Last week, I moved all my stuff into storage and left London for Ghana.
Over the next few months, I’ll be playing the sociologist and doing a deep dive into coloniality as a primary site of conflict in the struggle for liberation and self-actualisation.
I lived in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, for some months when I was on my gap year in 2008. My journaling, email mailouts and blogs from that time tell of a young woman excitedly immersing herself into the culture of her heritage, yet experiencing much frustration at the gap between my previous independence in the UK, and the social codes I was expected to adhere to in Ghana.
Since then, I’ve visited in 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2017. Each trip has highlighted a different issue on which to muse regarding the Republic’s social and economic progress (religious dogmas, mental enslavement, under-development, oppression of women et al.).
This year, I’ve been preoccupied by the violent clashes we’ve seen between Ghana’s political and religious elite and the LGBTQIA+ community. For obvious reasons relating to my personal identity, this is deeply distressing. I’ve been following the situation with concern since January, and reckon that our community is being condemned with such the vigour correlates to the type of educational establishments within which Ghana’s professional class, religious leaders and members of parliament were educated.
For me, the pervasive and insidious tools of oppression used to bring about dominance and subordination in Ghana are closely related to the hierarchies of power and privilege in the UK. And since the publication of this Guardian ‘Long Read’ on the prominence of the University of Oxford PPE degree, in February 2017, I’ve spent much time thinking about the obvious similarities between the elite schooling systems in the UK and those here Ghana.
From 1821 until 1957, modern-day Ghana was a British Crown Colony called the Gold Coast. All existing indigenous cultures were invalidated as Imperial rule was decreed – knowledge production and labour markets, along with social codes regarding interpersonal relationships, were now aligned with what was deemed acceptable and correct in Britain at the time. And so, the colonial project saw the British public school system transplanted directly onto Ghanaian soil. This has led to the dominance of Western ideologies which maintains a cultural hegemony that oppresses and marginalises all but the elites.
I’d describe everyone within my Ghanaian and British-Ghanaian network of relatives and friends as bourgeois, since for many generations they (we) have all been educated with the elite schooling systems in both the UK and Ghana. However, myself and my sisters were not. NB. One of these days, I’ll write specifically about how the rejection of social conservatism and patriarchal values stymies upward class mobility by closing off certain avenues of wealth generation that are available to those who don’t (for example, marrying into money), and certain codependencies that develop out of them. But today isn’t that day.
Back to the matter of coloniality…
Despite not coupling up until after they’d both left Ghana for the UK in the 1980s, my parents actually knew each other as self-conscious pre-teens, as in 1967 they found themselves fellow borders at the prestigious co-educational Achimota School. The world in which my sisters and I grew up – attending state schools in a practically all-white town in the north of England – couldn’t have been further away from their adolescent experience. Fascinated by the sound of boarding school in the tropics, we’d ask our parents what it was like.
Before long, I noticed that my Mum’s stories were often marred by emotional upset; cruel teaching methods, worrisome dormitory altercations and frustration at the stifling of her creativity, whereas my Dad’s always seemed to highlight masculine camaraderie, sporting victories and academic successes. By the time I reached adulthood, I saw just how much boarding school culture had impacted other relations and Ghanaian family friends, too. I must say, they’re mostly a pretty repressed bunch who have difficulties expressing their emotions, favouring authoritarian parenting styles.
Moving away to university in the south of the UK threw me into a circle of peers who’d been educated within expensive private/boarding schools – up until that point my existing social circle at home hadn’t featured any. Then after graduation, settling in London meant that fraternising, dating (and, inevitably) sleeping with public school alumni became a matter-of-course.
In my broad and extensive personal experience, partnered sex with people educated within an elite system has been more fraught in terms of navigating all the communicational aspects necessary for mutual pleasure, than with those who haven’t. Basically, I’m trying to create a framework in which we can name, describe and analyse the minutiae of sexual dynamics to not only reduce the risks and harms that often come about through latent power imbalances (both actual and perceived), but to help develop a more effective vocabulary that makes accessing mutual pleasure less difficult. Because I believe that we all have a tremendous capacity for pleasure, but sadly, the weight of conservative social norms and existing sexual scripts have done a good job of preventing us from fully enjoying this innate part of ourselves.
So here’s an example…
During any kind of sexual experience, being vulnerable to the unknown – unknown, in that each encounter is unique – is the antidote to repression and shame. And by that, I mean being receptive to a consensual journey of discovery. I’m calling this the ‘Suggestibility Factor’.
Since many elite schooling systems teach swaggering dominance over sincere equality, it follows that many alumni have never been encouraged to allow the possibility of the unknown into the interaction. And considering that partnered sex is often perceived to be a high stakes situation, at the moment where the ‘Suggestibility Factor’ enters, will shut themselves down, over allowing for a renegotiation of whatever pleasure politics are at play.
And to ground this in IRL situations…
The ‘Suggestibility Factor’ builds through physical intimacy where the dynamic is trustful. So when permission is sought to give a certain kind of pleasure…
[Which might look and sound like:
– Person A moves very close to Person B, while maintaining eye contact.
– Person B’s eyes stay locked with Person A’s.
– Person A raises their hand as if to reach out.
– Person B looks at Person A’s hand, then into their eyes, and then to their own thigh.
– Person A reads this cue as an invitation to snake their hand up the thigh of Person B, and does so, while also saying, “Do you like… this?”
– Before Person A has gotten to the end of the question, Person B takes a sharp intake of breath in response to Person A’s pleasurable touch.
– Once Person B has heard the whole of Person A’s question, Person B, says, “Yes.”]
…or someone has asked for something specific…
[Which might look and sound like:
– Person A makes eye contact with Person B and moves close to them.
– Person B holds eye contact.
– Person A places their fingertips on their own neck, while saying “I love it when you kiss my neck”.
– Person B interprets this as an invitation to place their lips on Person A’s neck.]
…these intentions are granted and found to be physically pleasurable. The next time something similar is offered up for consideration, partners are likely to run with it because of the earlier satisfying experience.
Up until now, I’d been doing all my theorising based on my own wide-ranging experiences. But of course, this means the sexual dynamics I’ve noticed have been shaped by my own worldview, and are, of course, limited.
So, to better understand how we each navigate our unique modes of sexual expression in global cultures that are, for the most part, very sex-negative, I’ve created an anonymous online sexuality survey. All the material gleaned from the survey answers and follow-up interviews will help shape my current thought avenues and cement the central narrative strands of my book.
[Image description: White speech box with black border shadows. Black text ‘As part of my research for my book, I’m running an anonymous online sexuality survey’. Dark orange text ‘bit.ly/ao_sexsurvey’. Black text ‘Anyone over 18 can fill it in, wherever you are in the world.’ Picture of coloured rectangles placed at angles with black border shadows. White text ‘Do you have guilt or shame around desire, sex or pleasure? Why/why not? Do you support compulsory sex and relationships education?’ on top rectangle]
And as for the rest of my work here in Ghana… well, I’ll be visiting several elite boarding schools in the Accra and Cape Coast areas to take a look at what’s being taught, and how the curriculum maps onto Ghana’s current state of neocoloniality.
Authoritarian; adjective – favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom
Bourgeois; adjective – relating to, or characteristic of the social middle class; marked by a concern for material interests and respectability; dominated by commercial and industrial interests
Codependencies; plural noun, derived from ‘codependent’; noun – excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner
Colonialism; noun – the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically
Coloniality; noun – the acknowledgment of the long-standing patterns of power which stem from colonialism
Cultural hegemony – domination or rule maintained through ideological or cultural means; usually achieved through social institutions, which allow those in power to strongly influence the values, norms, ideas, expectations, worldview, and behaviour of the rest of society
Dogma; noun – a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as unquestionably true
Liberation; noun – the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression; release
Neocolonialism; noun – the practice of using capitalism, globalisation and cultural imperialism to influence a developing country in lieu of direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony)
Neocoloniality; noun – the acknowledgment of the control of less-developed countries by developed countries through indirect means
‘pleasure politics’ – amorphous ethical frameworks relating to sexual pleasure
Republic; noun – form of government in which a state is ruled by representatives of the citizen body. Modern republics are founded on the idea that sovereignty rests with the people
Self-actualisation – the concept in the top tier of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’; complete realisation of one’s potential, and the full development of one’s abilities and appreciation for life
‘site of conflict’ – place of hostility (both in the ideological and literal sense)
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