Assuming nothing; questioning everything

The great discomfort

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A Facebook friend of mine unfriended me. Before unfriending me, she mentioned that she had observed that I had started a blog on feminism, and made a point of being offensive about the fact that I was an active feminist.  She told me that she didn’t believe in feminism and that although she championed for the rights of women, she would not want to be associated with feminism, adding that she would be offended if she was ever referred to as a feminist.

I had just started writing my blog at that time, and I was getting a number of interesting, sometimes ignorant and other times damn right offensive responses.  I was getting tired of explaining myself, and she found me at the point where I had learnt to be less defensive about what I believed in, and sometimes even listened to responses that made no sense, or added no value, for the sheer fun of it, and maybe write about it someday.

I guess she mistook my silence for interest, and continued to tell me that told me that she thought feminism was demonic, and the devil’s agenda to destroy the family, and spread ungodly practices such as lesbianism and homosexuality.  The Sodom and Gomorrah case got mentioned somewhere in between the demons and the ungodly practices that feminism sought to spread in society.

Feminism, she said was teaching women to reject femininity as they desired to be more masculine.  She went on about how proud she was of her femininity, how she loved dressing up and looking beautiful, and feminism was denying women the opportunity to be feminine and beautiful.

From her unsolicited and rather ignorant opinion, it was clear that my blog and posts on feminism made her rather uncomfortable, and I was not surprised when she later unfriended me.  It’s been eight months now since I started running my blog, and every so often, I am amazed at how feminism generates discomfort in just about every quarter.

The discomfort is to a large extent driven by ignorance, fear of losing power by the privileged, and uncertainty over what a society where women are regarded as fully human, and not subordinate to men would look like. Society is yet to accept that African women are embracing an ideology that has often been described as unAfrican, because it seeks to liberate African women, who have for the longest time been considered sub-human and accorded secondary status in society.

Those that have long enjoyed the benefits of women’s subjugation are afraid that feminism will turn the tables, and human beings regardless of gender will now be equal.  They misconstrue feminism to be about women competing with men, and tell us that this is not the way African culture should be. They argue that there is a place for the African woman in society, which unlike everything else, does not evolve with time, and feminism is destroying that.

The number of times I see feminism appearing in sermons that seem to have an agenda to take women back to 1950 is surprising, disturbing and annoying.  I reckon there are people praying and fasting against the “spirit” of feminism.

The fact that feminism is questioning religious norms that teach that God created man to provide, rule and dominate, while the woman was created to obey, serve and submit is likely to destabilize status quo, and therefore not a surprise that it generates a lot of discomfort. We are told that feminism is destroying God’s intention for women to “care” and “nurture”.  God apparently created woman with “special” genes known as the nurturing, caring and domesticity genes, which are easily destroyed by feminism.  Geneticists need to help us with these twisted biology lessons.

I must say that I am not surprised at the discomfort.  When people question things that seem so fixed such as gender, and the position of women in society, it generates discomfort because then there is fear that people might begin to question other structures including religion, politics and education; tools used by a minority to gain and maintain power to oppress a majority.

Because the feminist movement threatens to destabilize status quo, question traditions that have long silenced, subjugated and oppressed women in the name of religion and culture, it is no wonder discussions left, right and center are exaggerating the empowerment of girls and women, and claiming that this is contributing to the disempowerment and subjugation of boys and men.

Feminists are being advised to urgently shift attention to the boy child who is seriously threatened by the emancipation of the girl child, otherwise, these girls will have no one to marry them. Never mind that violence at home, school, work, on the streets and even on social media is something that many girls and women confront on a daily basis.  And that women are still highly under-represented in business, politics, leadership and ownership of property.

Women, like the Facebook friend who unfriended me, have bought into this patriarchal thinking, perpetrated by culture and religion, and are up in arms, protecting “femininity” from feminist destruction.  Their ignorance on feminism doesn’t help either.

The discomfort created by feminism is not fun for a feminist, because this results in trolls, unsolicited advice, sermons that make me want to weep, and anti-feminist discussions that make me question the ability of human beings to reason.  But the discomfort also tells me that feminists are probably doing something right, and rather than be cowed by the discomfort, it is time for feminists to speak louder, more wisely, more intensely and more articulately than ever.*

The fact that the feminist movement is growing like wildfire, with many young, intelligent and outspoken women openly identifying as feminists is not a comfortable position for society.  Society is having a difficult time with women speaking their minds, and using their voices to challenge society as we know it. But society has to come to terms with the fact that women are leading this revolution, or otherwise bask in this discomfort, because there’s no stopping this revolution!**

* Adapted from a quote by Neil Gaiman

** Adapted from a quote by Alexis Templeton

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Comments on: "The great discomfort" (22)

  1. I shed actual tears when I read this, I’m tired of African Feminists being labeled as immoral

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    • Thanks for stopping by Afro Ginger. It’s tiring, but if our work as feminists didn’t matter, no one would care. I take the labels, and the attacks as a sign that we are doing something, and that something is not in any way insignificant.

      I came across this quote by Becky Lockhart, “Using your real voice might make you uncomfortable. It might make the people around you feel uncomfortable, but until we can make it normal for women to be heard, until we are heard for our ideas and not viewed as tokens, that’s the price we’ll pay. I for one have been willing to pay the price.”

      So take heart in that and keep going!

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  2. Reblogged this on AfricanFeminism and commented:
    “The discomfort created by feminism is not fun for a feminist, because this results in trolls, unsolicited advice, sermons that make me want to weep, and anti-feminist discussions that make me question the ability of human beings to reason. But the discomfort also tells me that feminists are probably doing something right, and rather than be cowed by the discomfort, it is time for feminists to speak louder, more wisely, more intensely and more articulately than ever.”

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  3. Thank you for this comprehensive blog. All i can say is you read my mind. I posted your blog on my Fb page.

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  4. I agree with this article wholeheartedly. Third world countries are in dire need of a crash course in equality.

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    • Thanks for your comment Samuel. Inequality is a problem in many parts of the world. Even the US as developed as it is, is still highly unequal in terms of income and even gender disparities. But I agree with you that there is need for more consciousness raising, particularly in parts of the world that have suffered colonialism.

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  5. I have been a victim of similar bashing by friends who want to remain your friends as long as you do not mention feminism. I have told those kind of people in unapologetic terms to deal with themselves as the problem is not mine.

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    • Thanks for stopping by Musings! I know exactly what you mean. I’ve had to deal with the same issue, a lot. But these friendships become impossible to keep, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that loss is part of being a feminist. You shed old ways of things, as you become more woke. Sometimes it’s painful, but it’s part of the feminist journey. I’m not sure if you’ve read a previous post on the things that I’ve had to lose as a feminist. In case you haven’t, you can check it out: https://ceranjagi.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/i-packed-my-bags-and-left/

      Enjoy your journey!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. Enjoyed your writing. It is an important, timely perspective. The only complaint from my side would be on your choice of featured image… why use a cartoon of white feminist? You may say race doesn’t matter. But don’t you think you are indirectly confirming the bias that feminism is a foreign concept? You could have used a black (or Kenyan) feminist woman’s image for a change! It may seem irrelevant or marginal point but images matter because it is this lack of representation that makes people think that Africans are just importing Western ideas. I dont believe feminism is a western idea…I actually believe the true feminists were Africans although they hadn’t labeled themselves as such. Lomg before white women came up with the title, African matriarchs had been challenging patriarchy and challenging society that women are as capable as men. I could give many examples of women just from my own country; let alone the rest of Africa. Any African (men or women) who thinks feminism is an alien concept must be ignorant as you rightly stated. Modern day African feminists need to affirm the fact that African women were pioneers of feminism despite all the challenges and structural barriers. And such affirmation begins with images we choose to depict African feminism when we write about it. Perhaps you couldn’t find a black feminist cartoon. But you could have asked a Kenyan cartoonist to draw one for you. Cheers.

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    • Thank you KM, for reading and for your thoughtful and critical comment. I would never say that race does not matter, because it does. Many of the problems that we face as Africans have a lot to do with racial inequalities perpetrated through colonialism, and some of the effects of colonialism are still felt to date.

      Even with independence, colonial structures of oppression have not yet been dismantled, and we know that women tend to be the most affected. I am also aware that African women, before, during and after colonialism have resisted patriachal domination. In fact I wrote about it some time back in this article http://thewidemargin.org/liberation-not-unafrican/

      I also understand the power of images, and I agree with you that the images that we choose to use can be used to disregard feminism as a western idea. As such I take great consideration while considering images for my posts, and this image is not any different.

      I selected it from a number of images after careful consideration, and for a variety of reasons. Not that I had lots of choice anyway. But as I read your comment, I thought of an interview I watched a while back of Chimamanda after she had developed her book half of a yellow sun into a film. In the interview, she is asked by a white interviewer who asks her why she chose a woman who doesn’t “look Nigerian” but looks almost white to play the character of Olanna.

      Chimamanda responds by pointing out the diversity of African skins, that even in her own family, there are those that are fair skinned, and those that are darker skinned. I face the same in my family with my siblings, yet we all come from the same parents.

      So, going back to the image that I used, I chose to claim it as African, because there are Africans that look like that (especially given that the hair is kinky looking), and it demonstrates the diversity of African skin tones. Africans are not only black or chocolate brown, they are also yellow and light brown too, and those come in different shades too. I’m sure you would concur with that, also given that Ethiopians express the diversity of African skin tones.

      I think focusing on the African woman as only dark skinned fails to recognize the diversity of Africans, and can easily exclude African women that do not fall in that category. I know mixed race women in many cases have a problem belonging, because they are neither accepted as white, and among black people they may not be considered fully black.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You have raised a great point about colorism and I agree with you that next to racism colorism is am issue that has divided us black people within ourselves. Maybe I should have rephrased my comment carefully without disregarding the effects of colorism. But I didnt meant to imply that Africa should only be represented through dark skin. That by itself would be a form of prejudice. However, the reality is that when it comes to representation lets not kid ourselves that fair skinned people and white are overly represented in media and all kinds of outlets…from movies to music videos to magazines covers. And when I think of issues such as feminism, its usual poster-women are white and this is often uncritically embraced by modern feminists in Africa, which has its own negative implication. That is the part I wanted to point out. I looked at the image once again but I still would have chosen a different image. But I respect your choice and I understand now very well your logic behind it. 🙂

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    • I’m really glad you’ve pointed these out. Even though I tend to think through the images, in future I will think through them even more, and the kind of message they are likely to send.

      Sometimes it is difficult to come up with the best images, because as you correctly point out, dark skinned women are not as well represented in media images as white or fair skinned women.

      I thought through your comment and decided to change the image, but even then finding an appropriate image wasn’t easy or really possible. But I settled for something close.

      I wanted an image that generates discomfort, particularly women’s power , because that tends to generate discomfort. To be honest, that isn’t easy to find, because the images representing African women are highly sexualized, and real images of African feminists are also not that many. I think this raises fundamental concerns regarding the representation of African women in media.

      It might be necessary to engage a cartoonist in future, so that I get to choose how the images look and decide what I want to represent, although that has it’s own challenges in terms of resources and time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I totally agree with you that the images of black women in media are highly sexualized – and that is often the only place where you find black women, whether they are darker or lighter. The fetishism around black skin (chocolate, fair, etc.) and the lack of authentic representation, especially through pictures and moving images, must become one of the essential targets that modern African feminists need to tackle using our creative power and collective energy. Images are what we are feed constantly, either online or offline, and those images really do impact our understanding of reality, which is often a perverted reality, particularly when it is Africa-focused. There are all kinds of social engineering taking place and images are used as powerful weapons. Thank you for your kind responses!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you too for engaging and for offering some critical thought. Very useful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Likewise! I may be biased but I like the current image. 🙂

        Here are some links of pictures I probably would have used to talk abt Feminism in Africa or east africa in particular:

        1. http://www.unocha.org/top-stories/stories-by-country/results/taxonomy%3A91 the picture of the group of women in top first corner. I love their collective smile and the genuineness of it. And the pic is representative of the diversity of color within black. You have darker and lighter women in the mix and they look empowered.

        2. This picture of East African tigresses is priceless: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/silver-medalist-kenyas-hellen-onsando-obiri-gold-winner-news-photo/477437257 … east african champion women celebrating their victory just as their male counterparts.

        One of these two pics would fairly appear representative to me although it is not of course adequate by itself. Yes, it is hard to choose images. Even the process of choosing which picture to use and which one to drop is very problematic and can result in unintended prejudice, while even being aware of the problem. Cheers

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. These are wonderful, and they demonstrate the different ways that African women’s power and agencies can be depicted. Some food for thought.

        Cheers 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is very interesting but humorous article, in regard to your friend’s opinion and definition over feminism. Thanks for sharing this educative and inspiring article.

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