“God forbid!! I’m not a feminist”.
So you mean to say, you identify as a man? The line isn’t that thin.
Walter Rodney in his book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, did a realistic assessment of the role of women in pre-colonial Africa. There were “two contrasting but combined tendencies.
In the first place, women were exploited by men through polygamous arrangements designed to capture the labour-power of women. As always, exploitation was accompanied by oppression; and there is evidence to the effect that women were sometimes treated like beasts of burden, for instance in Muslim African societies.
Nevertheless, there was a counter tendency to ensure the dignity of women to a greater or lesser degree… For example, mother-right was a prevalent feature of pre-colonial African societies, and … women held a variety of privileges based on the fact that they were the keys to inheritance.”
These women were gatekeepers of the integrity of other women who could not hold the same position.
The colonialists came and it seemed the signals got mixed up, they were eager to treat African women how they treated their own women. The need for feminism in Africa was not as urgent as it was in European societies. So it makes sense when people nowadays say feminism is a thing for “white people”. But the subjugation of women as it is in today’s capitalist society was also a thing of white people. Women were not always treated like they are today. Hence, feminism became our thing too!
“What happened to African women under colonialism is that the social, religious, constitutional and political privileges and rights disappeared, while the economic exploitation continued and was often intensified… because the division of labour according to sex was frequently disrupted…
Moreover, since men entered the money sector more easily and in greater numbers than women, women’s work became greatly inferior to that of men within the new value system of colonialism: men’s work was ‘modern’ and women’s was ‘traditional’ and ‘backward’. Therefore, the deterioration in the status of African women was bound up with the loss of political power”.
And in women fighting for the breadcrumbs of power and status, it became a dog-eat-dog world, and women more often than not turned on each other; a mere survival tactic. Yes, the women who hate other women do so because they believe that resources are few, and finite. Rich men were few, good men were few, jobs willing to hire women were few, cars that pick up prostitutes on the road and won’t kill them, were few. So women would fight tooth and nail to secure better positions and a better life for themselves and their daughters. And in economic crisis, it gets worse.
It is very valid for women and men to see the work a woman does in society as traditional, and maybe even unnecessary because as with tradition, everyone thinks it can be done away with. That is not the reality. Without tradition, there is a breakdown of society. But in the same breath when tradition is trivialised, there is still a breakdown of society.
If we were to quantify the work a housewife does, for example, she’ll be both an Operations Manager AND a Procurement Manager. Let’s see what they mean:
“A Procurement Manager sources products and services for a company. They create a buying strategy that takes into account the company budget and necessary supplies and then they find matching vendors. Negotiation is a strong skill to have“
And Operations Managers oversee operational activities at every level of an organisation. Their duties include hiring and training employees and managing quality assurance programs. An operations manager also strategizes process improvements to ensure everyone completes their tasks on schedule.”
Let’s simply rewrite this and add “house, household, family, husband” instead of cooperate terminologies.
A Procurement Manager (Wife) sources products and services for the household. She creates a buying strategy that takes into account the family’s budget and favourite snacks, tissue paper, and body wash, and then they find matching sellers, supermarkets, and market women that they’ll buy them from. Negotiaiton is a superpower honed from hours and hours spent doing these same tasks over and over again
Home managers oversee household activities at every level of the home. Their duties include hiring and training employees, like the cook, the nannies, maids, and gardeners as necessary.. and managing the quality of every work done. An operations manager also strategizes process improvements to ensure everyone, like the husband and the children, completes their tasks on schedule so they can sleep, wake up, and get to work, or school, right on time.
Does this sound like your life, even as an ummaried female child in an African household?
Now double it and give it to the next woman.
The concept of “having it all” is one that I find so exhausting and elusive, because you already naturally have about 4 to 5 roles depending on how your household functions and how many staff your breadwinner can afford. And at the one where you are getting paid, you are getting paid less than the man doing the same job. The excuse is, your other jobs tied to your home are distracting you, and your hormones keep getting in the way.
African women have lost a lot, on the journey so far. Our ancestors had power, we had authority. Now we’re relegated to “other room” jokes, and realities fraught with traditional and exhausting gender roles.
I get that not everyone has to be an activist. But all I ask from all women on this day of celebrating women is please, close your word hole, every time you feel the urge to criticise feminists. You can enjoy your traditional gender roles in peace and chop men’s money as you like, but to do that, thousands of women fought for hundreds of years, so that you’re treated one level above a slave, and two levels above a mere smelling donkey.
Even if you do not agree with the process, or tone, or grammar that is being deployed to achieve gender equality in social, economic, financial and political spaces, don’t speak against it. Instead, do your own better if you can. Do it your own way if you think it is easy. It is as trivial as you not being quiet when men are thrash-talking a female character’s choices in a movie. Because it means you are so detached from your own gender identity, and you do not see that someone, somewhere is labelling and judging you the same way by the mere fact of your gender. The men in your life may treat you like you’re special and different, and usually only when it suits them, but we all know once you step outside your echo chamber, you’re nothing but a piece of biological meat to many many men out there. No matter what you’re wearing, no matter the nice car your lovely husband has put you in, no matter the suburb you live in; your gender puts you in a specific danger that men do not have to deal with. You’re not safe at night, you’re not safe alone, and you cannot defend yourself from disrespect or harm. So kindly wake up.
Don’t underplay your value in a home. Don’t downplay your value to any employer, be it your husband or a boss at work. Stop making yourself less, just so another person can be more, be it a man or woman. And if you genuinely think a man is smarter and stronger than a woman, you should definitely personalise your sentiment. Every man is stronger and smarter than YOU, not more than the woman you don’t know her life or history. No one will come into your heart and take that belief away from you, it’s okay. Believe what you want to. But don’t project it onto other women, or feminists who are saying they want the same opportunity to prove that they can be more than their stereotypes.
As long as you’re a woman, whether you signed the form or not, you’re automatically drafted into the gender battle. Stop airing your dirty underwear or scoring own goals by trying to sound different or bougie or seemingly cool.
Happy International Women’s day y’all. May every ounce of tokenism we keep receiving on days like these, become the stepping stone we need to achieve our collective gender liberation. Amen.