Muses

My Complicated Relationship with Feminism   

Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

I was a child when I first heard the word feminist. I was probably 10 then. I don’t recall exactly how the word became a part of my vocabulary. I may have read it in a book or heard it on television. But it did become a part of my identity at a very young age. I was a feminist, at least in my head that was how I saw myself, even if no one around me had the faintest idea that I had this notion. After all, who would expect a 10 years old girl born and raised in a conservative Christian African community to have such a western notion as feminism?

My understanding of feminism at the time was very basic. I may have asked an older person what it meant and they may have summed it up as the general idea of women being equal to men. I liked that very much. There must have been something in me, a sort of rebellion that made me want to challenge the norm. Children are quick to pick up on such things as “where a woman’s place is in a society”. In mine, it clearly wasn’t a good place. Even young boys were quick to tell you what you could and couldn’t do because you’re girl. It’s no surprise that my favorite sport as a child was wrestling with boys.

As a child I loved feminism because it finally made sense why I think it was unfair when people say, it’s the mother’s fault when a child misbehaves, why I think it made no sense that a man could have multiple wives, but a woman could not have multiple husbands and why I think men should not beat their wives or blame them for not having male children. I was not supposed to think like this because I was only a child. Where did  I come up with such thoughts?!

But I was always a well-behaved child, I hated strokes and in Nigeria, every adult pretty much has the liberty to beat you up. It was called discipline. For fear of getting beaten, I never voiced any of my ideas. But in my mind, I was heavily rebelling every time I had to do the chores because I am girl, every time boys refuse to let me play soccer with them, and every time someone tells me to shut up when I knew I was right. Feminism allowed me to do this. I would have considered myself extremely abnormal if I had no framework in which to situate my behavior, because it was out of the norm for a woman to think she is equal to a man. At least where I grew up it was. But on reflection, maybe women did want to be treated equal to men, but they could not rebel openly for fear of punishment, so they rebelled in their minds.

I have long outgrown my initial idea
of what feminism meant. I realize it’s more layered. I rather love Adichie’s definition. I used to think I was fully a feminist, until recently. I began learning about all these different theories and ideas about feminism and they all seem so complicated; western feminism, non western feminism, first wave feminism, second wave feminism, third wave feminism, Gaga feminism and so on. Why so many theories? Why so complicated? I thought the basic idea was to have equality between men and women.

I took a graduate course in which I learned about the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Some believe she was a feminist, others believe she was not, the woman herself said she was painting flowers, others said it was a vagina. I was hoping by the end of the semester, I would have a better understanding of feminism, but the entire class could not seem to reach a unanimous agreement about feminism either.

Beyoncé and Bell Hooks both claim to be feminists, yet their ideas of feminism are so divergent. So, I came to the conclusion that feminism is whatever you make of it, you can brand your own feminism to mean what you want it to. Like O’Keeffe’s paintings,  your feminism could be a flower, a vagina, or both. The definition is up to you. Feminism does not have to conform with some complicated standard. Feminism should be accessible to everyone because at the core of it is the fight for equality, and that’s what we all need!

Men can be feminists too, why not? I believe the exclusion is exactly what complicates feminism and makes it seem as if the agenda is to usurp men rather than the fight for equality. Feminism should not be a western thing or a women’s thing, or a white people thing. It should belong to everyone, young, old, black, white, male, female.

If my brand of feminism does not work for you, coin yours. Also, I don’t want to be called a feminist because I don’t like social labels. But on some days, I am a feminist and on other days I am not. That’s my complicated relationship with feminism.

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