“So you are a feminist?”
“Yes I am.”
“You don’t look like a feminist.”
“What does a feminist look like?”
“I don’t know.” A shake of the head. “A little formidable maybe.”
“Oh, you must mean like the amazons, eh?”
“Not really.” Some chin tapping and head angling. “You just don’t sound like a feminist.”
I am intrigued now. “How do feminists sound?”
Okay, the above is a typical conversation I have with six out of ten males I have come across in my life or befriended. Feminism to these friends of mine can only mean one thing – You are against every man walking the surface of the earth. Sometimes I take pains to explain to them that feminism is not a movement aimed at forcing the male of the species into extinction, but rather one that seeks to liberate women from the shackles of outdated customs and enforce their rights just like everyone else. I share my thoughts on gender equality. I highlight the problems of the woman and point out that a woman is always at the mercy of the man. If I am met with a snort or two, I delve into my repertoire of instances –
a) female victims in a murder case were done in by husbands or lovers.
b) women are victims of domestic violence, especially in culturally backward societies
c) in war situations, they are always subjected to the worst form of inhumanity – Rape
d) in work environments, they are subject to sexual harassment and sometimes they have to work harder than their male counterparts to prove their worth.
After all the argument and instance giving, the other person (male of course) still doesn’t get it. He sees feminists as anti-men. He thinks there are no gray areas and the picture is just black and white. I tell him about the different types of feminism –
Conservative feminism – which believes in the family as the ultimate unit of the society and rejects equality as it means death to the family.
Liberal feminism – which sees all people as equal and sexism as dysfunctional as it deprives society of one half of its creative force.
Radical feminism – which sees oppression of women as fundamental and the most basic form of oppression. Adherents believe that the purpose of this oppression is to obtain psychological ego satisfaction, strength and self esteem for the men.
Socialist feminism – which links women oppression to the class structure and sees sexism as a way of rewarding the working class male, giving them control over women.
“So which one are you?” he asks, looking as if I have been speaking a strange language all along. I tell him I am a liberal feminist and see all people as equal.
“I don’t think it makes any sense.” He tells me with a frown. “I see all feminists as the same.” A pause. “I think they are aggressive towards men.”
By now, it is clear that we are going nowhere with the argument. The stereotype of feminism is winning again. I am sure that even if I were to put a tattoo on my forehead that said Peace to the menfolk, I am just a liberal feminist, the famous question – “Are you a man hater?” will still come up.
I have come to the conclusion that identifying feminism as anti-male and anti-family is society’s own way of dealing with the uncomfortable subject of gender oppression, especially where such society is founded on patriarchal values. In my humble opinion, feminism, whatever the form is a woman’s way of taking her rightful position in the world as nature intends. There are those who think feminism is a alien to our African culture and should never be embraced. For those ones, I point out that before the advent of Abrahamaic religions on the African continent, women commanded armies, ruled kingdoms, were custodians and priestesses of temples, and wielded enormous influence in their respective societies. In some countries like Ghana, we have matrilineal cultures. I think my progenitors understood that the society worked better where women are given a level playing field. So I tell my friend –
“Feminism seeks to unleash the hidden power of women.” I get an eyebrow raise for that one. “I strongly believe that women can change the world if reawakened.”
There is some silence. I hope my friend is considering my words. Some minutes pass and just when I allow myself to hope that my message has finally sunk in, he turns to me and says –
“No gray areas. There is nothing like liberal feminism. You are just a feminist in the middle.”
At this point, I have no interest in pursuing the topic further. Since I have no idea what it takes to be a feminist in the middle, I call time on the argument. You certainly can’t win all the time.