Confessions Of A Bad Feminist

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…

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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.

Responses

  1. 6
    I think until feminism is specifically defined, no progress can be made. And the only way to achieve this is to do away with all dogma, tradition and stereotypes. I laugh at feminists who uphold, religion forgetting that religion is the original cause of the problem. You cannot be a Christian, for example, and still be a feminist in the true sense of the word. Religion, and by extension tradition, is mainly responsible for the assignment of gender roles as we no where have them.
    Until I see a feminist who supports such ideas as women asking men out, women not giving up their surnames, dating younger men, exploring their sexuality, not bargaining sex/love etc… I consider feminism, especially in the African context, a huge joke. I believe women constitute the biggest obstacle to feminism and not men, because women refuse to let go of their current mentality for fear of losing out on the “advantages ” they enjoy as women.
    1. Priscilla Joy
      A lot of progress has been made. My certificate is evidence. The fact that I have a job is one too. But there’s so much more left to do. Doing away with all dogma, tradition and stereotypes will never happen in one day, which is why it’s a process. Sad that you laugh at feminists who uphold religion, did you read these lines:

      “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.”

      There are plenty women who not only support “women asking men out, women not giving up their surnames, dating younger men, exploring their sexuality, not bargaining sex/love etc” but are living them, and yes they’re African, so please get your facts right.

      I don’t know what mentality you refer to but if the “advantages” we enjoy is the beauty of our womanhood then yes, we love it! In fact, we revel in it!

      1. 6
        Okay, let me begin by saying that writing has never been my forte. Perhaps I may not have worded my previous message well, otherwise I don’t see how y’all would have missed the point.
        Please note also that I’m not the enemy here. I’m all for gender equality. I’m a Feminist myself, despite being a man.

        Back to the matter… maybe a practical example would help at this time. Take Linda Ikeji for instance. She’s been touted by many, including herself, as a Feminist. Not long ago she was reported to have made a public plea for prayers to land her a husband, noting her age. Now imagine the message this passes to the little girl out there who looks up to her, considering her achievements as an African woman. What this means is that a girl can achieve anything and aspire to any heights BUT she can never be accomplished without being someone’s wife. Like many, I suspect that Linda’s desperate pleas must have been born of Traditional/religious sentiments . There are similar cases abound of young women resorting to vigils and special prayer sessions to find a husband… ever wonder why that is? Tradition/Religion make it compulsory for women to find husbands no matter what.
        However, even though she has some other noble reasons for seeking a husband so, what stops her from wooing a guy, proposing to and then marrying him? Imagine what a profound statement this would make for feminism. But no, she wouldn’t dare because her tradition frowns at such.

        I’m sure y’all agree that the most efficient way to deal with a problem is to attack it’s root cause as opposed to tackling its symptoms. Now I don’t know how most of you define feminism but I think it’s synonymous with gender equality(eliminating gender inequalities). Therefore, ask yourselves: how did gender inequality, as we have it today, come to be? You guessed right: religion/tradition. In other words, Tradition/Religion is the root cause while FGM, Child brides etc are the symptoms. Therefore it makes more sense to first and foremost, do away with religion/tradition

        @Priscilla… yes, Dogma, traditions and stereotypes won’t disappear in a day, but I do have a serious problem with Femists who fight for the girl child’s various rights while still holding on to these dogma, traditions and stereotypes that gave yield to the problem in the first place. You can’t hold the Koran/Bible in one hand and push feminism knowing well that the Koran/Bible explicitly makes women out to be inferior to men. This is counterproductive.

        Let me try to draw an analogy using FGM and Child brides as a focal points. Most traditions place a certain value on the female virginity hence FGM(female circumcision) is believed to keep the girl chaste. Most mothers subscribe to this idea because it “worked for them”. Now most feminists attempt to discourage this practice by highlighting the medical risks it poses on the girl child. Unfortunately, these mothers are most likely to disagree, suspecting them of just wanting to “give it a bad name”.
        However, a better alternative lies in demystifying tradition by making them see that the female virginity is just as valuable as the males’; and they have the same rights as the guys to keep or lose it as they choose(when of age, of course). So if promiscuity is the problem, then the guys should have their penises cut off too. But I’m sure they won’t have that, so they leave the vaginas be. Now picture a devout Muslim feminist fighting against childbrides. For goodness sake, Islam says it’s okay to marry childbrides. So she has to first deny Islam before fighting against childbrides.
        This analogy might seem inadequate but I’m sure you get the point still.

        @Toni
        Permit me to quote Buchi; “Feminism is a movement. If there are no HALF MEASURES, no need for REDEFINITIONS. You are either for EQUALITY/EQUITY, or you’re NOT. No HALF MEASURES”… and if I may add, Feminism should also be a way of life, has to be. Yet, when you look around, all you see is a bunch of so called feminists who fight for the rights of the girl child yet condemning female artists who are very expressive of their sexuality(Rihanna); education of the fur child while insisting that her place is in the kitchen, or who fight against FGM while frowning on girls engaging in extreme sports such as bodybuilding. This trumps the unity of purpose the feminist movement so badly needs.

        @Priscilla… yes, there maybe be a handful of African women who ask men out, hold on to their surnames, date younger men etc, but I doubt if you or this columnist would ever consider doing such. I bet you, and most feminists out there, would cry foul if your daughters in law insist on not taking your sons last name… or if your daughter hints on not wanting to get married but having kids by different men, or not even having any kids altogether. So where in lies the feminism?
        Let me remind you also that I wasn’t talking about the advantages of womanhood(notice the quotation marks?), I meant the supposed “advantages” of being the weaker sex e.g. Being asked out, Being proposed to, getting brideprices, etc.
        Hear what a Nigerian suitor said at an introduction ceremony…”after I don pay this heavy bride price, I come talk one, she come dey talk two, I go beat am die. Abi she no know how much I don spend on top her head?
        So you see, portraying themselves as reveling in this “advantages” is what gives the menfolk the sense of entitlement that encourages them to treat women badly. I hope you now understand the mentality I was referring to.
        I must respect you (with your certificate, job and all) for your feminism and advocacy for the girl child but I insist that any feminist worth her salt should go all out. Go all the way, not just by talking the talk, but walking the walk as well. At all times, what’s good for the goose should also be good for the gander. No double standards. This is my message.

        I’m saying that the man should not be the head of any woman, whether wife or not. I’m saying the woman should not be made to submit to the man anymore than the man submits to the woman.

        @Larz
        It’s better not to be a feminist than to be a bad feminist. That’s assuming there’s any such thing as a bad feminist.

        1. Priscilla Joy
          6, you know one of the fundamental elements of feminism is choice, right? So when you judge a woman for exercising that right, you try to impede on her right of “choice”. I’m going to stay away from analyzing Linda Ikeji’s life because I don’t know her personally so I can’t speak for her and I really hate assumptions.

          What I don’t understand is this notion that if one is a feminist then the desire to be loved by a man is seen as weakness, as a betrayal, forgetting that women are human beings too. We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits, yes. But the right to vote, equal civil rights, etc. should not take away the fact that there’s another direction emancipation should also take which to me is highly overlooked; internally. I believe that any woman who achieves this is eternally free. These internal issues, whether it comes in the form of public opinion(like what you’re bent on) or what will my family say, friends, colleagues, all the busybodies that exist, moral detectives, jailers of the human spirit, what will they say? Until women defies them all, is able to stand firmly on her ground and insist on her own unrestricted freedom, to listen to the voice of her nature, whether it’s calling for the love of a man or the privilege to give birth to a child, she cannot fully call herself emancipated. And how a woman chooses to express that shouldn’t be policed by anyone, least of all you. Nobody has the right to shame a woman for desiring to love and be loved, that is one of life’s greatest treasures and saying that there’s a right or wrong way a woman can choose to do that goes to show how unevolved you are.

          I don’t have to propose to a man, ask him out, date a younger man or refuse to take his name to feel like a woman, to feel like my value and worth is preserved. We all need to do away with that mentality, especially when it tries to show that to be loved, to be sweetheart and mother, is synonymous with being slave or subordinate. The demand for equal rights in every vocation is just and fair; but, just in the same way, the right to love and be loved is vital. Let us be broad and not loose sight of the most important things that make life beautiful; to give of one’s self boundlessly is one of the vital ways one can cultivate a rich, deep, and better life.

          Don’t forget that woman’s freedom is closely related with man’s freedom, so you blame a bride for a tradition that was instituted by men. When you talk about the root of these traditions, don’t you think men need to ask themselves some serious questions? I bet when you’re old and cranky, you’ll throw your feminism, or what you assume is the feminism you support, out the window and exploit your son-in-law or the man who comes to marry your niece.

          Emancipation should make it possible for women to be human in the truest sense. Everything within her that craves assertion and activity should reach its fullest expression; all artificial barriers should be broken, and the road towards greater freedom cleared of every trace of centuries of silence and slavery.

          And 6, don’t tell me to deny Christianity because of feminism, have you ever read Numbers 27: 1-11? Try and read it, I don’t know what you’ve been told but the God I know is very progressive and doesn’t delight in the oppression of anyone. You need to listen less to people’s interpretation and find out the truth for yourself. You’re free to champion the feminism you believe in but please don’t think to shame women for not doing life the way you want, especially as your way is as warped as it is.

    2. Toni
      “I think until feminism is specifically defined, no progress can be made. …You cannot be a Christian, for example, and still be a feminist in the true sense of the word.”
      I think, dear 6, that you have succeeded in losing an argument to yourself. How did you come to the conclusion that a Christian can’t be a true feminist when you say feminism needs to be defined?
    3. Toni
      When I hear “Christians” discredit feminism based on biblical principles, I think of Jesus’s words: do to others as you would have others do to you. I also remember His injunction to love God, and our neighbours just as we love ourselves. Now what does it mean to LOVE? Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not DISHONOR OTHERS, it is not SELF-SEEKING, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It ALWAYS PROTECTS, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. So, the Christian response to feminism should be to understand, and while trying to understand, to PROTECT those seeking understanding.
    4. Larz
      Dear 6
      I understand that women asking me not out, taking up their surnames etc is of great importance to you. For a majority of the population out there, FGM, child bride, equal pay, battling sexual discrimination, female education to name just a few others prbly ranks a lot higher. Like @priscilla-joy said it is better to be a bad feminist than none at all. If you need a definition of what makes a feminist, it is about fighting an injustice against females (girl or women) that occurs because of their gender and get behind it. With so many to choose from, it won’t be hard to pick one (you can even pick from your list above).
  2. Toni
    “A man doesn’t suddenly command submission from all women because he married a woman.”
    My exact position in an argument earlier today; unfortunately, no one’s mind was changed. Whatever the case, we need to create not just equal but fair opportunities for good, and not all, intentions to thrive. I say “fair” opportunities because not all “equality” is fair. I say “good” intentions because having equal opportunity doesn’t guarantee that it wouldnt be used for evil.

    Well written @priscilla-joy

  3. Buchi
    I like the angle of a ‘bad feminist’. Also like that you’ve showed there’s no such thing.

    To be honest, I’m really tired of those who try to discredit feminists by attaching sobriquets to them – Loud, bad, angry, etc.
    See, there can’t be quiet feminists. It’s not a theory to only discuss in schools and talk shows. Feminism is a movement. It there are no half measures, no need for any redefinitions. You’re either for equality/equity, or you’re against. No half measures.

    This is a very thoughtful piece Priscilla. Good one.

  4. Mo
    @priscilla-joy , This is good stuff. Real stuff.

    On the christians that defend certain controversial issues, i believe they are either not christians or they have been misunderstood. If one, for instance, says there’s no such thing as rape because…. You should find out if he/she thinks it’s a sin when the woman is pinned down just to have sex with her.

    The bible can be interpreted by anybody, The true christians cannot be against ‘gender equality’. Tradition can be, but not the bible.

  5. Orochi
    Argh! this is black lives matter all over again.. Except if you seek to go from “oppressed” to “oppressor”, unity will always trump a group’s agenda. Many see it as a battle lol. Human rights would be a better movement to address the feminism needs. Of course, there are real gender problems in some parts of the world, same as there is racism and tribalism in other parts too. But I will never encourage people embracing the identity of a victim.
    I don’t really want to get into this..

    BTW, 6, made some valid points especially about the the gender inequalities being traced back to tradition and religion.
    Also, I think women as a group are a much greater problem to other women than the “system” or “men”.
    I’m sure you’ll see what you want.. All the best.

    1. Priscilla Joy
      Feminism doesn’t encourage anyone to play victim, that’s not the way I see it anyway.
      6 made a valid point about the root of gender inequalities being traced back to tradition and religion, but those aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, that doesn’t mean some progress isn’t being made. For example, looking at tradition, a bill was passed in September at Imo State House of Assembly to officially end FGM, I know that when it’s passed into law it may not really stop the practice in the villages, but the law will make a huge difference. Likewise in the fight against child marriage, advocacy for the right to education for girls, etc, a lot is being done.

      Then the way I see religion, I don’t believe it was instituted as a conduit of destruction and oppression. Christianity stands for love, oneness, and hope; the problem we have lies in us, the people who read and interpret the bible, Quran and other Holy books… I’ll just stop here.

      Thanks.

  6. Tam
    Read the article thought it was amazing.
    Just some point:

    1. Was going to read all the comments too, but couldn’t continue, because sometimes there in no need to engage with the obtuse and vacuous (Choose your battles).

    2. On your point of “wives submit to you husbands”,thanks for clarifying the perception to that command – if that’s what you call it – with respect to the institution of marriage and the all women. A friend said to me that husbands are only head of their wives just as Christ is the head of the church. He used the Christ – Groom -, and Church – bride – analogy. On this wife and husband thingy, I see nothing wrong with Co-presidents (equal share of power according to capabilities), instead of a President and his deputy. (Story for another day)

    And I am leaving this video here. I believe some of your main points metamorphosed from this video. I think it can also act as an informative source for others.

    1. Priscilla Joy
      Thanks Tam for reminding me about this video, I saw it a while back and it resonated with me a lot. I also cosign to Co-presidents according to capabilities in the home.

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