A dirty word in some circles. When I hear the word, I think of fiery black women with dreadlocks or white women in badly fitting suits. Don’t ask me where these images come from; I don’t know. I do want to know: what’s all the fuss about?
I am a Nigerian woman. I am educated. I hold a job that pays me the same as my male colleagues. I voted in the last election. I can drive. I can own property… Now that I think about it, what exactly does being female forbid me from?
I can’t be out by myself late at night. Common sense. I could be robbed and/or raped. But that isn’t feminism’s war. That’s a function of security. A guy would be vulnerable too. Well, being female puts you at a disadvantage in the corporate world, some say. You can’t be a top-level executive. And they have stats to prove it. I’ll get back to that in a bit.
There are societal norms about how I should interact in society as a woman. But I think that those norms are shaped by the family I grew up in. I was told I was intelligent. Not relative to a boy. Intelligent in my right. The world was my oyster, the sky my limit, my life was charmed. My future was placed before me in pragmatic terms. I could be a career woman like my mother, keep a store close to home like both my grandmothers or be a housewife like many of my cousins. Each was a valid option and growing up, I was exposed to the pros and cons of each.
And this is the thing. A woman should have choices. We may not always agree with those choices (to stay with an abusive husband, to never marry, to take up a job, to become a housewife, to drop out of school) but they’re hers.
I was taught to respect men, to honour the man I would eventually marry. I like to think that my future husband was taught to respect women, like my brother was taught, like my sons will be. But I was also taught to pay for my drink. To be content with what I had. To earn my money without selling my dignity.
Society didn’t teach me this. Family did.
Yesterday, I took a male friend out to dinner. I called the waitress over. I requested the menu. I ordered. And when we were done, I requested the bill. When she got to our table, the waitress made to give it to him. I stretched out my hand to take it. She ignored me, and still pushed it to him. He smiled and handed it to me. The look on her face as I counted out the money from my wallet was priceless. Was I offended? No. Amused, more like. And frankly, I considered it too small to hold a grudge. I don’t blame society, I understand that it’s a function of her family and upbringing.
And then, there are bars/restaurants/clubs who refuse entry to unaccompanied women. On one hand, I find it amusing that a public establishment would seek to make moral choices for its patrons. On the other hand, I would boycott such an establishment. If you don’t want my custom, why would I force it on you? My own money? But I also think that this is a petty battle, and one I wouldn’t waste effort on.
What battles would I be interested in? Poverty alleviation. I hear of families that send only their sons to school because they think their daughters could do no better than to marry well. But often, these families can’t afford to send everyone and so they have to make a choice the best they know how. But what if they could afford to send them both? Would they still refuse? I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. And so our battle should be getting them across the poverty line. I know a mother who runs a small kiosk to support her family. Getting a bank loan to expand her business would be difficult. But that’s not because she’s female. Her husband is a vulcanizer (Nigerian term for a person who fixes tyres), and I daresay getting a loan would be difficult for him as well. It’s not really a gender problem, but one of class distinction.
Gender equality battles aren’t complete if we don’t fight for men’s rights, as well. Does this sound odd?
Back to the corporate arena. I overheard female colleagues complain that we aren’t well represented in our company’s leadership. They insist that D & I should be brought to bear. I differ. Leadership should be given to the most capable, not shared between the genders. If I want to be manager (as a male or a female), I have to work harder and longer than my peers to develop the right competencies faster. That’s easier when I’m unencumbered by family commitments. However, if after getting those competencies, I was turned down and the job given to a less competent male, then I would cry foul.
If I have a family, it gets harder. Some jobs are inherently incompatible with raising a family. With a family, I simply will not have enough time to develop those competencies faster than my peers. As a parent, I have a responsibility to raise my child. I can’t balance this with working long hours unless I have a very supportive husband. Let’s say he supports me 100% and he’s willing to take responsibility for our child. If he’s a house-husband, this is easy. But house-husbands aren’t common. Men have not been wired by their families to be house-husbands. So he has a job. Will his job let him close at 3.30 to pick our child from school? Will his job allow him take the afternoon off to take our child to hospital? Or his school’s soccer game? No. Women get those breaks in some companies, men hardly ever. And so this is what I think should be feminism’s cause. Flexible working hours for both sexes, so that each spouse can choose to support the other. Not just women, but men too. My husband should get paternity leave as long as mine so that if I choose to return to work a week postpartum, he can stay home to care for our infant. Amen?
There is the aside that even with these perks, some men would not support their wives’ ambitions. A shame, but that’s all it is. Society (or a movement) cannot force a man to support his wife, it’s a personal choice. The same way it’s a wife’s personal choice to support her husband.
But don’t hand me a promotion because it’s the politically correct thing to do. It’s an insult to my intelligence, and tells me I wouldn’t have been good enough otherwise.
I fear I may have gone off on a tangent. So back to my original question? What’s all the fuss about feminism? Honestly, I’m interested in hearing a feminist’s or anti-feminist’s thoughts.