Is feminism the right choice for you?


Before addressing the title topic, I just want to share that I have a piece about the abduction of girls in Nigeria at The Feminist Wire this week.

Also this week The Guardian hosted a debate panel on African feminism based on Doreen’s guest blog here on MsAfropolitan. The panel (myself included) answered the question “What does it mean to be an African feminist?”

Whether or not to call yourself a feminist is one of the most frequent questions I get from people. Many women feel that they are down with feminism in theory but they are apprehensive about the label. I can understand that. Beginning to call yourself a feminist is a big decision. Not only is it something that people will judge you by, in some cases, the stigma will hover above you like a ceiling. So while I don’t seek to dissuade women who ask me if they should call themselves feminist, neither do I try to persuade them. Rather I share my own experience, which has like that of countless others, been life-changingly positive.

For most feminists, becoming one is not a choice. You sort of just wake up one morning and think, holy scheisse I am a feminist! HELP! Speaking for myself anyway, I came to the realisation with both certainty and a sense of worry. In fact, I can’t separate being a feminist from being a woman so it would be like having an opinion on my being a woman. Oh wait… At any rate, feminism is not only my political and philosophical home, it’s also a spiritual guide through which I’ve found healing, courage and freedom.

People equate feminism with all kinds of things: man-hater/bra-burner/un-dateable/un-African, you name it. This stigma won’t ever fully disappear. But nowadays the ‘baggage’ of the term also has to do with people not wanting to put themselves in boxes or to label themselves.

However, most people are in “boxes” anyway. It’s funny how people will, for instance, happily call themselves pan-Africanist but not feminist. “I don’t like boxes,” they say. It would be more honest to say that they don’t like the “feminist” box!

The reason I don’t try to convince people that feminism is right for them is because unless they feel enthusiasm about feminism in their very soul, then chances are that as soon as another feminist does something they disagree with, they will start to judge both themselves and that other person. Furthermore, they may then become negative about feminism and become the types of ex-feminists who write articles about “Why I’m leaving feminism” and so on. The truth is they were probably always unsure about the term.

It should be obvious, but not all feminists are good people. Like in all parts of life, you should expect to encounter unsupportive, racist or bullying feminists. But if you are clear about your choice to be a feminist you will find it to be something profoundly rewarding. You will encounter inspiring women and men and discover a plethora of literature, blogs, films and art that you might otherwise missed. Things that used to cause micro-aggressions in your life will begin to make sense. For instance, if your family members pressure you to get married you might feel frustrated, naturally, but you will also know that it’s not that your family think your sole worth lies in you becoming some man’s wife, but that they are abiding to the reigning patriarchal ways of seeing. Basically, you will have suitable tools to process things that happen in your life with.

It’s worth considering these things if you are at a crossroad, wondering whether or not you are/should call yourself a feminist. You will gain much from taking a balanced view of the challenges, as well as the joys, of being a feminist.

Can you relate to any of this? Anything I missed?

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  • Madam Troublemaker

    Mine was totally one of those moments when I took stock of my views and values and thought “Well, damn… I’m a feminist.” Being African born and raised, I’ve certainly struggled with the identity because there are so many things I have had to unlearn… things that just did not feel right to begin with. I do agree that feminism is not for everybody. Some women truly enjoy the traditional female gender role and some women quite honestly do not have the will to buck convention the way feminism – the belief that men and women are equally valuable contributors to society- would necessitate. I think it is important that we allow each other the choice to be what is comfortable to ourselves. What grinds my gears are the women who tout feminism when it’s convenient and to their advantage and then want to revert to traditional gender roles when it’snot. I can’t deal. Can’t/

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hey Madam Troublemaker (great name btw), thanks for the comment. While I agree that choice is important, I do think that feminism is for everybody but that it’s important to feel comfortable with the term. Can you give examples of women who use feminism to ther convenience? I sort of know what you mean but would be interesting to hear more.

      • Madam Troublemaker

        In general terms, I’m thinking about women who want equality, autonomy and freedom of choice, but (especially in matters of romance and finance) quickly retreat behind assigned gender roles and a “…girl/woman can’t be expected to”. I’m thinking about the women who would be truly offended by a romantic interest’s failure to be “a gentleman” especially when being “a gentleman” means , he has to roll out the red carpet for her to get the princess treatment. Takes me back to a conversation I had with friends after ranting on my blog about the African City episode where Makena and Co. are offended by a guy expecting her to cook and then offended by another guy who wanted to split the tab. It was interesting that for many of them (my friends) who see themselves as strong, independent women of the feminist variety, that “going dutch” was not really a “…gentlemanly thing to do” and was indeed grounds to disqualify a guy. My thinking is if you expect a man to take care of you “…as a man should,” then he can reasonably expect you to reciprocate “…as a woman should.”

        I’m also thinking about the women who would take advantage of policies and structures which exist because of the feminist agenda and rise to positions of influence, and then refuse to lend their voices to further progress. Phyllis Schlafly. I’m looking at you.

        • MsAfropolitan

          Thanks for responding. I’m yet to watch African City but I know the first type of woman you speak of very very well. Although I find women like that tend to be of the ‘I don’t do labels/boxes’ type perhaps also to make dating life easier. Most explicit feminists interrogate gendered behaviours both in their professional and personal lives, if for no other reason than that people who know you are feminist will ask you straight up what your feminist views are on such things. The Phyllis Schlafy type of woman is quite loathsome in sabotaging the hard work of others that they benefit from.

  • Medusa

    My own experience was very much alike. I hadn’t aspired becoming a Feminist. I had lived my life, quietly abiding to family traditions and logic, and there was a point in time (about 2 years ago) that I discovered all the traditions and unfounded logic made me angry. I felt different within my own family because I lacked religious Faith (I rarely went to Church), I was fascinated by sexual literature (50 Shades of Grey & the likes) and I felt ashamed of it all. I felt as though I was not living life the right way and that God would come knocking at my door eventually. But until then, I held on to my lifestyle in secret and pretended in front of my family.

    Feminism came to me in the shape of Hélène Cixous’s essay ‘The Laugh of Medusa’. I had chosen it at random during philosophy class and I had to present it. The orgiastic discovery that someone else had felt as I did (mostly regarding sex) was my wake-up call. There was nothing wrong with being who I was, nothing wrong at all. I continue reading Feminist books and I continue to challenge my thinking everyday. I find immense happiness in the arms of Feminism and I don’t think i’ll could go back to hiding anymore.

    • Madam Troublemaker

      Now I must find that essay!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the comment, and nice that your online name is Medusa after Cixous essay I presume? I love that woman’s writing.

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  • Jim Donovan

    I think feminism is based on several premises, that that women and girls have equal value to that of men and obys, that women and girls are systematically disadvantaged by society compared with men and boys, and that something can be done to effectively remove these disadvantages. I even think that men and boys will benefit from removing these disadvantages, because we will have a better vision of what it means to be a man or a boy.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the concise comment Jim. I agree :)