Saturday, November 19, 2005

Nigerian Feminism (or the Lack Thereof)

It feels like when I sit down to write at this blog, the ideas really come flooding out. Sometimes I worry about writing too much or just gushing, but hey, it's a blog, right? It's there to accept whatever I'm putting out there.

I'm reading an interview of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the now celebrated Nigerian writer, in an old issue of Genevieve. She's a young (27 year-old) woman whose first book, Purple Hibiscus, has been a runaway hit in Nigeria and abroad. I believe that she's almost single-handedly responsible for a gradual rekindling of public interest in literature. Nigerians being Nigerians, will gravitate towards fields that have suddenly become popular, or in which success would lead to a considerable measure of fame or financial reward. Anyway ...... moving on swiftly to what I really want to talk about.

Chimamanda talks about how she's proud to be a feminist. I am too, though it took me a long time to realise that I was one. The title "feminist" is one that many women (both here and even in the West) appear reluctant to wear and I wonder why? Feminism doesn't mean hating men or feeling that women are superior to men. It's about equal opportunities for both men AND women, while simultaneously acknowledging the ways in which we are different. That's the way I see it and it's not that radical a notion to accept if we think about it.

Chimamanda pretty much shares this sentiment:
"The men in my life - my father, brother, friends - are feminists because they believe men and women are equal. And for me that's simply what feminism is about. I have discovered that 'feminism' is a bad word to many people here [in Nigeria] - like something you are supposed to deny or justify. I think every thinking person should be a feminist, if we are fair and believe in justice."

It also doesn't mean that if you "wear" the label "feminist", then you are defined solely as that. Of course, you are a lot more than that.

Chimamanda also goes on to talk about the aspiration to marriage, which is the norm among women of "a certain age." She says:
".... it worries me: this idea of aspiring to marriage. I think marriage is wonderful and it should come when it would, but I don't think we should sit down and plot. That's what many people do and thereby make wrong decisions."

I know what she means, because even though I was always a woman who gave little more thought to marriage than "It will come when it's supposed to and with who it's supposed to.", I find myself, in this African culture where marriage is held-up as the ideal state for an adult to be in, chomping at the bit sometimes. I see what she says about rushing into the wrong marriages, because I frequently hear tales of the sad marriages that result from this. On the other hand, I do hear stories of people (usually women) who have decided to get married and set-about it with the planning and precision of an army general and had wonderful testimonies to share as a result. (Not too long ago, I heard about the Harvard-educated author of the book "How to Get Married After 35: A Game Plan for Love", which apparently was very successful in the States. The author also has a consulting company, which specialises in (you guessed it) getting women 35 and older married, as well as a website.) So, I think this is not a debate that will be resolved in a day.

Back to feminism in Nigeria though, I wish more women and men would see it for what it truly is. I hope to do some more reading about it myself, but I know that I feel so inspired by women who are achieving their dreams without letting someone else's idea of womanhood define them and what they are capable of doing. I was VERY inspired by Chimamanda's thoughts.

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