Tag: feminism

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

Africa needs a new feminism

Africa needs a new feminism. A feminism that rises from the throats of ungovernable women, rolls down the backs of intellectually curious young men, and trickles down from every corner of government to reinvigorate the cultures of our continent, cultures that were greyed out by years of colonialism and the subsequent years of preoccupied capitalism. The feminism of Africa cannot be the same as the feminism of the West.

The cries of western feminists, seemingly weighed down by the apparent woes of suburban housewifery and the very troubling issue of beauty in the mainstream media, are swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean before the old African woman even has time to tie a hungry grandchild to her back, or the new African woman can use her entry-level salary to take care of a mismatch of relatives who Did Not Have Her Opportunities.

My feminism cannot be the same as that of my western counterpart. As tempting as it may be to sidle up next to a fellow soft-breasted twenty-year-old and talk heatedly about what Beyonce’s ‘suggestive’ gyrating means for ‘respectability politics’, I am not yet there. As fun as it appears to be to park onto a social network and turn my woes into a trending topic, I must remember my place. For my place is not the same as that of a woman in a first-world country – no matter how identical our birthdays are, no matter how “universal” female suffering is. We are not the same.

So why should my feminism be the same?

I am an Africanist. A third generation independent African, my father and mother were born just a couple of years shy of their respective countries’ heated dash from the clutches of a tired Britain. My task is not a simple task – my debt to the continent has not been paid. But I am only one of the few that realises that we owe the continent more than it does us. And I will be damned if Africa loses another young, energetic, liberated mind to the lazy glamour of participating in western feminism’s weak assault on society.

Delegations of women coming from various Malian regions attend a rally against femal genital mutilations as they sit under a banner asking for the end of excision and forced marrriage, on February 6 2014 in Bamako. (Pic: AFP)
Delegations of women from various Malian regions attend a rally against femal genital mutilations as they sit under a banner asking for the end of excision and forced marriage, on February 6 2014 in Bamako. (Pic: AFP)

African feminism has bigger fish to fry. Tasked with the burden of taking the blame for decades of societal degrade – alleged to be picking up where colonialism left off; the crumbs of African traditions are swept to the feet of the African feminist and she is expected not to accidentally crush them. When feminism or any allusion to gender equality is mentioned in a room full of traditionalists, self-proclaimed and otherwise, the voices shouting about the “un-Africanness” of a notion as simple as women’s rights are often all one can hear over the murmurs of those only beginning to find comfort in the idea.

But this cannot go on.

For all the other movements (like the pure socialism of African freedom fighters of the past)  are dead and capitalism has swept up my generation of Africans into a sea of perpetual desire, too busy copying American consumerism to actively participate in the reshaping of the African political landscape. Many more are too busy simply trying to stay afloat with western debt-collectors chopping away at their sodden feet. They cannot express interest in feminism thought processes – especially if said thought processes seem to be limited to concerns common to first-world women only.

So Africa needs a new feminism, one that recognises that the young men of this continent, though allegedly protected by the warm veil of patriarchy, are as much at risk for poverty, disease and hunger as women are; one that recognises that after two or three generations of single-parent homes, young men have little to no idea of what it means to be a man and are left to grab blindly at caricatures of sexist male figures for guidance. Africa needs a feminism that sees that it is the last original attempt to take our cultures into our own hands and shape young men and women that can lead this place away from the greedy claws of ‘foreign investors’; away from the cement-like clutches of heads of state too old to care; away from the exploitative ideologies of fly-by-night politicians.

Africa needs a new feminism, because it’s our last hope.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 20-year-old Mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She blogs at siyandawrites.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites

‘When Women Speak’: Exploring Kenyan feminisms


Fungai Machirori interviews Brenda Wambui and Michael Onsando, co-founders of the Kenyan thought leadership platform Brainstorm. They recently launched a quarterly online journal with the first edition titled ‘When Women Speak’.

Can you briefly tell me when and how the idea of this journal came about and why you chose feminism as your first topic?

Brenda Wambui (BW): We had been toying with the idea of a quarterly supplement/e-book since late last year. Having published an essay a week on the Brainstorm site for six months, it felt natural as we wanted to expand our content offering and create bodies of work around issues we feel are important to the Kenyan existence.

Also, we had been getting pulled into discussions that revolved around feminism frequently and realised that there were a lot of misconceptions about feminism. So feminism was at the top of both our heads.

The articles in the journal are quite in-depth. And furthermore, the journal is distributed online. Some might argue you are preaching to the converted.

BW: You would be surprised to learn that even online, we have several people who wake up each day and disparage women just for the hell of it. People still mock and bully feminists online for having the courage to speak out. These people, too, need to see what we have written. It is easy to think that just because people are online and have internet access, they will not be sexist because they have easy access to information that can change this, but this is not the case.

About the articles being in depth; that is why we decided to do this on a quarterly basis as opposed to monthly. People can take their time to read and re-read the e-book, as the next one only comes out in three months.

Michael Onsando (MO): We really tried to keep the language simple and to the point. We hope to reach the people who still think feminism is out of reach of the ordinary citizen.

How freely do Kenyan women identify as feminists?

BW: It used to be that being a feminist was a bad thing, because as the stereotype goes, feminists are ugly and angry because no man wants them. However, with the rise of the internet, and especially social media like Facebook and Twitter, women who identify as feminists have been able to articulate what we are fighting for, which is equal rights and equal opportunities for women and men. With this increased understanding, more and more women are willing to identify as feminists.

And how freely do Kenyan men identify as feminists?

MO: Not many men identify as feminist. The feminist has been painted as a bitter single woman. Therefore, identifying as feminist creates a situation where one’s masculinity is called into question; I know mine has. And even the men who would be feminists don’t like the word, as if it is dirty and as if using it will somehow kill them. This is not to say that there are no Kenyan men that identify as feminist. They exist, and I feel dearly for them. But those against vastly outnumber those for.

There’s a poignant thought in one of the pieces: “I don’t know if our mothers think their sons are not the boys … that will hurt women. If they do, I don’t know if their fear that their daughters might be raped is equal to the fear that their sons may one day rape.” From a Kenyan perspective, what do you attribute this to?

MO: There is a lot to be said about nurture. There is a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude here. As if, from birth, the male child has been given up on. Of course, it falls back to the patriarchal nature of society. The man will continue to be allowed to do as he wills while the woman submits. This is what we are taught. This is what we learn.

And then there’s the rapist. The rapist is constructed as a faraway mythical creature that is easily identifiable by how he walks talks, smells and acts. No one dares imagine that the rapist could be well-groomed, eloquent and middle class. Yet, more often than not, he is.

BW: Women are usually the ones who are warned against many things. Almost all parents will warn their daughters against being out at night, wearing short or tight clothes, getting pregnant at an early age and instruct them to wait for sex within marriage. Yet they rarely ask themselves who is going to harm or impregnate their daughters. Is it not young men like their sons? Parents believe that their sons are not the ones raping or harassing girls; but the statistics say otherwise.

You say you seek to redefine Kenyan feminisms. However, the language of feminism remains embedded in historical and emerging American feminist rhetoric – rape culture, privilege, intersectionality, self-care – much of which is to be found in ‘When Women Speak’. Can you redefine feminism without redefining its accompanying language?

BW: I feel that there are only so many words we can invent to describe something – feminism over the years has done a great job of hashing out language and terminology, and describing what is problematic and what is not. The language used by feminists, in my opinion, is okay. What we need to do now is to contextualise the conversations to Kenya, and Africa. When you read about rape culture in New York, you may become wiser but still unable to apply it to your own existence.

MO: The thing is, we speak a western language. It is almost impossible to find ‘Africanness’ within English. And even if we manage, somehow westernisation will creep in. I think this is why a lot of African feminists struggle with language. There is something about finding one’s tongue within a language that doesn’t fully accommodate your existence that is very frustrating.

Is there space in today’s world to not identify as feminist, but yet embrace its ideals?

BW: I encounter this argument a lot and it saddens me because many people want equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women, but do not want to be identified as feminists, probably due to misinformation and negative stereotypes. That is why we sought to (re)define feminism in our e-book. Perhaps once people are well informed about what feminism hopes to achieve, they will more easily identify with it.

MO: I think the idea of identity these days is used to skirt around many issues and to alienate others. There are presumptions that come about with identity and that’s why many people chose to, or not to, identify as many things – particularly as feminists. What’s more important to me is what you stand for. If you’re standing on the side that fights for justice then, I find, I hardly care what you decide to identify as.

‘When Women Speak’ is available for free download at www.quarterly.brainstorm.co.ke

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

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.  

Tomboys, masculinity and the unmaking of a girl

When I woke up to International Women’s Day celebrations last week, the first thing on my mind wasn’t politics, but the personal connections I didn’t know I would forfeit the minute I stopped wearing skirts, traded in my long hair for a frohawk, and fell in love with a woman.

I used to have a very close-knit circle of African/black female friends. We defended each other from perverts at crowded bars, cried on each other’s shoulders, told each other we were beautiful whenever the world made us doubt that we were, and gave each other relationship advice, regardless of the gender of the person we loved.

We were sisters. It didn’t matter if we were tomboys or not. We were sisters. It didn’t matter that some of us wore skirts, and some of us wore shorts. We were sisters. That was all that mattered. Right?

Wrong. The second my gender presentation transitioned from “straight-girl-femininity” to “queer-masculine-in-betweener”, I lost most of my black female friends. I’m a different kind of woman now. And all of a sudden women I used to call my sisters don’t know how to interact with me. I’m still a woman but the reactions to my expression of womanhood have changed, drastically.

This is the kind of experience that informs my work as a media activist. I’m always thinking about which perspectives are missing from political conversations about women’s equality and representations of African women in pop culture. Who is being excluded? Why? How can the African women’s movement become more self-reflective so that we can identify who among us is being left behind, and become stronger advocates for the kind of progress that includes them? Incidentally, in the fight for women’s equality, the people most frequently excluded from consideration and celebration, often enough look just like me.

A few years ago I wrote about the experience of being forced to wear a dress to my Nigerian friend’s wedding (even though she knew I was a tomboy). Despite the political successes the women’s movement is celebrating today, not much has changed for me, professionally and personally.

Even within the open-minded, women’s activist spaces in which I find myself for work, I still have to endure not just the endless hours of boyfriend/husband talk (as though women can’t bond around any other topic), but also – after I attempt to contribute – the prolonged, awkward silences that follow once they realise my partner is a woman.

My straight girlfriends – bless their hearts – enjoy inviting me to their favourite (straight) nightclubs so they can maintain their perception of my being “normal”, but have no clue how uncomfortable it is to be a tomboy in a venue with a dress code policy that insists “ladies wear heels, men button-downs and hard soles.” So, they’ll usually abandon me on the dance floor to go to the ladies room for a “touch up”, or worse, disappear into the post-nightclub meat market, leaving me exposed on a street curb as a prime target for drunk dudes to take out insecurities about their masculinity: “Was that your girlfriend? What, you think you’re a dude? You like pussy? I like it, too. I got a dick though.”

Yup, that happened. I even broke up with a friend over such an incident.

I can’t tell you how many times my masculinity has been used to absolve other women (and men) of the responsibility of advocating for me; whether in the face of harassers on street corners, the gendered aisles of mainstream clothing stores, or even within the women’s movement itself – it’s as though people automatically assume I’m “stronger”, physically, mentally and emotionally, just because I shop in the men’s department.

“Don’t worry about her. She can take care of herself.”

But I have never experienced physical aggression from the world to the degree that I do now. From constantly dodging men who take it upon themselves to “put me in my place” to being ignored by women who’ve subconsciously decided that I’ve chosen “the other side”, I’ve never felt less safe and more in need of protecting.

I can’t help but note how often my masculinity is the unspoken reason I’m excluded from African women’s spaces, and denied access to the very same sisterhood that nurtured my unwavering dedication to every woman’s empowerment.

Since losing access to “the sisterhood”, I’ve been rebuilding my support network from scratch, one in which the full spectrum of “womanhood” isn’t just acknowledged, but celebrated: African feminists committed to building cross-movement alliances, queer “brown bois” in the US leading national conversations about healthy masculinity, and progressive women of all shades and stripes  interested in seeing gender justice done in the media.

I am fortunate. But today, I’m also aware of just how fortunate I am to have experienced even this yearning for a sisterhood that I did have – at least at some point. Even as a tomboy/woman whose gender presentation is more masculine my identity as a woman has never been questioned. But some of my sisters have never known that privilege. I know transgender women (born male, now living as women) and also, intersex women, for instance, who have never known the comfort, loyalty and power of a female friend circle.

But, we are still sisters. It shouldn’t matter that some of us were born male and some born female. We are sisters in blood and numbers, in shared missions and shared struggles.

That’s all that matters. That’s all that should matter … Right?

I was asked last week to contribute a response to “What does Women’s Day mean to you?” This was part of my answer:

When I remember how my mother celebrated International Women’s Day – as part of a community of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of African women, dressed in bright colours, often laughing and dancing, holding hands – I think about how many African lesbians have been evicted from their sister circles, how many transgender women have never experienced unguarded female friendship. Women’s Day inspires me to keep writing my story so that my African sisters can get to know me, and to keep advocating for queer Africans like me who are still fighting – not just for women’s “rights” but for women’s community, sisterhood, love.

Women’s Day should be a reminder to all of us to keep advocating for every woman’s right to love and be loved, even long after we’ve found sisterhood for ourselves.

Spectra is a Nigerian writer, media advocate and social commentator on gender, sexuality and pop culture. Her writing critiques social movements through the lens of media psychology at spectraspeaks.com. Connect with her on Twitter.