FEMINISM 101- History and Review of Chimamanda’s Feminist Manifesto
Feminism is a movement which seeks for equal rights for women across political, economic, social and cultural fronts. Feminism very much understands the gender differences and only seeks for equality of opportunity. We are currently in the third wave of feminism, with the first wave dating back to the 19th century.
The first wave refers to the fight for property rights, opposition of chattel marriages and advocacy for voting rights. Thanks to these fights in Britain and the United States of America, the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1919) were gotten.
The second wave which ran from 1960 through the 1980s was focused on establishing social and cultural inequalities. In the words of Estelle Freedman, while the first wave focused mainly on rights such as suffrage, the subsequent wave tried to fight the discrimination. During this period, it became clear that feminism needed to combat ideologies which saw men as the ideal to which women should aspire towards. At this point, women had to aspire to being more than child bearers and home makers, who could only find the ultimate fulfilment in life through their husbands and children.
The 3rd wave of feminism began some thirty years ago and is primarily a call to modernise the approach of the previous waves. Over the years, the central theme of feminism has remained the same; a call to give an equality of opportunity and allow women live to the fullness of their humanity.
Feminism could be anarcha, socialist, radical or liberal, black, multiracial, African etc. Now, is this something to raise an eyebrow to? Certainly not, it just adds flavour to the movement.
Now, let’s talk about African feminism and possibly, Naija-feminism.
We talk about African feminism, not because the struggles are different from their counterparts across the other continents, but because issues like this need to be localised for better solutions. In the words of Naomi Nkealah, “African feminism strives to create a new, liberal, productive and self-reliant African woman with the heterogeneous cultures of Africa.” Studies have shown sufficient evidence to question the origin of Patriarchy. Prior to the era of colonisation, women were able to hold more political gravitas. It is hilarious when people quickly refer to some issues as being un-African, as it shows how much historical knowledge we lack. A historical study of issues such as homosexual intimacies, female military prowess, sex work etc., would show how African these things are. It is far-reaching to even suggest that because something isn’t African, it is bad. Let us not forget that the killing of twins is African, the throwing of bodies in the evil forest is African. Cultures are made for man and not man for the culture.
Feminist do not hate men, the word for that would be misandrists. Living in Nigeria and having been in the corporate world long enough, here are reasons why I remain a feminist. Reasons why feminism is going to be my life’s work.
I was brought up by amazing women and before I left home, I never realised that women were oppressed because the women I grew up with were among the privileged ones. But even those privileges came at cost. In modern day Nigeria, there are clubs where women cannot enter except accompanied by a male figure, hotels where single ladies cannot check-in, apartments where single ladies cannot rent. In the corporate world, women always give their opinions with a tone of apology, always trying to be as humble as possible. A woman would often be told to tone down her ambitions lest she chases her ‘suitors’ away. The pinnacle of a woman’s success is marriage and no matter how professionally outstanding she is, she wouldn’t be fully accomplished without a man. Women are taught to endure abusive relationships and marriages because it is their responsibility to build homes and they are considered as being radical when they simply demand for a seat at the decision table. I believe that in raising a home, both parents need to be there for themselves and for the children.
At this point, let me summarise some points of Chimamanda’s feminist manifesto.
Motherhood is certainly a glorious gift, but women should not be defined solely by motherhood. Our culture has glorified pain. I remember a Nigerian political party which portrayed itself as being gynocentric by portraying a pregnant woman with a child on her back, a load on her head and a child by her hand. This disturbing image shows the reality women are expected to live up to. A trip to the lower-class communities, which by the way makes up over 70% of Nigeria’s population, shows how far we are from achieving the objectives of feminism.
In marriages, we must learn to be partners. A man/father should do everything his biological composition allows. We must normalise fathers cooking, shopping, bathing their children etc. We must normalise not thinking that they are ‘helping’ their wives. Hell no! A father is as much a verb as a mother.
We must avoid the gender role craze. She doesn’t have to learn how to cook or sweep because she is a girl. He doesn’t have to be excused from domestic chores and home management because he is a man. It is absurd that in 2020, we still equate a woman’s readiness for marriage materialness with the ability to cook. Again, marriage is not a prize. A person’s masculinity or femininity should not be determined by things as trivial as love for football or a particular colour. A girl that likes to play football rather than with dolls shouldn’t be seen as a tom-boy. A girl studying STEM courses should be normalized. It is appalling that in 2020, a male course mate of my cousin, who is doing a PhD programme in engineering, is disgusted by and opposed to women pursuing careers in engineering.
As we progress through life, we realise how restrained we are by these gender conditioning. Some boys would like to cook and dance ballet but they have been told that it isn’t masculine enough and they keep breaking inside, having fragile egos and exuberant tantrums
We must beware of feminism lite. This tells us to tone down our beliefs towards this movement. We are allowed to be feminists but not loud ones. I am a feminist, I will get angry when I see these oppressions and I will use all resources at my disposal to effect equality. I do not need to be diplomatic about it. One is either a feminist or isn’t. There are no middle grounds or grey areas. Feminism Lite uses analogies like “he is the head and you are the neck.” Or “he is driving but you are in the front seat.” More troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to “treat women well.” No. No. No. There must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a woman’s well-being.
Few months ago, the Finnish government had an all-female cabinet and all hell was let loose. Some said that this was the agenda of feminism. Do we realise that for years, it has always been ALL men? Do we have the same outrage? In Nigeria, ALL the principal officers are male, but we don’t find that alarming. In the African setting, we praise women who are the bread winners but don’t let the world know. Why does she have to make it look like it is the man who provides? In doing this, we even put more pressure on men. Like I told my friend few days ago, ‘Dear girl, the world won’t be so kind to you. Get ready for the struggle ahead. You would need to work twice as hard, to get half the acknowledgment your male counterparts would. It is not a fair world (not yet). Equip yourself, read far and wide.’
We must question the languages we use. A girl of a certain age would be asked, “when will you find a man to marry you?” Be conscious about using words like female doctor, female mechanic, female engineer. Misogyny most times would be subtle. We teach women to aspire to marriage but not men. An unmarried man is just looking for the right person while an unmarried women is questioned about her undesirability. Why do we need to emphasis the ‘Mrs’? Many times your would see Dr.(Mrs), Prof. (Mrs) but I am yet to see Dr. (Mr.) or Prof (Mr.). The value we give to Mrs. means that marriage changes the social status of a woman but not that of a man. (Is that perhaps why many women complain of married men still “acting” as though they were single? Perhaps if our society asked married men to change their names and take on a new title, different from Mr., their behaviour might change as well? Ha!) But more seriously, if you, a twenty- eight-year-old master’s degree holder, go overnight from Ijeawele Eze to Mrs. Ijeawele Udegbunam, surely it requires not just the mental energy of changing passports and licenses but also a psychic change, a new “becoming”? This new “becoming” would not matter so much if men, too, had to undergo it.
It is 2020 and the sooner we begin to pay heed to relevant things, the better for us. We must question things and not just end at, ‘it is our culture.’ We need to ask, why is it our culture? We must be able to differentiate ideologies from unreasoning enthusiasm. I would not see Catholicity as a congregation of pedophiles because of what some priests have done. I would not see protestantism as a gathering foolish people because I have seen some protestants eat grass or drink bleach because their pastors told them to and I would certainly not see Muslims as terrorists because of the acts of a few. It is so cliché to see feminists as confused and angry individuals and for your sanity, understand the concept before commenting.
Also, you need not be obsessed with feminists. If you think the boy child or the male gender is abused or disadvantaged, why don’t you make it your life’s work to correct that? We all can’t be fixated on the same problems. Let us divide and conquer.
I am a feminist. I am angry about patriarchal ideologies. I have made feminisms my life’s work and I would ensure that at every opportunity I get, everyone will have an equality of opportunity.
- Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions — Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie
- Nkealah, Naomi (2016). “(West) African Feminisms and Their Challenges”. Journal of Literary Studies. 32 (2): 61–74. doi:10.1080/02564718.2016.1198156.
- Baderoon, Gabeba; Decker, Alicia C. (2018–11–01). “African FeminismsCartographies for the Twenty-First Century”. Meridians. 17 (2): 219–231. doi:10.1215/15366936–7176384. ISSN 1536–6936.
- HISTORY AND THEORY OF FEMINISM-http://www.gender.cawater-info.net/knowledge_base/rubricator/feminism_e.htm
- Epitre au Dieu d’Amour (Epistle to the God of Love)-Christine de Pizan
- The Feminine Mystique (1963)-Betty Friedan