Some of my thoughts and feelings after reading 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important"
As I progress through the stages of my education and become more and more ambitious and driven, a thought of the future always pops into my mind. Obviously, I dream of what my future will look like. I dream of me being at the height of my career. I dream of receiving all the praise and accolades I know I deserve. I dream of a happy marriage and a happy family but I also get worried. I worry, a worry based on what I know and have observed of society, that I may not get married or have a long-lasting relationship. Why? Because I may be perceived as too educated, too ambitious, too driven, earning too much (I really claim this one IJN!!!), too passionate, just too much. Now let me get this straight, my fear is NOT that I won’t get married. My fear is that if I do get married, I will have to reduce myself and change who I am for the sake of a marriage.
"We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller"
For so long I have downplayed myself. I would swiftly downplay any compliments, especially about my academic ability, and often change the topic of conversation. I'm not sure if I was embarrassed or cautious of claiming my intelligence or other positive attributes but what I did know was that society and the media antagonise women who come off as determined or passionate, those who know their strengths and play to them. I know that a recurring topic of conversation is what should a man do if their girlfriend or wife earned more than them or what a man should do if their fiance didn't want to take their surname. The responses would often leave me feeling uneasy as I would never be sure if it meant as successful woman you have to forfeit everything you've worked just to be in a relationship. I've even heard stories of women who sell their properties or give up their dream job or education for the sake of a man, a man who would probably wouldn't even think twice about giving anything up. Why is this the case?
"A man who would be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in"
I don’t like the idea of having to dim my light to just to make sure a man’s light keeps shining. I truly believe that the person I will end up with will accept and understand who I am because really and truly, what would I be doing with someone who is intimidated by me or feels the need to control me. I could never lol. I also don't think that a woman who is successful or well-educated is someone to feel threatened by, surely it's something to admire. If you are threatened or intimidated by a woman who is successful, earns a lot of money and is well-educated that is your own personal problem, just stay far away from me.
"His advice to me ... was that I should never call myself a feminist since feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands"
"Feminism is not our culture"
I am something who is in L O V E with culture. I love it. If I get the chance, I choose my culture as my research focus. 'We Should All Be Feminists' reminds me that sometimes culture and tradition clashes with feminism. Some cultures place men at the head of society and the household. Challenges to this view are often laughed at or not taken seriously (e.g. the quotes above in regards to feminism and the tweet above), but feminism doesn't equal hating men or wanting to do away with culture. It definitely doesn't mean that men can no longer change tyres when in relationships. Recently, I saw a tweet from a Nigerian woman @EniolaHu who, along with her husband, decided to have a traditional Yoruba wedding ceremony without the traditional ideas of submission. This is a perfect example of how you can still stay true to your culture whilst acknowledging that culture and tradition can be entrenched in discrimination against women. I think part of the problem is the idea that feminism is surrounded by the stigma of hating men which makes people feel that taking steps towards equality for women is at the expense of men, evident in the responses to Eniola's tweets, one of which called her a bitch feminist, as if the word feminist is an insult. I find it hard to understand why people do not understand or choose to be complicit in the fact that the current patriarchal systems are resulting in the deaths, abuse and lower quality of life for women. It's not about hate for men, it's about the safety and protection of women. It is often argued that attempts to change these aspects of culture, is an attempt to do away with culture. However, we have seen the world change over centuries. We have seen, for example, the introduction of modern technology and increased migration and interaction with other cultures and Peoples which culture has successfully adapted to so what is so different about this.
"The higher you go, the fewer women there are" - Wangari Maathai
I know people often associate feminism with angry women but how can you not be angry, or even the slightest bit annoyed, with facts like this. It's not fair, the playing field is not level and feminism aims to, at the very least, raise awareness of these inequalities. We should all be angry about the injustices gender is rooted in. Anger is often seen as a negative quality, amongst others, for women to possess causing them to be seen as threatening or undesirable. Anger isn't always negative, in fact anger has a history of resulting in positive change. Anger doesn't challenge my femininity and you shouldn't be threatened by it. If I am angry about something or feel that something is unjust, it's for a reason. Women who have the skill, talent and work ethic to be in top positions in their careers shouldn't be blocked from doing so because of their gender.
"I often make the mistake of thinking that something that is obvious to me is just as obvious to everyone else"
This line was an eye-opener for me, not just in regards to feminism but in my day-to-day life. We live in our own bubble and have been exposed to different things which shape our outlook on life. We must remember this when it comes to speaking to others about our views. Maybe the person who you think is being difficult doesn't get it because they haven't been through it. Explaining why feminism is necessary today may be lost in translation to men who are unaware of the privilege they hold and the same goes to explaining racism, colourism, classism, homophobia, ableism or discrimination in general. HOWEVER, I don't think it is my job to spoon-feed someone this information. Something I feel strongly is that if someone says they are offended by your actions or statements, listen to them. If they say that the environments in which they exist are harmful to them, don't argue or be combative, just listen. Adichie gives the example of tipping someone who parked a car her and her friend were driving in Nigeria. Although the money came from her bag and he took it from her hand, he thanked the man she was with and didn't acknowledge her. It seemed that he believed that any money that she had must have come from her friend because he was a man. This confused her friend as he couldn't understand why he was thanked. Women all over the world have similar stories, some unfortunately more severe, that explain how sexist views and actions shape their day-to-day lives but people are unwilling to listen. I think people will have moments where they finally understand the discrimination that has become a norm for you. That's the thing with privilege, it can seem so natural that the idea of discrimination can seem absurd but if you take time to listen to what people are saying you would find that it isn't so crazy.
"I sometimes still feel vulnerable in the face of gender expectations"
This is very much true, not conforming is daunting. This is why I struggled to write this. This is why I'm nervous to post it. I see the bad rep that women get when speaking up about feminism and I don't want to be hated, it's not easy to talk about issues surrounding gender. This is why the post is titled When Will You Marry? This is why the worry about marriage is at the back of my mind sometimes. Sometimes it seems like I have to choose one or the other, being married or being successful, which I don't want to. I want both. My worry is based on the idea that on one hand, I am expected to aspire to marriage and nothing else but I have so many things I want to achieve and the thought of achieving them make me so happy. On the other hand, my worry stems from the fact that it seems that men are intimidated or do not want to be with successful and educated women because after all, as the author Judy Blume puts it, "everybody wants to share life and be in love and be loved" but at the same time I don't want to feel silenced.
This post isn't meant to make sense or present an argument. I guess it's more of think-piece. I definitely do not spend my days worrying about marriage loooool. These are just some of the things that came to my mind when reading the essay. I would definitely recommend the essay as it does present some eye-opening realities of being a feminist, or a woman in general to be honest, especially as an African woman.
The essay doesn't make much reference to intersectionality, which further shapes the experiences of women, but I think the main reason for this is because it was presented as a TED talk and not as an analysis of feminism. Our daily experiences are shaped unfortunately by our labels; our race, gender, sexuality and wealth. Feminist ideologies that only tackle patriarchy on the basis of just being a woman can be counter-productive, as instead of making life better for women it erases the identity of many women worldwide. It is important to note that the experiences of a white women are not the same as a black women, a straight woman's experience is not the same as someone who is LGBTQ, a middle class woman's experience is not the same as a working class woman. To state feminism is just about working for woman disregards that some women have a privilege stemming from being white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, wealthy or able-bodied, which not all women benefit from.
A lot of the backlash feminism receives stems from debates surrounding religion's place in feminism and vice versa which the essay doesn't touch upon much. I've seen people tweet that feminism is a rejection of God and rooted in sin. The Bible tells Christians that wives should submit to their husbands. This can be challenging for some feminists and is used as ammo against the movement by some for this reason. Yes, the Bible does place the husband as the leader of the home but it also instructs men to not be dictators or patronising towards their wives. Feminism aims to bring awareness to the ways patriarchal systems are harmful for women, one of which see women being understood as less valuable and lesser than a man. Some use this patriarchal authority to abuse women. The Bible specifically states that men should not be harsh towards their wives (Colossians 3:18-19). How can feminism be challenging God's word when the Bible calls for the similar things as feminism?
It's also assumed that feminists challenge the duties that come with be submissive, such as the idea that wives should take care of the home and cooking for your husband. Firstly, it is somewhat obtuse to think that feminism only opposes societal ideas of the roles of men and women in relationships/families. Secondly, if you love someone you would naturally want to do these things for them. If you've built a house (physical and symbolic) together, you would naturally want to do things to maintain it. I wouldn't do it because I am a woman and that's my role. I would do it because I love my family and want to maintain the home we have built together. The problem is restricting and expecting women to carry all of these responsibilities by themselves. Nowadays in most relationships, both parties work and believe it or not, but raising kids and taking care of the home can equate to a full-time job when you look at the hours spent doing so. Yes, taking care of the home shouldn't be seen as work but how can you expect a woman to have a full time job and take care of the home on their own. Men should also want to do things to maintain the home they have built or do things for their partners.
I would definitely like to hear your thoughts on this post or on We Should All Be Feminists if you seen/read it and on this piece so feel free to comment or contact me using the contact page.
Image credit: http://www.voxspace.in/2018/04/27/shaming-women/