I wondered a lot about the value of a woman when I was younger because I felt understanding what the value of womanhood is would help me understand what my own value is. I looked to society for answers and only found that the whole notion of womanhood centered around marriage, pleasing and catering to a man and having babies.
I rejected that premise because I felt there should be more. I’ve always wanted more for myself so there had to be more to a woman than marriage, man and kids. I wondered why there would be this desire for more if there wasn’t the possibility of being more. But everywhere I turned, I was asked to know my place, take it down a peg or two, not to speak too loud or want too much. “You don’t want to end up like Aunt Gertrude”, they said. But ending up single and alone isn’t a bad idea; I only worry that society won’t let my singledom and aloneness be great.
And then I encountered “feminism”. I found in feminism the possibility for more that I only longed for but feared that I may never attain. It has helped me find my voice and helped me believe that my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard.
But then I’m not very good at being a feminist. In fact, I openly embrace the label of bad feminist because I’m human. I’m not trying to be an example or perfect. I’m not trying to have all the answers, or say I’m right. I’m just trying, really trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, and trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who only just admitted to herself that she loves pink and likes to sing along to music she knows is terrible for women and most times wishes she could be little again, curled up in the arms of her father with daddy and mummy making life decisions for her. I’m also the woman who wants to be in control and have been in control for most part of her life, but also wants to surrender, completely, in certain aspects of her life.
I don’t understand when I hear women disavow feminism and shun the feminist label but say they support all the advances and freedom born of feminism. However, I also know that feminism is a choice, and if a woman does not want to be a feminist, that is her right. It’s still my responsibility to fight for her rights; at least I believe it is.
I’ve come to understand that we don’t all have to believe in the same feminism. It can be pluralistic, seeing as it means different things to different people, as long as we respect the different ‘feminisms’ we carry with us and give enough of a damn to try to minimize the differences among us. Whether it’s the fight for equal pay, the fight to end child marriage, making the environment safe for girls and women to go to school, the right to vote or to even to own a driver’s license, there is plenty of work to be done.
Did I mention the fight to end slave brides in India, or the fight to end female genital mutilation in Somalia, Uganda and our very own Imo State, and the on-going battle against domestic violence and rape culture – getting men to understand that NO means NO and a woman can withdraw consent even if she gave it initially, advocating for shelters and social support for battered women… The list is endless. Whichever cause one holds dear, may we always know when to disturb the comfortable and when to comfort the disturbed.
Really, I know that sometimes it is difficult to believe that we can be working on the same thing, because sometimes the way we build is so different from the way someone else does. You want to be big and visible and radical and loud, while someone else wants to work quietly, under the radar, out of the public eye. But with our deeply held beliefs and opinions about gender equality, let us not get caught up in a way that puts a lot of pressure on us to live up to certain ideals.
In all the things I’ve read about feminism, I’ve come to understand that there’s an essential feminism: this idea that there are right and wrong ways to be a feminist and there might be consequences for doing feminism wrong. The problem with this idea is that it doesn’t allow for how complex our human experiences and individuality are. If we can figure out how to be ourselves, and yet work in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain our own individuality, I think the antagonism and opposition that exists will disappear.
Take me for instance: I am a mess of contradictions sometimes. On one hand I want to make noise, shake things up, build and change things. On the other hand, I want to do it quietly, remaining unknown and living a simple life. Also while I know that the whole notion of being led by a man in marriage has been abused and has more to do with ego tripping than serving and loving gently, I wouldn’t mind giving up some control to a good man who is in touch with his humanity, deferring to him when necessary and accepting his authority as the head of the home when I do get married.
A lot of Christians reject feminism because they believe that women have been commanded to submit, but what I find wrong in that argument is that God didn’t command women to submit to men. He commanded wives to submit to their husbands so the whole notion of submission only resides in marriage, and is based on each couple’s relationship with one another and not one’s behaviour towards an entire gender. A man doesn’t suddenly command submission from all women because he married a woman.
Also, I believe it’s highly simplistic to only talk or think about marriage in relation to feminism because there’s far more at stake when the conversation about who the ‘head’ or the ‘tail’ is comes up. There are little girls, teenage girls, young and older women who needs protecting and looking out for; the ‘locker room talks’ and ‘boys will be boys’ rhetoric won’t do the job. So, the question isn’t if feminism is a Christian ideology, the question should be this:
What is so threatening about a society where women and men are seen and valued because, first and most importantly, we’re human beings made in God’s own image, before our gender or whatever label we like to define people with ever comes into play? Surely, the fact that we’re all human and we came from one source should be what matters most?
I know that whatever change I want to see happen for women all over the world has to begin with the lady in the mirror, by first achieving internal emancipation, a form of internal regeneration and overcoming the tyrannies that are on the inside; and then learning to treat my fellow woman well too. I also know that feminism is a process, not a history lesson and the best way forward is to find young women, wherever they are in the world, and get behind them, and to support humanitarian agencies whose mission is to make the world a better place for women and girls. As I am on this continuous process of becoming, I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.