I was honoured to be part of a group of African women who gathered in Maputo, Mozambique by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung to forge a pathway on modern day feminism. Today more women are publicly claiming feminism than before, and it was therefore necessary to go back to be able to understand why this ideology is here to stay. I realise that even the definition of feminism has been totally bungled leaving it with numerous negative undertones.
Feminism is the rejection of and struggle against Patriarchy (as a system and set of structures and ideologies that privilege men and allot them various forms of power in all societies) and is also the celebration of freedom for women everywhere.
As Stevi Jackson and Jackie Jones (1998) put it: “Feminist theory seeks to analyse the conditions which shape women’s lives and to explore cultural understandings of what it means to be a woman”. It was initially guided by the political aims of the Women’s Movement – the need to understand women’s subordination and our exclusion from, and marginalisation within, a variety of social arenas.
Many are misled by the notion that feminism means sidelining men or anti-men instead of the real feminist tenets and values like Equity, Choice, Opportunity, Protection by laws, Gender Justice, Inclusion, Non-Discrimination, Human Rights etc. it’s got nothing to do with the laughable argument that feminists are angry women who’ve failed in their personal lives honestly we cant be this inane.
Feminism to me is the fight to attain full humanization of the female person. And I mean literal humanization where you make a woman humane and grant her the right to belong to herself and the right to be enough. Women in societies past and present rarely belong to themselves. Feminists refuse to accept that inequalities between women and men are natural and inevitable and insist that they should be questioned.
Sierra Leonean scholar Filomena Steady defines African Feminism as humanistic feminism, which to me speaks on continuity of humanity but not recognition of humanistic nature of women. This traditional cultural view places women in the centre as custodians of societal order while upholding men as the guardians of women’s custodial rights. This is the genesis of the problematic issues that modern feminism has to deal with.
The use of African culture plus convenient religious texts to supress and condone inequalities of a system that devalues another gender requires re-thinking. African feminism embraces beauty, femininity and a complex power matrix that isn’t antithetical because traditional African feminism embraces and protects more masculinity than femininity and ferociously places the male gender at the peek of everything and ranks the female second.
The African context upholds femininity but not feminism and we must understand the difference. It’s the selective nature in which families raise a girl completely different from a boy that irritates. It’s the use of roles to define what gender should and shouldn’t be that worries me on how a man who cooks and cleans is labelled weak and a female who provides is seen as trying to be a man.
Attributes like intelligence; wisdom, leadership, discernment, defiance and many more that depict exceptionalism are never meant to be possessed by women WHY? Feminism annoys many because it demands for questioning of everything. It points a finger to each of us and highlights our role or lack of it making it uncomfortable. Feminism will demand that we question things that seem so harmless like why pink is viewed, as a feminine color while blue is masculine.
It’ll push us to interrogate why boys play with mind engaging toys whilst girls play with simplistic domesticated toys, why boys are raised to mask and disengage their emotions and girls are taught otherwise, why a man with “softer” phenotypically features are mocked, why women have to embrace and perform masculinity to be taken seriously in certain leadership positions.
Feminism is the discomfort you feel but refuse to talk about objectively because it holds us all culpable actors in enabling an unjust structure. Women are steadily unlearning patriarchy and its deeply uplifting I’d like more men to do the same. Unlearning patriarchy is having the ability to indulge yourself in a mental renaissance and being willing to be cognizant to the ways in which inequalities driven by patriarchy have benefitted men and marginalized women in equal measure.
To comprehend the existence of feminist theory requires that you check your biases, stereotypes and prejudices. Political and economical structures are dominated by the male gender this is modern day inequality supported by patriarchal structure. In Meitingen municipality in Augsburg there’s a wall in the mayor’s office with no women recognized purely because of patriarchy.
In Kenya most of the elected first female governors are a reflection of the farthing integrity of the male counterparts with equally dirty hands. Politics is a man’s game, you must be like them their game their rules. These rules are among the many that society has implored to sustain patriarchy.
Feminists want a society that respects the right of women to flourish without having to explain themselves, a society that doesn’t measure a woman’s worth using her civil status, a society that doesn’t collectively punish women for mistakes of one woman and allows women to fail granting them a chance to start over, a society that’s committed to the safety of women, a society that perceives leadership as a human trait and not a gender trait.
I challenge us during this time of the year to go back and talk candidly with women who raised us and ask them one question, if society was to see you as human-flaws et all-what would that mean, and would you be the same person you are today?
By Okore Scheaffer
Program Manager at Siasa Place