Author: Stephanie Kimou

African men don’t get feminism

(Pic: Flickr / Julie Jordan Scott)
(Pic: Flickr / Julie Jordan Scott)

In 2013, I wrote an article for Voices of Africa entitled “African men don’t do feminists.” It was a satirical account of my observations dating African men on and off of the continent. I spoke about how uncompromising these men seemed to be, particularly when speaking about what type of woman they wanted as a partner. From the cooking, cleaning, and child rearing, I spoke to the fact that in many cases, African men would demand that their partners uphold traditional ideals of womanhood, which today can be seen as dated and suffocating to a woman who identifies as a feminist. Now, the definition of feminism is a controversial one, it can be hard to understand and from reading the comments on my article, I realised that African men also don’t really know what feminism is. From talk of “she-males” to “highly educated” women looking to destroy patriarchy, here are a few comments that prove African men still don’t get feminism:

“What we want are women who respect man’s headship in the home and emulate their mothers who respected their husbands, raised their children and built a good generation not the modern day she-male that are out there especially the highly educated ones…”

This guy wants traditional patriarchy to be upheld, and for women in 2015 to emulate our mothers born in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Feminism is about progress and adaptation, not stagnant gender roles based on what has made many generations of African men most comfortable. A woman who expresses discomfort with pounding yam and popping out babies upon request, is a she-male? A woman pursuing a degree instead of a man is a “highly educated” enemy of progress? A paradigm shift in the psyches of African women does not automatically lead to the emasculation of African men everywhere. Lesson 1: Feminism is not about destroying African tradition, it’s about ensuring that women have a fair chance at a rich and purposeful life, on their own terms.

“I’ve had tons of female feminist friends. Most of the guys who dated them were ugly men and never the tall very handsome (rich or not rich) guys with a nice physique. Never saw one of my feminist friends with a hot man…”

It seems to this gentlemen that only ugly men would be willing to deal with women who identify as feminist.  So instead of him viewing feminism as a tool for empowerment, a platform on which women can stand and demand equal pay, respect, and the right to govern their own bodies, feminism is a club of angry women who can only pick up uglies. The fact that this commenter is using a man as THE metric when measuring a woman’s worth tells women to forget your degrees, professional experience, or over all autonomy; a tall, handsome man is the only prize worth vying for. Lesson 2: A feminist is not defined by what she looks like, nor what her partner looks like.

“I am very proud to be an African man who values my tradition and culture and will never drop it for another borrowed or acquired…”

Feminism is NOT a borrowed ideology! It’s important to remember that while American and European white women were burning bras, our mothers and grandmothers were raging against colonialism. They were becoming the first women educated in their respective countries. They were fighting in civil wars, and protecting villages as soldiers ran through to rape and pillage their villages. That is feminism, pioneering in the face of adversity, and creating a space for women to follow. Lesson 3: Feminism is not “borrowed or acquired”, it’s something that is engrained in the matriarchal communities many Africans were raised in.

“But, women and men are not equal as human beings in terms of strength, traits, and talents, plus they look different. New Age feminists have other motives, which sadly catches well-meaning women into their merry band of ideological thinking.”

Women and men are equal as human beings! There are biological factors that make SOME men taller, and SOME men physically stronger than the average woman, but to say we are not the same human beings is preposterous. On that note, feminists are not going around kidnapping your “well-meaning” girlfriends, wives, and daughters and making them join a cult of angry butch lesbians. Feminism speaks to the fact that even though I have a vagina, and breasts, and I carry children inside of me for nine months, does not mean I should be treated any less human than a man. My femininity can be respected and celebrated without it limiting my growth in society. This scary “ideological thinking” this gentleman is discussing, is the radical notion that women deserve the same pay, education, and personal freedoms as men. Lesson 4: Being a woman should not limit anyone in their attempt to be treated equally no matter the situation or environment.

Like I told my boyfriend (I know some of you are surprised, yes, I was able to catch a man in my scary feminist spider’s web), all I ask of him, and of my brothers, my father, and any man in my life, is to give women the space to progress. Let women speak, do not interrupt them, do not dismiss them, listen to what kind of life they want to live, support their choices, and if you don’t, respectfully give them reasons as to why. Giving the women around you the space to express and empower themselves is not just protecting their bodies, but also their agency.

Stephanie A. Kimou was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and raised in Washington, DC. She is a blogger by night at A Black Girl in the World and a policy analyst by day. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Georgetown University in DC, and has studied at the African Gender Institute in Cape Town and the University of Paris in France. Her mother has told her she has two years to get married, or else. Writing is the way she deals with this stress. Connect with her on Twitter: @stephkeems

5 reasons why you should move back to Africa

I came back to Africa last spring after completing my Masters in DC. It was more a professional move than a personal one: I knew I wanted to work in international development and the new position I was offered was a great way to get on-the-ground experience. I didn’t see it as a permanent move, though. I still liked my life in the States, it was comfortable and secure. I felt very much in control there whereas every time I visited family in my birth home of Abidjan, everything seemed chaotic and difficult. The ATMs didn’t work, the electricity would go out, I was a bit too high maintenance for cold showers.

But as the months go by, I have become very much attached to the idea of moving my whole life back to my home continent. I’ve met many 20-somethings in Africa who are taking advantage of the growing industries and job opportunities on the continent, and the huge potential to fulfill their personal dreams and visions. I’ve also come to realise that as Africans born and bred on the continent, we have a responsibility to it.

Here are 5 reasons why you should move back to Africa:

1. To invest
Living in North America, Australia or Europe has afforded many of us the opportunities to attend prestigious schools, build up impressive resumes and save up some cash for the future. Doesn’t it make sense for us to take these resources and invest them into our home economies? From oil, to infrastructure projects, from fashion and music to restaurants and clubs, Africa is rich with business opportunities. South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia lead the pack in terms of economic growth (think at least 5% to 10% growth consistently). The Economist reported that in the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were African nations. But it’s about more than just opening a restaurant. Investing in our continent can be a philanthropic endeavor as well. This is what Patrick Awuah did when he introduced a new way of educating young West Africans with the creation of Ashesi University in Ghana. With the university’s mission described as a place to “cultivate within [their] students the critical thinking skills, concern for others, and the courage it will take to transform their continent”, Ashesi is moulding Africa’s next wave of conscious leaders and socially responsible innovators. With classes like “African Philosophical Thought” and a new engineering school whose future student body will be made up of 50 percent women, Ashesi is creating a new learning environment focused on personal and academic growth. The university offers an important leadership seminar series that pushes students to address issues like wealth distribution and good governance in Africa, and with 95% of graduates staying on the continent after graduation, Ashesi is shaping tomorrow’s Africa right now.

2. To explore
St. Tropez is nice; Diddy and the crew like to spew champagne on light-skinned women in 35-inch yaki weaves there. And you’ll often see Kimye gallivanting across the Left Bank of Paris hobnobbing with rich white people I don’t recognise. But have you seen the beaches of Zanzibar? CNN has listed Cape Maclear in Malawi, Diani Beach in Kenya, and Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania as the top 100 beaches in the world. What about climbing the mountains of Swaziland, or partying until sunrise in Nairobi? Have you been to a beach cookout on the shores of Dakar? We have the opportunity to see the pyramids, visit ancient schools in Timbuktu, climb Kilimanjaro, go swimming off the shores of Mozambique, learn azonto in Accra, visit the ancient ruins of Lalibela and Axum or Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island. There’s plenty to see from Morocco to Côte d’Ivoire, from the Congo to Namibia, and the world is sitting up and taking note. US News and World Report included Cape Town, Marrakech, and Serengeti National Park on its list of top ten places to visit. On National Geographic’s annual “Best Trips” list, Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda occupies the number one spot.

Cape Maclear, Malawi. (Pic: Flickr / J Luoh)
Cape Maclear, Malawi. (Pic: Flickr / J Luoh)

3. To influence
We know, we know, there are some things about living back home that are less than stellar. Corruption, poor governance, ineffective  law enforcement. But, as the future leaders of the continent, it’s time for us to return and play a role in influencing the direction in which our countries are going. I’m not suggesting we go out there and make ourselves into caricatures of the west; I’m saying that by living on the continent, observing how things are run and meeting and brainstorming with like-minded individuals, we could help to bring about change. Take Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan-born Harvard educated lawyer, who co-founded Mzalendo, a watchdog blog that provides an unprecedented look at the work of Kenya’s Parliament. She and her team are attempting to make accessible to the public information on the voting patterns and governmental activity of their parliamentary leaders;  information that was previously unavailable to citizens. Is this the solution for Kenya or other countries? Maybe not, but its igniting debate and discussion about political and social issues on another level and on other platforms like social media.

According to a Consultancy Africa Intelligence report, “due to the skill shortage in Africa, especially in management and industries that require specialised skills, it is estimated there will be a 75% increase in the use of expatriate staff over the next three years”.  This means that multinational corporations who influence much of Africa’s governmental policies will look to returnees who have both the education and experience they are looking for, along with the “cultural know-how”. There are opportunities within our professions to influence not only our governments, but big oil companies and tech firms that are making deals throughout the continent, deals that are affecting our daily lives, the environment, the economy.

4. To re-introduce Africa
As a 20-something who was born in Abidjan but raised in Washington, DC, I have spent most of my life navigating a very different world, one where many of my black friends had never been to Africa and many of my white colleagues still asked me if there were enough cars in Abidjan to cause traffic jams. It’s a world of ignorance that needed to be shattered and I wanted to do that by introducing my close friends to my continent, its beauty, and reality. I showed them an Africa different from the Dark Continent narrative. We can show off our music, food, amazing weather, beaches, history, and culture – not just to foreigners but other Africans.  How many Africans do you know (with the means) who have never ventured out of their corners of the world? Who have not taken the time to explore their own continent? Who feel more comfortable visiting France than visiting Senegal?

5. Because you have to
You may have a nice life set up in DC, NYC, London or Paris with friends, a job, a car. Should you really leave your comfort for a continent on which some of us have never lived full-time, with unstable governments and electricity that works as much a real housewife of Beverly Hills? Yes, you should. You should try. We are Africans in the diaspora, and we have the potential to influence so much in our nations. It’s not enough to send money orders or bring our cousins clothes during summer vacations back home. We need to become change agents on the ground. As daughters and sons of this continent, I believe it’s our responsibility and we need to take it seriously.

Stephanie A. Kimou was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and raised in Washington, DC. She is a blogger by night at A Black Girl in the World and a programme manager at a women’s social enterprise in Tanzania by day. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Georgetown University in DC, and has studied at the African Gender Institute in Cape Town and the University of Paris in France. Her mother has told her she has two years to get married, or else. Writing is the way she deals with this stress.   

African men don’t do feminists

Ask an African man what he thinks about feminists. Go ahead, and record their answers so you can email it to me later. I like a good laugh to start my mornings. If he is like 90% of the African men I know, his answer will be around the lines of, “You mean those white women who don’t like to cook?” or, “Those single women who can’t have babies?” or my personal favourite, “You mean LESBIANS?”.

Feminism, as many of us daughters of Africa know, is taboo on the continent. I would define feminism as a woman who takes gender seriously and addresses discrepancies between the sexes throughout her everyday life. She is a woman who will not conform or adjust her beliefs for the sake of a man’s (or society’s) comfort. Still, throughout Africa our brothers and sisters tie feminism to western voodoo, a type of evil cult that tells African women it is okay to be unmarried, focused on your career and not on procreation, or that the institution of patriarchy in Africa may actually be – shocker – detrimental.

So imagine the struggle of being a self-proclaimed feminist, raised and educated in the US, now living back on the continent, trying to date African men. The struggle has been real. It seems as though African men on the continent, even those who’ve returned from university or work abroad, have an image of their perfect woman, and she is definitely not a feminist. I’d say she’s more of a maid. Let me explain. First, every African man wants a cook, like his mama. Meaning girls, be ready to chip that manicure-peeling cassava and you better pick up his plate when dinner is done. And how can you expect a grown man to dish his own rice? Don’t be foolish now! Next, he wants a personal assistant. A woman that will check on his family, make sure his mom has all her prescriptions, remember his little sister’s birthday and ensure that his favourite suits are ready for that business trip the next week. You know, the usual tasks we women went to university for. Finally, he wants a nurturer, a woman ready to become a mother as soon as possible. African men want kids, usually lots of them. They want a woman who will take pride in bearing multiple children, along with the breastfeeding, potty training, washing, burping and, in general, 24-hour babysitting.

Now, are the aforementioned tasks and attributes a sure sign of being anti-feminist? Not always, but sometimes I feel that when dating African men there is not too much room for compromise on the woman’s side. It’s all or nothing with African men. To say that you hate cooking, will be no one’s assistant for under $70 000 a year, or that you are not interested in being someone’s mother is romantic suicide on this continent. Many African men love “strong” women, but to be overly vocal about how sexism is negatively affecting women, for example, can turn you into a bra-burning radical that rejects traditional notions of marriage and doesn’t shave her legs. And what African man is supposed to take this kind of woman home to meet his African mother? Again, don’t be foolish!

Even me, an opinionated over-analyser who quotes Pumla Gqola on my Tumblr blog, would get nervous during a first date with a tall, dark and handsome African man who my mother would call “ozzband” [husband] material”. As the two of us would sit there getting to know each other, he’d hit me with the boom early on and say something like, “I mean the first thing I look for in a woman is her cooking skills, I like traditional women you know?”.  I would cringe, smile and respond, “Yeah, cooking is important, having a traditional marriage is not the worst thing in the world.” But the whole time I’d be thinking, “What the hell Stephanie, there’s nothing traditional about you besides the fact that you like to eat foufou and sauce with your hands.” But because African men don’t do feminists, I always felt the need to dumb my ideals down a bit as to not scare these brothas away.

African men have set and continue to set the dating tone on this continent, and since many still want that cook/assistant/nurturer/superwoman, it has left us self-proclaimed feminists in a box, a very lonely box where we watch as friends get married and we end up being that guest sitting in the back discussing bell hooks’ Feminist Theory with no one in particular.

So I ask the African men out there: Is it true? If a woman walked up to you wearing a T-shirt with the words “African Feminist” on it, would you be intrigued or intimidated? Curious or concerned? Do you not do feminists? Or am I over-generalising?

Stephanie A. Kimou was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and raised in Washington, DC. She is a blogger by night at A Black Girl in the World and a programme manager at a women’s social enterprise in Tanzania by day. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Georgetown University in DC, and has studied at the African Gender Institute in Cape Town and the University of Paris in France. Her mother has told her she has two years to get married, or else. Writing is the way she deals with this stress.