“This at last is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh. This one will be called Woman, because from man this one was taken.” Adam- Genesis 2:23
Religion is the building block of much of the worlds sexism, because of course how can a woman truly be equal when she was supposedly taken out of the man and created for his pleasure? Think about it, God made the earth and it looked empty so He made the animals, then He had a word with Himself and decided to make man- a testament to His ego if you will, man got lonely so he made him a plaything. Don’t get me wrong I have no qualms with God, I’m just pleased to be here. But the point is that whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Atheist, sexism exists.
In recent years, the western world has made great strides in the domain of gender equality, and even though we’re not quite there yet, it’s nice to see the effort being made. Many studies have shown that the rise in secularisation is responsible for empathy and tolerance of what society has always deemed as abnormal.
Like a lot of African young women I was raised in the church, a predominantly African one, located in London. And some of the experiences I will be elaborating later on in this article were taken from this church.
Before going further, I want to define the F-word that I’ll be using throughout this article. Feminism has a lot of stigma attached to it and this for me is difficult to understand because we condemn women who are fighting for our rights. To most, the word is synonymous with ugly, with lesbian, with a spinster who can’t get or keep a man so she claims feminism. To me, being a feminist simply means that I want the same rights and privileges that men take for granted. It doesn’t mean I want to be a man, or that I don’t want a man to love, and it doesn’t necessarily mean I am no longer going to shave my armpits or wax that annoying moustache. Not at all, it’s simply respecting the choices that a woman has made, in pretty much the same we do not blink our eyes at the choices a man makes.
From my experience the biggest problem women have is other women. We find ways to measure a woman’s worth by;
- how pretty she is (+10points);
- how well she dresses (+15) or applies makeup (+10);
- how hot her husband(+10)/partner (+5) is;
- how much money he has (+20);
- whether she has a job and if so – is it meaningful (+5)/well paid(+10)
- how well behaved her children are (oh no children? -20)
- whether she is a housewife like those women in the 20th century (-20)
- whether she goes to work and leaves her child at a nursery or with a paid nanny? (-20)
Did you lose track of your score? Tut tut if you are a woman and you can’t multitask don’t bother recalculating YOU LOSE.
The points I listed are difficult enough for our Western sisters to get a handle on, but it’s even more difficult for ourselves. African feminism is a lot more real since many African women still have no access to education and regular human rights. Compared to this struggle this article is superficial at best, however if it helps to undo a tiny bit of brainwashing our cultures have inflicted- I will think I helped.
This article is about the relationships we have with ourselves, other women and our own self-esteem. I feel like we are in a generation where our mothers still hold very traditional views, compared to most people in the western world who are now at least 2 or 3 generations separated from such radical feminism. So while I take issue with measuring a woman’s worth based on the values listed above (and I’m sure you would too) the truth is that we are more in the firing line than ever before, especially as we reach our 20s and the time comes for us to be women. And then you suddenly watch your values change as you aspire to become the ideal African woman.
Traditional views of a successful African woman are centred around the man who will appreciate her enough to marry her. Therefore all her power comes from what she can get a man to do for her, not what she is able to do for herself. A lot is expected of you and you must almost be superwoman in order to be able to cook, clean, raise a house full of children, balance a couple of jobs as well as church and a social life and all this must be done without emasculating your man. In a disturbing conversation with a friend today, she told me that as her mother was trying to comfort her over a recent break up she had sympathetically told her that it is too much to expect a man to be faithful forever. Really? I would have expected that if I loved a man, and he loved me, he wouldn’t want to hurt me anymore than I would want to hurt him, but somewhere along the way we’re learning that we should be strong enough to withstand a man’s infidelities. Why? Because this is how we measure our worth. Your power is in the ability to catch and keep a man. Putting up with his indiscretions is the price you expect to pay for him being generous enough to stay with you.
At church a woman without a husband at 40 was an object of pity to the aunties, a woman divorced was a failure, but a woman with a husband and family was a success. Therefore it’s better to get and keep a man at all costs than be alone. This brings us back to the circular question of our esteem. If you’re allowing your worth to come from other people you have already lost. I believe African women are the worst for this since the aunties are notorious gossips and bitchy while they’re at it, we all know they can find something to say about everybody. Whereas European women might only feel like they’re being constantly judged (which is usually enough), African women are probably definitely being constantly judged. And once you become a woman, the pressure to find a man increases tenfold. Some will give in and marry any guy who’s around at the right time in order to silence the critics. And yes, though they’ll be criticizing everything from the length of the engagement (too long/short), to the wedding (too lavish/sparse) to the children (too many/not enough), that fact of you being married will silence them on the main issue. You will be a Woman (with a capital W, you didn’t count before). And once you’ve got him, it’s okay because the successful woman is a family Woman, and it doesn’t matter whether or not her husband has a double life, or if he beats her in private or if she never had a orgasm a day in her life, because the aunties all think you’re a Woman and you can join their ranks and complain about your Husband and make snide remarks.
This is one reason African women are maybe the quickest to renounce feminism, because their goals have been shaped by these aunties. Also because black women are seen as strong and assertive enough; if we admit to being a feminist we’re either a ball breaker or a lesbian… what man would want you then?! Others are guilty of admitting they’re a feminist, only to tell you that they’re also happily married to a man who loves them. No one said a feminist must be bitter and unhappy. Of course you can have a husband and a family and be happy and still be a feminist. All it means is that you are where you want to be , and that you have made the choice to pursue this goal. It means that you’re more than happy to cook dinner and wash up afterwards, but then again so is he. That maybe he does provide most of the money in the household but so can you. That you have married each other because you met each other and fell in love… easy? Doesn’t being a feminist sound great now sister? Join me…
But how many women do you know right now who feel they are getting too old to keep looking for Mr Right? Too old by who’s standards? Still, more women are sticking with a man they know does not deserve them and yet they want to fulfill their biological purpose. Who’s purpose? (well, God’s purpose I suppose- Gen 1:28*). It’s terrible to find ourselves in a situation where our worth is not measured by what we can do or what we can accomplish for ourselves, these are only additional extras. In an average conversation with a typically tactless auntie the end of the discussion is “where is your husband?” or “how many children do you have?”… give the wrong answer and the housewife who didn’t finish secondary school will give you a pitying smile… “in Jesus’ name it will happen for you…”
Feminism is an uphill struggle, African feminism is an uphill struggle through quicksand and there are no quick solutions, but changing one mind at a time is all anyone can do. Re-evaluate your goals and consider whose goals they are. What does it mean to you? What will really make you happy? Feminism is not a dirty word, although today more and more African women are shying away from it because it indicates to the aunties en masse that you have failed as a woman and are excusing yourself. Instead, own the word and ask by whose measure you have really failed?
You are a feminist. You must be in order to truly succeed and be happy. It simply means taking control of your value and not constantly seeing yourself through the eyes of others, no matter how judgmental they. Take control; for instance- if you want a lot of money to be happy- are you aspiring to run a business or to marry a businessman? If it’s kids you want is it with the hope of raising healthy happy human beings or is it simply to play into the image of family life your parents have drawn for you? Marriages are not perfect, even though African marriages more than most make a show of it (for the sake of the critics), and lowering standards or compromising goals for the sake of proving your worth to someone else is the first of many steps toward unhappiness.
A wise person once said, you can’t please everyone and I say there’s no good in trying.
Aim to please yourself- make yourself happy first, and the rest will fall into place.