Why iFEMINIST …unapologetically.
I never planned to be a feminist. I didn’t decide one day that I was one, I didn’t become one out of a sense of injustice, nor was I influenced by some inspiring piece of literature. I simply never took the time out to consider or accept that I was unequal to a man, and by the time I was meant to be convinced of this, it was a little too late.
Hold on, let’s get this out of the way:
(Please do not bore me with the “it’s impossible for men and women to be equal” anecdote. I understand that men and women bear physical, mental, and very obvious differences, and in the literal sense of the word, can never be equal. Feminism = equal RIGHTS)
I don’t have one of those stories either where I grew up with parents who taught me to see myself as an equal in the eyes of the world.
Oh, they taught me the usual great things that good parents teach their children, but I also grew up from my early years, hearing dire warnings about how certain behaviors would deem me eminently unmarriageable. Anything from, “Why can’t you keep your room clean, your husband will throw you out if you keep a dirty home”, “Why is your mother in the kitchen and you are here, how will you feed your husband”, to an Aunt secretly offering me what I didn’t understand to be bleaching cream in high school, to help me be ‘a little more attractive’. The cream, I might add, that I naively used thinking it might help me clear my teenage acne, but left me with a bright orange face and an angry mother.
I was taught misogyny as the way of life, mostly executed by brainwashed women, to the extent that men didn’t even have to make much of an effort to oppress women anymore. In grade school, you were immediately ushered towards Brownie, ballet or gymnastics, unlike the boys who could play soccer, practice Taekwando, and other such “brawnier” sports. So, in primary 3, I switched from Girl scouts to Taekwando. It was a normal sight to see your male counterparts sprawled in front of the tv, or hanging about lazily, being waited on hand and foot, while you were admonished for not doing any domestic chores. I famously told my father at the age of 12 after he accused me of not making an effort to learn to cook that “my husband should be able to cook for himself, don’t we both have one brain and 2 hands”, after which he laughed, clucked, and called me a “21st century woman” like I wasn’t yet old enough to understand the truth of the world.
I truly wasn’t.
Women have been browbeaten all their lives with the unending list of things we must do to attain the holy grail, marriage:
Be still. Be quiet. Be sassy, but not too sassy. Be sexy. Be attractive. Be a size 2, no a size 10. Don’t eat too much, men don’t like that. You’re not eating enough, men need something to hold on to. Don’t be too opinionated. Close your legs. Close your mouth. Don’t have sex. Be a freak in the sheets. Wear your natural hair. No, wear a weave. That career is not for women. Be a doctor, that’s great, but make sure you choose a specialization that isn’t too demanding. Stop working out, you might grow muscles. Don’t buy that car, you’re not married yet. Don’t live alone, you might seem like a ‘fast’ girl. Don’t come on too strong. Don’t chase, men like to do the chasing. SMILE, You seem too unavailable.
It is an exhausting never ending Russian roulette of “don’t piss off the man”.
As I got older, I was bluntly told by my fellow specie “Look, it doesn’t matter what you achieve; if a woman is unmarried or has no children. she is worth nothing and that is the bitter truth”. The sad part is, she wasn’t lying. In the eyes of society, especially African societies, that was indeed the bitter truth. After many years of living my life in America, being a somewhat carefree teenager turned 20 something, becoming more and more militant about feminism and spirituality, I had African “bitter truths” locked somewhere in a box titled “Do Not Open” and a time bomb attached to the lock. I could not avoid the inevitable explosion when I landed back in Lagos as a returnee.
The life of a Nigerian woman is something that makes my head explode on a daily basis. A brief perusal of the #FemaleinNigeria hashtag that set twitter on fire, and the resulting Facebook therapy group now boasting over 50,000 participants, perfectly chronicles the harsh realities of living in such a sexist society. One in which it seems religion, tradition and even the law collaborate to ensure the inherent and perpetual misery of women, and in which a culture of deafening silence ensures that more women are almost willingly permanently ensnared in the cycle of misogyny and maltreatment.
It is tough to be a woman. It is tougher to be a black woman. It is onerous to be a Nigerian woman.
When will this ever change?
Maybe when women like me, and you, and you, and you, are more vocal about the things that are wrong in our society. Maybe when women learn to lean on each other and not judge each other too harshly, quick to place ourselves into titles and categories. Maybe when we understand that there is nothing wrong in wanting certain things, and nothing wrong in not wanting them either. Perhaps when we demand more for ourselves, hold ourselves to a higher standard, put a higher price on our dignity. Perhaps when we learn to free ourselves from the vicious shackles of financial dependence (please educate yourselves). Perhaps when we realize well rounded children are not borne of dysfunctional homes. Perhaps when we do not attach our importance and identity in a platinum band. Perhaps when we do not advice each other to “pray” when one must take action. Perhaps when we do not carry the silence of our grandmothers, mothers and aunties in our breasts, in the great tradition of “Are you the first?” or as Fela put it “suffering and smiling”, and raise stronger, smarter women taught to design a new reality for themselves.
Perhaps when we stop focusing on raising girls, and also start raising our boys.
Feminism is a bold word; a dirty word. It’s one that has a cringe worthy effect, especially for females who do not want to be associated with that word; much like elitist black people who get embarrassed and think their militant counterparts need to stop making everyone uncomfortable and “get over” racism.
iFeminist because I truly believe in equality.
iFeminist because I want a different reality for my daughters, my nieces, the younger generation of women coming after us.
iFeminist because I want women to know they have a choice, and be brave enough to explore their options and powerful enough to make them. A woman with a purpose is a force to be reckoned with.
iFeminist because women have no cause to be ashamed: single mothers, unwed, working mothers, housewives, breadwinners, hands-off caretakers, career driven, those with no desire to become mothers, those who call it quits on a dying marriage, those who choose themselves first.
iFeminist because I do not want my child to be denied permission to hang out with her girlfriends at a bar in Lagos, because “single women unaccompanied by a man not allowed here to prevent prostitution”. (happened to me on several occasions)
iFeminist because women should have a choice of when, who, how and IF they decide to marry, and yes, they are smart, they understand the science of eggs and their viability.
iFeminist because my daughter will decide if she desires to be a mother, a mogul, both, or none.
iFeminist because I believe the law should support and protect our basic human rights irrespective of tradition, culture or religion, and under no circumstances should any of these guide the way we justify the oppression of a woman.
iFeminist because no limitations or expectations should be placed on women; We desire freedom as much as men do. We deserve a seat at the table.
I have learned to not be ashamed of being a feminist, despite the jokes and the shadow of misunderstanding placed upon it. Being a feminist automatically throws me into the category of “angry bitter black woman” by the small minded. I have learned to hold my head high and boldly state my opinions because the more things are spoken about, the more we realize that what we are asking for is so basic. I am unapologetically who I am, because other women before me have fought so hard for women to be where we are today.
If it is radical to demand the same freedom that men enjoy, then I’d rather be radical than play dead. In the words of the great Maya Angelou:
“I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now…. It’d be stupid to not be on my own side”
Follow me on twitter @ozzyetomi and keep the conversation going why #iFeminist. Why do you feminist?