Yesterday, I wrote an article talking about my decision to not take my husbands name, defending women’s rights to choose whatever worked best for them and a married couple rights to define the parameters of their own marriage. I am Nigerian; if there is a topic guaranteed to ruffle some feathers, it is any to do regarding marriage, so I expected there to be some kick back.
Kick back and a half. It is no mystery that women are harsher judges of our own sex than men could ever be. It seems that even though women seem to want (and enjoy) progress, a lot would rather distance themselves from the idea of the “feminist movement” because it seems harsh and is wrought with so much misunderstanding and negativity, contradicts religious dictate and tradition, and also, simply put, we want men to like us.
So, no, verbalizing my decision apparently didn’t sit well with a lot of people and not surprisingly, majority of those were women.
“this whole ‘feminist movement’ thing actually makes me laugh”
“I think you have been hurt by someone and you are motivating women to drag rights with men which will eventually render a lot of women unmarried and to be used to men’s satisfaction”
“The name change dilemma is certainly topical, interesting and relevant, but it’s not critical to the rights of women.”
“social media has become an avenue for brainwashing and indoctrination. Dear feminists, please be guided. Stop trying to ruin the world with your selfish opinions”
“I used to consider myself a feminist but I am lowkey starting to hate the word because I feel a lot of women are abusing it and thinking too deep and making issues too complicated”
.. and those were the nicer ones.
Most women do not think that they aren’t feminists. Actually, most women will say they believe in gender equality and female rights but do not consider themselves feminists or support “new age feminism” and “harping on about every little thing”. They do not realize how lucky they are to have only “every little thing” left to harp on about, because greater women before them have fought for the things we take for granted as our normal rights today. They also do not see that they are in extreme positions of privilege to even have what we think are “basic” rights, because some women today in parts of the world do not even enjoy the same.
Little girls around the world who are denied the right to education because they are more useful when traded into marriage and women aren’t meant to be educated.
Children becoming mothers at 14 because of religious and traditional beliefs.
Women still being circumcised because it is taboo for a woman to feel sexual pleasure.
Girls not afforded the same opportunities because they were not born boys.
Women having no rights within their marriages and being at the mercy of their husbands.
Women in 2016 still not being allowed to drive, go anywhere without a chaperone, dress as they please, compete in sports, demand equal wages as men.
All these will trigger an in-drawn breath and indignation, and these same women who find feminism laughable would be quick to call these conditions ludicrous, unfair and even barbaric; but in the same breath turn around and belittle women who start to call out other unfair and sexist traditions and religious dictates that have stood the test of time, because, well, its not hurting anybody, whats the big deal? To these people who are from this school of thought, Women’s issues can be divided into two categories: Serious Issues (sexual abuse, rape, child marriages, unequal pay, denial of rights) and Unserious Issues (Keeping your name, Choosing to be childless, deciding to not get married, The housewife vs working wife debate. and so on and OHMYGAWDDDDDDWHATSTHEBIGDEAL). They will vocally champion those which seem to cross the lines of humanity, but shy away from those that will shed them in the “women and their hysterics” light.
They see no correlation between the two. And this is where they have made an error.
In 1920, there was an organization formed called “Anti- Suffragism” a political anti- feminist movement which composed mainly of women who were strongly against (as the name suggests) the Suffrage movement. They said (and I paraphrase) “The suffrage movement was a distraction from real Women’s issues and more important struggles, and it will ultimately not make a difference. Women should try to seek more privileges in the current unjust system, rather that causing all this trouble trying to create a revolution”. The result of the Sufferage movement of course, was the 19th amendment of the US constitution which gave women the right to vote, and ushered in an era of social liberation for women. Im guessing in a time when women were fighting for other fundamental rights, voting simply wasn’t up there with serious issues. OHMYGAWDWHATSTHEBIGDEAL.
During the start of the civil rights movement, there were many African Americans who opposed the “shaking of the foundation”. Slavery was now abolished, they were “free” to come and go as they pleased without belonging to any master, but they didn’t have the same legal or social rights as white people. For people who were just happy to have their freedom, imagine the fear and anger when the African American leaders started to demand for more. So, black people are no longer (legally) getting lynched, enslaved, beaten, killed, used in the most unimaginable ways, and you people are fighting to drink from fountains and sit in the front of the bus? OHMYGAWDWHATSTHEBIGDEAL. So insignificant compared to being forced to work and getting whipped all day long right?
Booker T Washington and W.E.B Dubois were at loggerheads during the civil rights movement. See Booker T Washington was more accepting of segregation and discrimination; all he was fighting for was a right to a “more serious issue” like basic education and some legal rights such as land ownership. He believed that if African Americans had a right to “prove themselves” as worthy of respect, white folks would have a change of heart, and social rights would follow. However, W.E.B Dubois wasn’t of that school of thought. He believed that laws should be put in place outright making it illegal to socially discriminate or segregate which would obviously lead to more channels being open for black people. Booker T probably looked at him like OHMYGAWDWHATSTHEBIGDEALFOOL JUSTPLAYNICESTOPASKINGFORTOOMUCH.
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” — Robert F Kennedy
There is no issue too great or too small to tackle when it comes to the oppression or marginalization of a particular group of people. If you have certain beliefs and you choose to stand up for them, nobody has a right to declare an issue is too large or too small to be addressed. What is considered important to you, may certainly not be considered important to another person, but anyone that will stand up to even the most minor and insignificant injustice, is doing their part. For every negative comment I get about feminism, I get about 5 more saying my posts give them hope or courage. Remember that every woman is not in the same boat as you are, don’t come from the same families that you do and aren’t with the same men that you are with, and these women are suffering terrible, terrible things. If an issue like name changing is a non existent one, it would not spark such a spirited debate, nor will the concept of a man changing his name still sound so impossible and outlandish. We do not always need to tackle the biggest issues, sometimes we need to sit and examine the ‘harmless’ things we accept as normal and ask ourselves how ‘harmless’ they really are. Believe it or not, every aspect of gender inequality affects how men and women view each other and view their roles and limitations are defined in society. Do not drag out the term tradition only when it is convenient to you. Some things you are allowed to do and enjoy doing today, are against these very traditions that you champion.
Next time you laugh at feminism or try to categorize which issues are big or small deals, I will leave you will a little timeline of what bolder and more courageous women who have spoken up have been able to achieve, and how recent these acheivements are:
Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania were the first Ivy league schools to open their doors to women in 1870 & 1876.
Abortions were illegal till 1973. In that same year, women were finally permitted to serve jury duty.
Sexual harassment at work wasn’t a thing until 1977.
Until 1978, women could get fired for being pregnant.
In 1993, all 50 states in America recognized and accepted marital rape
Emergency contraceptive, aka plan B, wasn’t approved by the FDA until 1998. Yes, when you were singing along to “No, no, no” by Destinys Child and having a sing off with your best friend to “The boy is mine”, if you had sex without protection, you were sentenced to motherhood.
Plan B wasn’t available without a written prescription until 2013.
To Nigerian women: Please do not deceive yourselves into thinking any of these rights apply to you. Women like myself and my peers have been privileged enough to be educated around the world and to open our minds up to other ideals and other ways of life and have opportunities that are still new for African women, and certainly better than our mothers. The same non feminists will be quick to list these achievements as “more serious” issues that need to be tackled and others as “silly ideas from new age social media feminism”. We have progressive families and we are decidedly more modern as the times go by. But let me remind you: In Nigeria, none of these laws apply or exist. There are literally no laws protecting women. Actually, our constitution still permits a husband to “discipline his wife within reason”. In fact, a bill that was proposed for women’s rights didn’t sit 15 minutes on the floor before it was thrown out. Abortion is still very illegal. There is no law against sexual harassment in the workplace. There is no law for spousal or child support in the case of separation, divorce, or an absentee father. It is not illegal in the North for children to be married off to old men die bearing their children. It is not abnormal for a woman to be beaten by her husband and told by the police or her family to get on her hands and knees and beg his forgiveness. It is not abnormal for sons to be treated like kings and daughters as slaves. Women are still the property of men. If you do not understand this, I have a beach house I can sell you in Surulere.
I have never asked any woman to change her name or not to change her name. I have never said this is a life changing issue or something that will make or break a marriage. I however have asked every woman to examine her freedom to choose. Because from that freedom to choose even the little insignificant things, comes the courage to stand up for the big things. I lend my voice to the movement, and hopefully one day will do even much more to fight for women’s rights in Nigeria.
Let us not forget one of the most celebrated female rights activists and “mother of feminism” in Nigeria, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti (also the first woman in Nigeria to ever drive a car) fought for things like special taxes on market women, children reverting to their traditional and not European names, wearing traditional dress and speaking of national languages everywhere that soon required British colonials to seek translators. OHMYG — you get my drift. Were any of these things REALLY harming anyone? Only mentally.
Every issue is important. Anything that breaks down patriarchy and the normalcy and acceptance of a male dominated society is important. Anything that questions a harmful way of thinking is important. Big or small. How do you raise a man that balks at the thought of bearing a woman’s name then turn around and ask the same man to respect or see the woman as his equal? Raise a woman that is told religiously and traditionally she should be underneath her husband or the greatest thing she will ever achieve is a having a husband and children then ask her to have some self worth? It is always joked about how men get along and women do not; yet we do not realize that we are allowing ourselves to be placed in so many sub categories: light skinned, dark skinned, skinny, fat, single, married, miss, mrs, natural birth, c section, house wife, working mother, feminist, non feminist, every little thing is a standard to judge women by, and we start to separate ourselves based on those standards. You may be luckily enough to be an African girl who grew up all your life secure in who she is, in her freedom and her choices, but there is another woman out there who has never had a choice, was sold to the highest bidder and died a little death when she became yet another man’s property. She doesn’t know what the word choice means.
Ask yourselves the last time men had to fight for anything. Anything at all, big or small.
A feminist is anyone male or female, who believes in equal social, political and economic rights of everyone.
If that isn’t you, that’s fine, but please remain silent, so we can do as the women before us, and give our daughters more things to consider absolutely normal.
Thank you for taking the time out to read this article. If you like what you read, please click the little green heart at the bottom of the screen :)
This is day 3 of my 30 day writing project. Please click on my stories if you would like to check out some of my other entries.
Some other stories by me: