uganda. In: AIDS Care 13 (1). S. 83–98.

A lesson about lorato

Lorato (love) plays an important part in those networks I am conducting research about. Ever since I came back to Botswana I was thinking about this thing called lorato. And the more I think about it due to my research and my experiences here I think it is key to understand those networks.

I am using the Setswana word because for now, I am not sure if lorato is the same as love, though people use love as the right translation for it.
I started conversations about love because everyone talks about it. It’s like a rumour around the streets. Lorato is everywhere.
But what does it mean if someone talks about go rata (being in love with someone)?

I thought too much of love as that strong feeling of attachment to one person, but something has to be different here. I got confused about it, but a conversation I had with one of my male interview partners cleared things up:

Karin: It seems like love is everywhere and people talk easily about being in love with somebody. What does it mean if men talking about being in love with a girl?
Kegs: It just means that they want to have sex or had sex with that girl.

But, of course it is never that easy. To reduce the feelings of men to a mere physical desire would be a shame. I haven’t found out yet, why men have to talk about love if they want to have sex. I could see three reasons:
1.    It is just the way how love is understood
2.    It is because women want to hear to be special and therefore are more likely to agree in having sex.
3.    It refers to the saying: “making love”, but as far as I know there’s no Setswana word which can be translated in that sense. Having sex means: go tlhakanela dikobo (literally meaning: sharing the blankets).

A friend of mine disagreed with the explanation that love is equal to sex:

Anthony: No, this person lied to you. It’s not like that.
Karin: Ok. What does it mean if you say Ke a go rata to a lady?
Anothny: I approach her. It means that I am atttracted by her.
Karin: With which aim?
Anothny: To go out with her.
Karin: Is there another word in Setswana which you can use to explain stronger feelings you have for her except of go rata?
Anothny: What do you mean?
Karin: Let me give you an example. In Germany, if a guy would say to me “Ich liebe Dich” the time we just had met I would rather run away because it is impossible to talk about that strong feelings in my culture from the very beginning. To say “I love you” to a person means wanting to have a commited relationship*.
Anothny: So, what would I say if I want to date you and show you that I am attracted by you, for example if I would have invited you for a cup of coffee. What would I say?
Karin: You would say that you like me.
Anothny: For how long?
Karin: There’s no certain time, but maybe a few weeks or even months?
Anothny: Weeks???
Karin: Yes
Anothny: That’s too long.

* Of course, if I think about the meaning of love there would be other possibilites, too. Some people talk about love from the very first moment. My statement about commited relationship does not mean that I judge speaking about love at first sight. There’s always the possibility that there happen things someone cannot explain…

I tried to figure out for what it’s been too long. I couldn’t.
I also asked Anothny again if there’s another word in Setswana to describe a strong attachment to a person. He said that there’s not a word. And I asked him how then a next step towards a commited relationship could look like if there are no words to describe it. The answer was that the ultimate goal is a “lifelong contract” e.g. marriage as a sign for commitment.

This question of love triggers my mind. I asked some girls about what they feel and think if a guy says Ke a go rata to them. They say it means that this guy wants to get closer to them and wants to be with them.

Is lorato the catalyser which pushs relationships forward? In the sense Anothny talks about it, it is an intial step to establish a relationship and even those girls see it as an expression of (sexual) interest.
If I look at the german culture I would rather say love is what follows. The initial step is beeing attracted to each other, but this is something different then love.

Though Anothny declined that Ke a go rata also means to want to have sex with somebody I think there’s a connection between that.
Another friend of me said it so:

Thabo: Love nd sex differ but they go hand in hand
Karin: They do. The problem is people talk of love but think of desire. This is where the problem starts. Love is wanted but sex is what happens…
Thabo: Love is wanted not on desire but sex is what is desired
Karin: I think people talk 2 easily of love…they call it at least love but mean desire.
Thabo: True dat…but its only deceiving 2 fuck or bein fuckd in the name of love.
Karin: Why does it have to be in the name of love? Is sth wrong with sex? I don’t get it. I’d rather want to be fucked in the name of desire…If I can talk openly!
Thabo: Yah, better dat way instead of bein deceivd

Yahhhh, this love thing…Sometimes I think that guys and girls play a game around this. Lucky are those who can get along with this game, but I met a lot of persons who cannot…