Monday, November 21, 2005

Feminism is All Around

It seems that when an idea is on your mind, you start to see similar ideas or the same idea recurring all around you. Like lately, I've been thinking about feminism (both in the Nigerian context and outside), and it seems that all of a sudden I'm reading articles about (Nigerian) women who identify themselves as such or maybe don't, but whose beliefs mirror what feminism is all about.

I read an interview of Salma Hayek in the September 2003 issue of O (Oprah's magazine). Salma comes across as a very self-possessed woman, who has VERY strong ideas about how much women are capable of and how we should learn to value ourselves. I wish I had the mag with me here, so that I could type out some quotes. But, I fell in love with her just reading that interview. She talks about how, all her life, there have been boundaries set on how she should be. In Mexico, she was a famous soap star and the public saw her as the character she played. When she moved to Hollywood and had her breakthrough with Desperados, she became "the bombshell." She talks about how she's really had to go out of her comfort zone in order to defy the expectations which had been put on her by a narrow-minded film system. She's now an accomplished actress-writer-director, when all that was expected of her initially was that she would look good and be the bomshell.

Another interesting person I read about recently is Marcia Ann Gillespie, a one-time editor-in-chief of Essence (from 1971 to 1980) and the editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine (as at the time the article was written, May 1999). She proudly identified herself as a feminist in the article, but talked about how she initially it seemed to her that feminists (who happened to be mostly white women) largely ignored the issue of race. It seemed that to the early feminists, men were the bad people, however to a black woman who has to deal with *both* sexism and racism, that argument is just a little too simplistic. I can see where Marcia was coming from. It is the same argument that bell hooks makes, and one that I had never had much cause to think about, being from a predominantly black country.

I was watching "Adam's Rib", a film starring Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn (another woman who would be on my list of inspiring women) earlier today (I'm still not done watching it). In the film, a woman who has suffered years of neglect and abuse by her husband finally snaps when she finds out that he's cheating on her. She follows him one day after work, tracks him to the arms of his mistress and shoots him. He doesn't die, but Spencer Tracey's character, an attorney, is appointed his legal counsel. His wife, played by KH, acts as the wife's lawyer.

The film observes the issue of gender equality (or lack of it) in the courtroom proceedings and also the dynamics between ST and KH's characters. The film, while it makes a lot of significant points, about society's double standards where the actions of men and women are concerned, also fails to show these problems of sexism as applying to black women. There's a scene (which I'm still watching) when KH presents a group of "American" women to show how, although they are "just" women in society's eyes, they are also highly accomplished in their own individual ways. There was no black woman in this group. Oh yes, there was an Asian lady, but I'm not sure if she was supposed to represent all the "other" races or ethnicities (BTW, we never heard her speak in that scene). But it made a poignant - if unintentional - point about how black women were largely ignored by white women (even by the feminists among them, who you would think would believe in solidarity among ALL women across ALL races).

Here in Nigeria, I think many people see feminism as alien to our culture where patriarchy is the order of the day. So again, black women are left out of the mix, only this time we are the ones failing to challenge the issues of gender inequalities which we face daily.

Marcia Gillespie defines feminism thus:
Feminism in its purest sense means you believe in a world where women truly matter. You believe in a world where we have equality that is social and economic and political. I'm talking about a world where there is real justice.

This is not limited, simplistically, to women being able to work, but one in which we can work AND have the full support and assistance of our partners (be this in looking after the children or the home). Women and men can define their roles in their own family unit and not simply take on roles assigned to them by cultural stereotypes. This is truly the kind of relationship and partnership that I'm looking for. I hope I get it.


Standtall said...

This is so cool. I love how you sum this post up!!!

Ore said...

Thanks! Wow, I used to write really long posts back then.