I don’t like labels, they are restrictive and never tell the full story. Trust me I know a lot about labels, six years in pharmacy school ensured that I made hundreds of them and answered countless questions about them. For this reason I have never referred to myself as a feminist or even thought of myself with the feminist tag, that all changed two days ago.
It was a facebook post, a beautifully written missive on the dangers of the agitation for female equality. It was titled the innocence of feminism. It was written by an obviously intelligent man who was sad about the state of the world and he heaped the blame on the rising tide of the agitation for female equality. He had a problem with the word “equality”, his point is that men and women are not equal. I agree with him, equality implies that they are identical.
Are we identical? No we aren’t! It’s not just about Sugar and spice or snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Our bodies have different hormonal profiles, our pelvic girdles are shaped differently and the exterior differences speak for themselves. The word that best fits is equivalent- it means that the two things are the same in some specific ways but they are not identical. This means that while males and females are very different in morphological appearance, they are the same legally, morally and even spiritually (Christianity).
In the world I grew up in, equivalence of the sexes was a forgone conclusion. My mother worked, my grandmother ran a business and my dad pulled his weight when it came to household chores- he was the first child and had practically run the house as a child. I’d seen my parents make decisions together and no one told me I couldn’t do anything because I was female. I knew that women had been regarded as second class in the past but I didn’t think anyone in the civilized world still felt that women should be suppressed or not allowed to reach their full potential because they are female or that they are in some way inferior to men. My only peeve was the fact that I was expected to change my surname, Ezenwa is all the shades of sexy and Adaeze Ezenwa has a ring of rightness.
That changed in 2005. Uncle Tony who is my father’s friend brought a man to my house, I can’t remember the favour this man wanted from my dad, I’m pretty sure it had to do with an academic challenge he had with his child- my father was still teaching then. At that time, I was preparing for JAMB UME and Uncle Tony asked about my preparations. My dad told him I’d applied to Uniben to study pharmacy and Uncle Tony told me to read hard because Uniben was not in my catchment area. The man he came with told my dad he was wasting his money in training me in a university. There was no point in training another man’s wife in a university, he said. It was better for me to be sent to a college of education to get my NCE or a polytechnic to get an OND and if my husband wanted me to go to the university then he’d train me himself. My father does not respond to foolish talk but Uncle Tony told him I’d been a brilliant child all my life and it would be a crime not to allow me to reach my full potential. The man insisted that he was right, he wouldn’t send any of his daughters to the university talkless of funding a capital intensive course like pharmacy.
I couldn’t stop looking at him, this crazy man who would refuse to send a child to school not because he felt the child wasn’t smart enough but because she had two x chromsomes. Getting into Uniben fully opened my eyes to the realities that the lives of women in Nigeria do not really matter, that they are considered as property who are only good for sex and making children and yes! Cooking and other household chores.
Thankfully there’s a rising wave of feminism in Nigeria and most importantly it is becoming a subject of discussion on social media and even a trending topic from time to time. Many people have written and spoken about feminism, with Ms Adichie’s “We should all be feminists” speech which was sampled by Beyonce in Flawless being perhaps the most popular. However feminism has its detractors, from men who do not want to lose their position of privilege to women who do not think women should aspire to equality. They see nothing wrong with the status quo, with a situation where women cannot inherit land, where a father can refuse to train his brilliant child because that child is female, where a woman will not get the same promotion opportunities as the men in the workplace.
Many women do not want to be identified as feminists, there’s a general perception that feminists are ugly, bitter women who cannot get or keep a man. Some feminists have not helped matters either, their vitriolic output when feminist issues come up is enough to make most women withdraw from being tarred with the same brush. My adopted big sister Biodun wrote a beautiful piece on Sabinews which was titled I am not a feminist, shoot me Some of the comments on Toni Kan’s (He co-owns sabinews) Facebook wall made me shrink, the bitter and terrible comments directed at Biodun were enough to make a rational intending feminist swear off feminism.
Funny thing is Biodun IS a feminist and her post is not against feminism but the noisemaking Nigerian feminists who have not produced tangible results for all their noise and hoopla. Her post is a blueprint on practical feminism but the feminists refused to read between the lines, heck! They refused to read the post because I don’t see how anyone would read that post and still think the writer isn’t a feminist. She even stated that she believed that women deserve equal respect as men and she would raise her sons that way, that for me is the most effective way of preaching the gospel of feminism- raising feminist children.
Hundreds of years ago, universities would not admit women, women could not vote or own property. Doesn’t that sound odd today? Many women and men practically gave their lives for the advancement of women’s rights and we’re reaping the fruits today. However it is not yet Uhuru on female rights issues, those who call themselves feminists should be practical about the advancement of women’s rights, it’s not about writing long articles and blog posts *like this one* or telling sad stories of oppressed women and their ordeal. It’s about taking steps for the advancement of their rights.
If Ms Gladys Ukeje hadn’t petitioned the courts for her father’s inheritance and continued to pursue the case even to the supreme court, we would not have a legal precedent for female inheritance in Nigeria and in Igbo land in particular. If all the feminists in Lagos and Abuja alone had lent their support for Aisha Alhassan- the Taraba governorship candidate of the APC who was robbed her victory, and sensitised the people of the state, perhaps we would have gotten our first elected female governor.
Susan B Anthony is one of my heroes (yes, I know there’s such a word as heroine), she worked tirelessly for female voting across all the states of the US and she didn’t even live to see the adoption of the nineteenth amendment that ensured that women could vote. I’d like to share her words in 1894 with us today, by us I mean Nigerian feminists.
We shall someday be heeded, and when we shall have our amendment to the Constitution of the United States, everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people think that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.
We should support other women, create platforms for women to excel, provide legal services for oppressed women who need them, create financial empowerment programmes for indigent women because it is only when you can support yourself that you can break the shackles of oppression. These are not the times to go on twitter and tell us how women should not cook for their husbands, Nne we have bigger issues than that biko; or about agitating for 30% female representation in government when we have not supported the female candidates who choose to step into the ring à la Sarah Jubril and Remi Sonaiya.
However terrible the feminist movement seems to be in Nigeria or in any part of the world, it needs to be supported. More voices and more importantly, more hands are required to do the work. One day, it will not be odd for a daughter to inherit her father’s house, it will be unthinkable for anyone to force their daughter or sister into marriage especially teenagers, girls will educated to any level they can aspire to, a married woman who chooses to retain her surname wouldn’t cause an uproar, and most importantly we’d have female governors and a female president or two.
To the young man who wrote that facebook post, I say thank you. Thank you for providing the impetus for me to finally write about feminism and to declare my secret identity to myself and to the world. I am a feminist, always have been, always will be.