By Ariane Kamdoum

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme is Be bold for change. For me, International Women’s Day is about remembering the battles fought by women (and some courageous men) for basic rights and for women to achieve a state of equality with their male counterparts. It’s also about reminding ourselves that a lot still needs to be done, but we are not where we used to be a hundred years ago. We celebrate and, most importantly, we remember and vow to continue the fight.

Truth be told, back in the day when I thought I knew better than everyone, I dismissed International Women’s Day. I would rationally explain to people that it didn’t matter if we celebrated it or not. Are the women around the world going to see the injustice towards them just disappear because of that day? Why just one day in the whole year? Doesn’t that show how trivial the thing was?

That was the “rational” me. But those were not the real reasons for my dismissal. I don’t know about you, but where I grew up, more often than I would like to admit, International Women’s Day and everything Feminism-related was bad news. People won’t hesitate to point a finger at the women who partied too hard, to prove to you that IWD is only about excess and women disgracing themselves. Instead of celebration on social media, you would read condescending posts written by people who sounded like misogynists from the 18th century. Before social media, I just had to deal with  comments from people I knew, but those alone could have made someone ashamed to be a woman. For a moment I subconsciously bought into those fallacies: women celebrating IWD were foolish, stubborn and disrespectful; they did not know how to conduct themselves as real women, they better go back to taking care of their families instead of parading all day long. The people around me had no respect for such women and I simply did not want to be associated with them. Ironically enough, my mom was part of the women proudly celebrating IWD, what did that make her then? The way a sixteen year old’s brain functions and manages to dissociate is wonderful!

So for a long time I refused to be called a Feminist. Even though I believed that women deserved the same rights and respect as men, even though I believed that we, as women, were (and still are) unfairly treated in any society, I wouldn’t call myself a Feminist.  During many a debate, be it during a sociology class or at a party with random people, you couldn’t miss my tiny self arguing energetically because someone made a disparaging comment about women.

I still remember my literature lecturer wondering where a “frail looking creature” such as myself found such stamina when it came to issues related to women, and then he proceeded to ask me: Are you a feminist? Everything went quiet and my classmates were all looking a me. I felt like the main actress in some Nollywood movie. I hate being the main character; moreover, it wasn’t my proudest moment because I said NO!!

Not even a graceful no. It was something to the tune of: “Of course NO! I am not a feminist!! Why would you think such a thing!? What gave you that impression? All I’m saying is that injustice is real and something should be done about it! That’s all! No need for you, Mr. Professor and dear classmates, to try and find something else”.  At that moment, the contradictions of my answer with the views I held did not hit me. I sincerely believed you could hold such positions without being called a feminist. Why the need to label everything? Geez people!

Later that day, I took the time to analyze why I did not want to be considered a feminist, why did I react that way. Someone said a hysterical reaction has history behind it. So as I started reflecting on my actions I began to understand a few things.

First of all, feminism has a really bad reputation. The first feminists were disruptive. There is no other way to put it, and frankly why sugar coat the truth? They held onto what they believed in and it wasn’t going to simply merge into the social norms of the day. So because they were disruptive, they were hated and feared, both by men and women of their time. What does society do when they hate or fear something or someone? They demonize it and make it a scapegoat. The first feminists weren’t any different from the plague and that stigma is still prevalent today.

Just search feminism on the internet and you find all kinds of negative views about what it means: from man-eating women to femi-nazi. A feminist is often-time viewed as a bitter woman, unhappy with her life, hating on men and finding joy in emasculating them. Moreover, feminism in many places in Africa is linked with neo-colonialism. I lived around people saying that feminism was another way to destroy our culture, to annihilate our essence as Africans. It was another way to tell us how to live and how to treat women, it was a way to diminish and disrupt our way of life. To some extent this might be true, but that is a subject for another post.  With such a bad reputation is it surprising that, at the time, I did not want to be associated with the movement?

The second reason for my denial was that I did not know what feminism really was! I never really took the time to do my homework on the matter. It sounded bad so I did not want anything to do with it, period. It took me another year before I decided to really look into what feminism is. I discovered that feminism encompasses a vast array of issues. There are many schools of thought when it comes to it.

Feminism is diverse and you shouldn’t be surprised that feminists from Europe don’t always agree with those in Africa or Asia on certain points. Priorities are also different depending on where one finds her/himself. A wealthy feminist doesn’t necessarily have the same issues as one struggling to make ends meet. A religious feminist (Yes! They do exist!) doesn’t always see eye to eye with an atheist one.

That diversity is sometimes a challenge but it is also a treasure because feminists are from every walk of life. A feminist is the stay at home wife and mother and the highly successful business woman; she is the high school teacher and the high profile political woman. A feminist is also my Dad, who did not bat an eye when he was repeatedly told that he was wasting money in investing in my education. He did not listen to those who thought that because he taught me to be assertive, and to have a mind of my own, I would turn out to be a disrespectful brat unable to find a husband.

So I ask you, are you feminist? Before you answer, allow me to state the essence of feminism, the core of it. Feminism is simply about women having the exact same social, political and economic rights, protected by law, as men. It is all about equal rights and opportunities for one of the most historically discriminated groups in humanity.  That’s it! That’s all! Once you agree with that then you are a feminist, now it’s up to you to choose your school of thought, but that’s not the main issue. Just like Chimamanda Adichie said that Beyoncé’s feminism wasn’t hers, your feminism doesn’t have to be mine. As long as we ultimately strive for that equality for men and women, we are feminists. The path you choose to follow is another subject for another day. Speaking of Chimamanda, I fully intend to read her book: “We Should All Be Feminists” this month, but I will start with her Ted talk. If you’re interested in it, click here.

Do not forget, this month, this year, Be Bold for Change! Be you! Unashamedly feminine with all the potential and power that comes with it. Take your place, let your voice be heard and never apologise for the awesomeness that you are.

Now, are you a feminist?