Freedom comes in many forms. As does oppression. Before I launch into my tirade against hard-headed hard-line judgmental people and narrow-minded stereotypes, I have a confession for you. I am a feminist. And I am proud to be one. My mother is a feminist, the first in my family and I am proud to say I will carry on that tradition and pass it on as far as wide as I am capable. Feminism for me is all about freedom. People who know nothing or small bits about feminism immediately think a feminist is a woman who hates men, wants them all to suffer and is probably lesbian or at best bisexual. I am writing this to set those people straight of their misconceptions.
First of all, I know of feminist men. Misconception number 1 banished. 2nd misconception is that feminists hate men. The ones I know don’t. We all have things we don’t like about people, be they men or women or even children. We even have the odd people we hate like the wife-beaters and child rapists. Yes most of those are men but there are evil women too and we feminists hate them with as much passion as we hate the men. 3rd misconception is that we want men to suffer. That one is easy – if you read anything about feminism proper, you’ll know that what feminists actually want is for women NOT to suffer because of the things men do to them. Last misconception is that feminists are lesbians. Well, I am married and I love my husband. And I can tell you that when I go to bed with my husband, I am not looking to fondle breasts or play with his hair. My mama, despite the 1st disastrous outing with my biological father, remarried and I know it wasn’t all chat. So there. Feminists are not all women, we do not hate all men, we do not wish to harm all men and we are not all lesbian.
I was born into feminism. Like I said, my mother is a feminist so from infancy, I was exposed to a lot of grown up things. Things that she tried to shield me from but as I said in another blog, I loved to sit with my mum and would often refuse to leave or would hang around even when they wanted privacy so I heard a lot. And part of my contradictions as a child was that I listened and never forgot anything I heard. I would always come back to my mama at a later date having thought about what I heard and ask her to explain the whys and the whats. To her credit, incredible woman that she is, she would patiently explain and give me leaflets and books to read to help me understand.
One of the first things I learnt from my mama is that in a Yola marriage, a woman has to put up with a lot of crap. A lot of that is linked to the fact that in Yola when I was growing up, most women were housewives (two-thirds I would guess). Which meant that women were dependent on their husbands for all their material needs. This gave many men the license to use and abuse their wives. Women in Yola are strong, by Yola women I mean the Fulani women. They are so strong that they think crying/complaining of pain whilst in labour is a sign of weakness (rightly or wrongly). I know this for a fact because I worked in FMC Yola for nearly 5 months a few years ago and as a paediatrician, I was in the children’s wards which were right next to the maternity wards and I swear I probably only heard labour ‘sounds’ 5 times in the whole time I was there. And those women were probably not Fulani and had complicated births. I digress but you get the point. That is why I know how badly they must have been treated. Because they came crying. Weeping like they had lost a child or a parent. My mama was like the agony aunt with legal and financial aid at her NGO.
I also learnt that although the Yola community, like many others, hides behind religion and tradition, the religious and traditional leaders know what the truth is and if forced to will admit it. For example, a lot of muslim Yola women are/were under the impression that divorce was the domain of the husband and the wife was basically under lock and key unless he decided she could leave. Actually Islamically the wife has as much of a right to divorce her husband as he does her but tradition meant that the husbands were better educated which then meant 2 things: 1. The husband could write a divorce script and the wife being illiterate could not and 2. The ‘law enforcers’ in customary and Islamic courts were men so unless faced by someone in the know, feminists generally like my mama, they would rule in favour of the men. My mother asked her lawyer friends for guidance and her belief that the wife had a right to divorce as long as she had valid grounds was correct. Then we found out through her NGO’s work that a few Yola women despite being uneducated had realised this a while back and they had successfully filed for divorce. Guess the commonest reason they cited for wanting a divorce: my husband is impotent. And you know why that is? Because the husband was too ashamed to face any questions on his virility that he granted the divorce asap. Good on those women who discovered and shared the secret!
One of my mama’s NGO’s main focus is empowering the girl child and preventing child marriage. Unfortunately, there is still a huge discrepancy in the achievements (economical and educational) of boys and girls in most of the world. But feminists have made huge inroads into improving the situation. I have seen dozens of girls brought to my mama and not one appeal for help was turned down. My mama and her team fought tooth and nail to emancipate every child forced into a marriage. They then tried to provide them with long-term prospects either by sponsoring them to go to school or learn a trade. Many of them have been employed by my mama at one point or the other. Many of them are now fully grown women with careers or atleast a means of making some money so they can retain some independence and support their children should their husbands fail to provide. Many of them become one of my mother’s many children and one of my many sisters and the occasional brothers (through their sisters).
One thing about being feminist is about knowing and appreciating the fact that women and men are physically and mentally different. We do not want to be like men. Most of us do not want to take over the traditional male roles that have evolved into male roles because of the physicality. That is not to say that a woman cannot do the same job but it might take longer or she might need another pair of hands and sometimes it is easier for a man to do. Just as we know that there are men who are very paternal and are very capable of nurturing and looking after a baby’s needs BUT physically it is impossible for them to be as good as the mum because they have not got a uterus to carry the developing foetus for 9 months and they have not breasts to breastfeed with. Just as we know that a woman matures mentally in her 20s to her 30s whereas many men do not get to that level of maturity until they are in their late 30s and 40s. And we know being a mother brings out the tiger in every woman so that when their babies are in danger, they are capable of superhuman feats to save them. Men in general do not have those same instincts however it is well known how protective men can be of their daughters especially. So although feminists want women to have equal (human) rights with men, we recognise and even appreciate the differences in how we are built.
The biggest thing about being a feminist is the issue of how to dress. As a feminist I believe that every woman should be able to dress as she pleases. To please herself that is. Because people accuse feminists of hypocrisy if they are dressed to impress or sexily. The point is feminists believe that the woman’s body is hers to do with as she pleases. If she wants to cover herself head-to-toe in a black Arab gown and gloves and socks, then we are happy with it as long as it is her choice. If the same woman decides that today, she would rather be in a miniskirt and vest top, then that is okay too because it is what she wants. Not what her father or brother or husband or even mother wants. It’s all about the right to choose for yourself as an adult woman. But our people are obsessed with the issue of how a woman dresses so the disagreement continues. Tragically, many uneducated people still subscribe to the fallacy that the way a woman dresses is partly to blame for them becoming a victim of rape. To that I say, why is it that a man can walk around in shorts or topless in the heat and in general no woman tries to rape the man but when the roles are reversed the rapist points a finger at his victim for enticing him? Nothing justifies that barbaric act and its almost laughable that anyone would buy that as an excuse in this day and age. Thank goodness for the Nigerian Constitution stipulating a custodial sentence for all rape and for the NGOs providing the legal aid to ensure more men are convicted of this heinous crime.
Above all to me feminism represents love and freedom. Love because we stand up for those girls and women who haven’t a voice to say no when things are being done to them that they absolutely do not want or consent to. Freedom because that is what we promote no matter what the problem a girl or woman is faced with. Freedom to be born (and not killed solely for being female), freedom to go to school (and not be kept at home to learn to be a domestic goddess whilst your brother goes to school), freedom to have a childhood (and not be raped or married off too young), freedom to learn a craft or study for a degree, freedom to marry or not, freedom to choose who you share your bed and home with, freedom to decide how many children you bear in your own womb and breastfeed and nurture for the rest of their lives, freedom not to be violated or abused, freedom to leave a bad relationship. One day the whole world will realise that feminists are not against men but they are for men and women. That what we want is the world is to be happier and for all groups to be free to live a happy life. What we want is for the world to show some love to each other regardless of faith, tradition, ethnic group, education, class, age and most importantly gender. Peace!