In Africa, there is a misconstruction of the word, ‘feminism’; an empirical misplacement of the meaning, probably because of the intricacies of our society, cultures and some aspects of our religions which are a complete antithesis of what the word means. It is widely acceptable and justifiable for a man to marry more than a wife, if he pleases; the Quran avers this choice and predilection. A man can cheat on his wife and also have his mistresses sleep over in his matrimonial home. But when a woman does same, she is considered promiscuous and irresponsible. It is unworthy of a woman to hold sociopolitical and religious positions because the Bible describes her as a ‘weaker vessel’, an after-thought, a product of man’s expunged rib – rationales that assert these prepositions and supposed stance of the female gender.
Simply put, a feminist is someone who believes that women should have the same rights as men and it riles me into bewilderment the reason(s) why there should be distinctions and discrepancies between these sexes. What rights does a man enjoy as human that a woman cannot enjoy? The society makes these calls and every decision because man is ever dominating in spirit from the distinction in classes to segregation, racial and gender discrimination. Richard Ali, in a passive thought, explains in his book, ‘City of Memories’ that the society sees women ‘to be born with no rights at all, a second-class citizen, a vagina, a vulnerability’; which, in few words, elucidates how women are seen and treated. In the family, it is mandatory for the female child to know how to cook, do the laundry and that of her male siblings, clean the house and do house chores because they prepare her for marriage. What grace excludes the male child from these things? – A penis and macho invulnerableness? Some religious structures seclude women from the ring of committee and leadership because there are verses in the holy books that do not recognize the leadership-position of women in ‘dominance’, as they say.
For a long time now, as old as man and existence, women have been undermined, denigrated and their positions as human of equal rights to start with, have been unrecognized. As stated in the opening paragraph, the African society, by its compositions, sidelines the positions of women. By a very large margin, these compositions have defined and checkmated the roles of women in the society. Our traditional practices and beliefs that deter the female child as equal of her male counterpart include sexual abuse of the female child, marital rape, female genital mutilation, the belief that a woman’s place in the home is the kitchen and a lot more. A woman is not allowed an audience amidst men; she is seen as a sex machine; denied formal education; not to be seen nor heard; to be talked to and not the reverse; be married away without her consent and approval as if she were a property. These were how women were seen and treated even before the emergence of foreign religions – Christianity and Islam. Apparently, most of these mentalities are changing due to awareness, education, enlightenment and the feminist voice.
To understand a people, one has to understand their culture and beliefs. Culture cannot be underestimated nor separated from the society. Whatever a society beliefs in, its norms and forms, structures and religion, must have a tie with the culture of that society. If feminism is a fight for equal rights, how do you convince a society that does not recognize the position and responsibilities of the female gender let alone treat her as human? Feminism in Africa is a struggle to break free from the reins of our cultures and beliefs that enslave women to some primitive enclaves.
Africans by the understanding of our existence are clichéd – religiously, politically and socially. Without the extrinsic stance of religion on the feminine position, African society already was firm on where the responsibilities of a woman lay, her roles in the society and home. Religious beliefs of the feminine position which resonate with the beliefs on ground already are addition of petrol to fire. Therefore, ‘African Feminism’ far exceeds the awareness for women to enjoy equal rights as men. It is a fight and struggle for women to survive as a gender and live as human.
Deliberately or not, most women jump at every opportunity they get to exploit empathic reception, hospitality and generosity from men. They do not help matters to circumvent the prejudicial incapacitation of the female gender. When I think it through all angles most times, I wonder if women can, or wish to be freed from the biased shackles of gender discrimination. It is believed that women should be treated with respect, not because they are human, but that they are ‘fragile’, delicate and are ‘women’. The most annoying part of the self-pity is common among female youths who feel used or cheated from a sexual relationship that goes awry; I bet you knew what you were getting yourself into. A Yoruba proverb says that; if a wall is not sundered, the lizard cannot get in. women are also to be blamed for the discriminating barometer of their sociopolitical and religious positions. Freedom is fought for, not given. It is time they saw themselves as humans and acted as equals.
With the explanations on how the society sees women, how they should be seen as human and what ‘feminism’ means in Africa, some feminists do not get it. Or probably, they take it to the extreme. They support wrong acts perpetuated by women because they believe these women are maltreated solely because of their sex. How should a woman who slaps a man be treated? Surely, feminism does not insure women scot-free purge of anger by slapping the opposite sex. How does a woman in high governmental post who embezzles government funds be handled? How does a woman who steals be judged? These are questions extreme feminists do not take into consideration. When the case of Patricia Etteh and Stella Odua ensued, the extreme feminists were scowling, murmuring and prattling that the masses were hard on these women because of their sex. Are there not men who have been meted with the same persecution from the masses? These silly rationales only give weight to the preposterous ‘scientific’ assertions that the brain of a man is bigger than a woman’s, reason why men are better. This is the half-baked propaganda of the extreme feminists I do not subscribe to.
Who then is an elegant feminist? An elegant feminist has hands and legs. She does not wait for a man to open the door of a car for her. She does not want to be pitied. She does not relish preferential treatment borne of empathy. An elegant feminist does not ‘always’ tarry for a man to make the first move (albeit, this is by choice). She is not always at the receiving end; she sometimes foots the bill when on a date. She works hard to become independent of any man. The kitchen is definitely not her only place in the home. She earns a living and contributes to the upkeep of her matrimonial home. She strives to make a name for herself – to be respected and valued in the society.
Noah Oladele is a student of Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He writes poetry, and sometimes, prose. He enjoys dialectical discourses and philosophical issues.