Tuesday, September 20, 2016 5:08 pm
By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
I gave a talk at a forum organized recently to address women’s rights issues in Nigeria. After my presentation, a woman walked up to me to thank me for my presentation which she said she enjoyed, and then said, ‘Listening to you, one would think that you are a Feminist’. I stared at her in confusion. I managed to muster a response after a few seconds, ‘I am aFeminist’ I told her. Now it was her turn to look confused. At that point, I pulled away from her to attend to someone else, grateful that I was spared the need to do a Feminism 101.
Soon after that incident, I was at a seminar for professional women. All the participants present were women across generations, many of whom had done a fine job of carving a niche for themselves in the brutal worlds of business and politics. The Compere for the day was providing some context for the event, and then she said, ‘We are not talking about Feminism, we are talking about women’s rights’. I almost fell off my chair. I looked around tosee if there wereany kindred spirits around. I found one, a sister I have worked with in the feminist movement for years. We shared a look and a slight smile. Feminism 101 required again.
I fully understand why most people are afraid, mystified, misinformed or uninformed about the word Feminism. I am not going to turn this into an academic essay about the global history of Feminism, the various ‘schools’ and ‘waves’, and its place in the firmament of social change ideologies. Remember, it is Feminism 101. What I am going to do is name a couple of myths that people have bandied about over the years about Feminism and Feminists.
1. Feminists hate men: No, they do not. Feminism is a global struggle against all forms of patriarchal oppression. Anyone who believes this is a Feminist. Patriarchy derives its power from the control of all economic, political, social, cultural and religious systems. These systems and structures are controlled by men with some women drafted in to ensure that the systems are sustainable. Feminists hate these systems, not individual men. There are men who also do not agree that women should be oppressed and they too join hands with women in solidarity.
2. Feminists do not marry or cannot stay married. Another lie. Feminists do marry and stay married. They however will not stay married to men who are afraid of powerful, ambitious women, men who are threatened by a woman’s success and a man who needs to establish his manhood through physical and emotional abuse. When Feminists marry, they seek relationships grounded in love, mutual respect and shared values.We want every woman to be respected for the choices she makes. A woman can choose to marry, divorce if she has to, remarry if she wants to, or be single. There should be no judgement for the choices that women make, even if sometimes the choices might be considered poor ones. The operative word here is ‘Choice’.
3. Feminism is alien to Africa: This is a myth based on ignorance of our history and the lives of our female ancestors. In almost every African community, there is a history of resistance to patriarchal power and control. It might have been one woman or a group of women, but we always had women who said No. No to the abuse of women, No to being married off to a brother of her late husband. No to the circumcision of her daughter or her granddaughter. No to the Kings and Nobles who were always preying on the poor and vulnerable. We had women like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo and Gambo Sawaba. These women were not called Feminists,but we know that what they stood for was the desire to see an end to the marginalization of women. And that is what Feminism is about.
4. Feminists are anti-religion: Another popular myth. Feminists are not anti-religion. Feminists are against the distortion of the word of God in all the world’s major religions, which create a universe in which women are perpetual second-class citizens. There are Feminists who are women of faith, and who have insisted on more progressive interpretations of religious doctrines in ways which are spiritually empowering for women.
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BisiAdeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]