I get really uncomfortable when people ask me if I am a feminist. I find it a very difficult question to answer, and it seems like a very heavy burden to carry. ARE YOU A FEMINIST??? it’s almost like an accusation. For me though, it’s kind of like asking if a fish likes water. Or if humans enjoy oxygen. As opposed to what? Growing up, my life was dominated by larger than life women who had clawed their way to the top. Women with absolutely zero chills and a sometimes terrifying streak of hardness and ‘take no prisoners’ mentality that is not associated with the so called fairer sex. The kind of confident, brash, angry and often confusing women who can brutally bring someone down, and in the next moment, weep in anguish over their wayward children or disappointing husbands. When we talk about feminism, a lot comes up. I cringe when I hear women distancing themselves from the F word and saying stuff like they believe in equality and fairness and a happy, peaceful society. I don’t blame them though, because I also find that it is much easier to engage people in meaningful discussions if you are not brandishing your feminism like a mega saber that will slay any idiot that dares cross your path.
1. We don’t really know what feminism is: A quick google search comes up with the following definitions: ‘Feminism is a multi-disciplinary approach to sex and gender equality understood through social theories and political activism. Historically, feminism has evolved from the critical examination of inequality between the sexes to a more nuanced focus on the social and performative constructions of gender and sexuality.’ And more succinctly, ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men’ Or, according to that great philosopher Pat Robinson, ‘Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians’ I think that the first definition was sanitized to be more inclusive: a product of changing times, if you may, given that inequality and mistreatment of women is no longer as blatant as it was before, and now takes on more subtle forms that are harder to point out. Let’s get comfortable with that: the idea that we have the right to ask for more, that we have the right to voice our discomfort and the idea that we deserve better. And that is okay. We don’t have to apologize for this, and neither do we need to water it down to make others feel comfortable.
2. We think that feminism is a zero sum game: Every time gender relations are brought up, you will undoubtedly hear what I consider the most tired argument ever. ‘WHAT ABOUT THE BOY CHILD????’ Indeed, what about him? You would think that feminism is about running around in villages and castrating little boys so that their sisters can go to school. It is true that boys in society, not only in Kenya but in the world, seem to be struggling to fit into the new world order. I don’t think its because more women are literate, or are working shitty jobs for lesser pay. Maybe it’s because boys lack proper role models, and all they see around them is men shrinking from their responsibilities and caving when things get hard. I don’t know, but based on the growing number of church programs that try and get men together to talk things out, clearly there is a problem and it needs a solution. But blaming feminists smells of scapegoating: feminism, since it’s very beginning, has always had a very clear message: enough with treating women as second class citizens. That’s it, not, bring down men to our level, but rather we insist that you see us as equals.
3. We don’t fully appreciate just how much women’s rights movements have improved our lives: It is difficult to imagine that up until the 70s, many western countries did not allow women to vote. Why? Because women, periods, lolz! The only reason women are allowed to work today is because of World War 1: since all the men were away fighting, it suddenly dawned on society that women could, and this was quite the novel idea, actually do mens’ work and do it well. Today, in 2015, we still have this massive undercurrent that guides society: basically that women should know their place, be happy that they can get jobs (even though they are still paid less and struggle to rise beyond a certain level), be careful not to provoke men into raping them, maintain their purity but also transform into vixens for their husbands overnight: a world where any great woman’s achievements can instantly be wiped out because someone said she is a slut, or that she got divorced, or that she had an affair and therefore is not a moral, upstanding woman is therefore clearly a failure. The menz get a free pass though. We live in a world where it is still okay to ignore women who say they were sexually assaulted, and go further by blaming them for what happened to them. It is still a dangerous world for women, and none of us are safe.
4. We are not always aware of just how hard it can be for women: Those ball breaking amazons I was talking about, they were not born that way. Quite often, they simply had no other choice than fight. Years after my father died, I asked my mother how she kept it all together, and in fact launched an even more awesome phase of our lives. She told me, ‘I did not have the luxury of falling apart. You people looked at me like I was your whole world and I could not disappoint you.’ I find it absolutely hilarious that people expect female politicians to be better than men just because periodz, looolz. But if you think about it, how the hell did they get into power in the first place? Was it by hugging children and being good wives? Hell no. You can be sure it was just as dirty and conniving as their male counterparts. All the while, of course, waiting for the accusations about their whorishness to start flying. My insides twist when I hear statements like ‘great queens…women in Africa were respected…strong woman’. Oh God, please no. Please. This is just as patronizing as insisting that women know their place. It creates this romantic image of women that is absolutely not true. Women don’t want to be idolized. They just want a fair chance.
5. We don’t want to admit that feminism, by its very nature, has to upset people: Did any country ever gain independence by declaring that they just want to be happy and live in an equal society? No, they fought, and they were lucky that current affairs, i.e. financial ruin from World War II came together to allow for independence. Did black Americans get the right to go to proper schools by writing polite letters? No. They had the ever loving shit beaten out of them until finally, at least on paper, got the right to be equal citizens. Then the racism just morphed into another beast. The thing is, fighting against anything changes you. It makes you harder, sometimes paranoid, and sometimes it makes you closer into the very thing that you are fighting against. That is why these strange labels start floating around. Like femi-nazi, man hater, militant feminist. Please. Let’s not kid ourselves. No-one in power will voluntarily surrender something that seems to hurt their interests. And we know that. That is why we will keep shouting ourselves hoarse until we get what we want. It’s a long, long struggle, and each victory, no matter how small, takes a lot of noise. But the trenches were dug long ago. We are not going anywhere, mostly because there is nowhere else to go.
So, am I a feminist? Labels are a waste of time. They distract us from the real issues that we need to deal with. I will say this again: more time having healthy discussions, less time throwing mud at people based on half baked ideas and misinformation.