Okay, Malaka. Are You a Feminist or NOT???

*I’m writing this knowing that portions of this post are going to irk some of my conservative and liberal readers alike. The moderates might not be so mad at me. By “moderates”, I mean only one person: A-Dub, my sister.

 

I was recently interviewed by the Ndeye, the curator of Under the Neem Tree and was asked the following question:

What are you[r] thoughts on African feminism as opposed to western feminism? Does African feminism even exist? If yes, how do you see it evolved in the struggle between modernism and traditions? And finally, do you consider yourself a feminist?

Time constraints didn’t allow me to answer the question as fully as I would have liked. After all, there is a lot in those four questions to address! I fired off an answer, hit ‘send’ and closed my laptop. But late last night, the question haunted me in my sleep and followed me into the morning.

Malaka; do you consider yourself a feminist?

As a modern woman, I would be expected to reply emphatically in the positive and politely ask for the next question. Maybe I’m not that modern. I’m okay with that. I’ve never done too well with following trends. As you will see from the article when it is posted, I answered that I do not consider myself a “feminist”.

First of all, I have several hang-ups with feminism as I have experienced or read about it. Now, I have only experienced the idea of feminism from the Western perspective, and as Ndeye points out in her question there IS a difference between Western feminism and African feminism, and even a debate about whether African feminism even exists. When I was first introduced to ‘feminism’, it was via some documentary I was made to watch in the 80’s. It talked about the suffragette movement, the Pill and women’s right to work. It was the women’s right to work bit that stuck with me. What nonsense was this? Black women have ALWAYS worked in this country. We’ve picked cotton, been maids, chopped tobacco, swept streets, minded children… all for a pittance and with no pomp or fanfare. “Right” to work??? Tsseeewww. Nonsense. It was only later that I came to understand that the heralds of the American women’s rights movement/early feminists were the wives of aristocrats, and that there was a direct relationship between a man’s perceived  success and the idleness of his wife. The richer the man, the more idle his wife. That’s not a lot of time to get out and be of much use, is it?

So who do these rich, idle, seemingly incapable women call on to further their cause of freedom? Well, former female slaves, of course. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and probably dozens of other nameless Black women who suffered under the lash in fields, and rice swamps, and God knows where else. These women were the picture of strength; the anti-type to the image of female frailty that White men had appended to their own women. Harriet and Sojourner made impassioned speeches about the ability of women. You know what happened next. Eventually, the suffragettes won the right to the female vote in 1920, won the right to work in factories for pay during the industrial era, took over work at home during the war effort. And my sisters? Black women didn’t earn the right to vote until the end of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. We didn’t have the right to work alongside our Caucasian ‘sisters’ in their mechanized factories either. Could they have fought as hard to work alongside us as they did for their own rights to fair pay? Sure they could have. But they didn’t. They didn’t even speak up for Quvenzhané Wallis when the editors of The Onion called her “a little cunt”. White feminist don’t care one whit about Black women until it’s time for the next crisis.

Hey! Hey! Quick! Close your eyes! In one word, describe ‘women’s rights’!

Chances are, if you’re sitting in your big comfy American couch reading this blog, you said “abortion”.

That’s right: Today’s feminist issue is all about abortion, aka the Issue Formerly known as A Woman’s Right to Choose. And at the beginning of this fight for the “right to choose” who did these elite women in their structured suits and beaded friendship bracelets parade around to validate their cause? Poor Black women. Again, they used our bodies and our wretched state to get their government to kowtow to their personal wants. A couple of years later and a more “appropriate” icon of the birth control movement is introduced to the public in the person of Sandra Fluke. There is a history of White women using us, making promises in the name of “sisterhood” and failing to make good on their promises, as recent as Paula Deen.

So no, I do not identify as a feminist. As you can see, I wouldn’t make a very good one, anyway.

I once had this troll that used to follow and harass me on M.O.M. and on Twitter until I finally HAD to block her. She made all kinds of pronouncements about me.

Malaka is a conservative. Malaka is un-evolved. Malaka is a knuckle dragger who doesn’t believe that sex should be had outside of marriage. That last accusation amused me, actually, considering my first child, just like Jesus Christ was conceived outside of wedlock. What? Do you think God was confused when He sent the Holy Spirit to impregnate an unwed teen? I don’t have any problems with children being conceived outside of wedlock, and I don’t think the church should either. We should be encouraging life, not driving people to destroy it out of guilt because we have issues with our warped Victorian era Christian views.

Which brings me to my last thought: does African feminism exist?

I don’t know if you can put the idea (or least MY idea) of what African feminism is into a tidy little box wrapped with kente cloth and call it African Feminism/Exhibit A. Many of our societies prior to the Christian/Islamic invasion of the last five centuries were matriarchal. For instance, in the Akan culture, an uncle had more right to his sister’s children than that woman’s own husband did. This is because a woman’s child was her child for sure, and her brother would be confident that they were indeed a part of her lineage. To that end, there was a time in Africa – or Ghana at least – when the news of a pregnancy was met with celebration. Now, a girl gets pregnant and anguished screams of “Ooohhh!!!” echo in the village/city halls.

We just do things differently. For instance, the way we historically appropriated land in Africa is different from the way Europeans did. The land belonged to everyone in that community, not just some feudal lord in his stone fortress atop a Scottish knoll.  To my knowledge, there was never the sense of competition between the sexes as Caucasian men and women have experienced it. Our Queen Mothers and Kings were afforded mutual respect, and we celebrated their unique roles and expectations within those roles. So in short, no: I do not believe “African feminism” exists. I believe African feminism is a euphemism for human decency.

I read that there is a push for feminists to stop using the term as their moniker and to come up with some other name. There is this idea that they need to re-brand, because feminism/feminist has so many negative emotions attached to it, even among other women. Feminists, like any other clique, can be a cruel bunch if you do not share their same views. You can throw Catholics, Southern Baptists and Shiite Muslims in that category, just so I’m not accused of picking on feminists.

If I HAD to categorize myself, and put myself in a box, I’d like to say that I am a Decent Human Being…inist. Does decency have a gender or race? Of course not. At the end of the day, that’s all I want: to treat people fairly and to be treated fairly.

Can I get an ‘amen’ from my moderates?

 

  • Nana Ama

    Amen!
    I can only speak up for our brand of feminism among the Akan of Ghana (and the lower to mid belt of southeast Ivory Coast). The decency and sense of fairness that you talked about is a lived reality! Equal access by either gender to land, property etc. The children belong to the mother, because we can confirm they came from her! The father could be any dog! (But the man names the child(ren), ie. carry his name.
    I know of only two other matrilineal (as opposed to matriarchal) communities in Africa, and guess what? They are very progressive, because women are encouraged, indeed expected to spread their wings and fly, as the norm! One, is a very obscure clan among the Igbo, who are in the main patriarchal. I have been reliably informed that a high percentage of the wealthiest Igbo women come from that clan. The other matrilineal group is to be found in Zambia. The common thread for all three is that their girls and women are NATURALLY HIGH ACHIEVERS! When the only way is up for women, the result is, ALL ages and gender in the community benefit! Sadly, Christian/Victorian values are eroding the practices among these communities too! Writing them down with verifiable examples, is what will keep the flame alight, and stop other so-called sisters from borrowing our bodies when they feel like! Tchaaa!

    • My heart smiles whenever you and Rasheeda leave your comments. 🙂

  • A-Dub

    Double amen!

  • Wow Okay! Great post. I never really thought about it this way but yeah I guess there is a case to be made against western feminist. But then again , imported solutions are always problematic because they don’t fit in the new environment.

    • Thanks for your feedback Ndeye, and thanks above all for interviewing me! 🙂
      I used to subscribe in part to the “White savior” narrative, but in my old age not so much any more. Imported solutions have strangled our identity, wholesale.

  • AM

    Lord Jesus. You need to take diplomacy classes. If there is any white feminist reading this, they must be on their way to a morgue. MURDER she wrote!

    • Oh. You think they care? They are busy living lives of privilege!
      Speaking of ‘diplomacy’, it reminds me of the time I took the FSO exam they year after I graduated. I was CERTAIN I was meant for the diplomatic corp. apparently, I bombed the exam so abysmally that they didn’t even bother sending me the results!

  • I identify as a feminist. It took awhile for me to finally come to self-identify, but I think I am comfortable with that.

    I like the distinction you made about western feminism and African feminism and that they are different, historically and in practice.

  • Ekuba

    As an ardent African feminist, you get 2 loud AMENS from me! This is exactly why #SolidarityisForWhiteWomen was trending recently. But for me, I have an even bigger problem with my fellow African sisters! Most African feminists are educated & middle to upper class so they are in the position to help the underprivileged but fail to do so. There are several ’empowered’ African female politicians working in totalitarian regimes around Africa who are mute as these regimes abuse women. We had our own example in Ghana in the 80s-90s where the 31st Women’s Movement was formed to promote feminism & yet the leaders of this group(who were also members of a government led by soldiers) kept mute as military goons regularly stripped women & whipped them in the market. I know several African feminists who have househelps (should be renamed house slaves) whom they overwork to death & abuse although some of these helps are minors. How conscious are we as African feminists of the struggles of lower income African women? How many Ghanaian feminists spare a thought to the Kayaye girls in the markets? How much are we protesting about the fact that there are still many women enslaved in the Volta Region of Ghana (trokosi) & exiled in the Northern Region (witches camps)? How many of our Nigerian feminist sisters who spurred the #ChildNotBride trend in Nigeria, equally protested when the ‘esteemed Bishop’ Oyedepo slapped a girl that he said was a witch? & if I had a dime for every-time a African feminist hasn’t batted an eyelid about contributing to the breakup of another woman’s home by sleeping with her husband, I would be a millionaire. So I don’t blame you at all, I blame white feminists, black feminists & all feminists- including myself- for making feminism unattractive to other women.

    • Herh. Ekuba. You’ve come from the other side to here, eh?

      Give me the mic.
      I said give me the mic!!! Ahaa…

      *drops it for you*

      The issue you raised about elite African feminism has been a sticking point for me for ages. One day I’ll write about a certain “auntie” I had and what she used to do to her poor maid.

  • AMEN!