Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What is Feminism?

For a long while now, I have been looking for a really good definition and had come-up with my own based on many things I've read in the past. Here is what I think is a good one from the bell hooks book I'm reading at the moment, "Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center."
"Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels, as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires."

Although it refers to Western culture, I think it can still be applied comfortably to Nigerian society.

Note also that this explanation does not say that feminism is a struggle to end "male oppression", because oppression is wrong, regardless of the sex of oppresor. The women's liberation movement (circa 1970s) targeted men as the enemy and, among other things, advocated for women-only societies in which men were not welcome. Even though ideas have evolved since then, a lot of people still associate these separationist ideas with present-day feminism. Maybe this is why many women who support popular ideas advocated by feminsim would draw short of describing themselves as supporters of feminism or as feminists, and would rather call themselves other things e.g. "womanist". bell hooks thinks this is largely due to the fact that many people are not really sure what feminism is all about.

Feminism is personal, but also political. This means that firstly, it is important for women to see and describe their own reality. However, we can't afford to get stuck in this stage of telling our woes without a broader context for examining them and ultimately doing something about them. We have to move on to examining the politics of our society.

In the U.S, this would necessitate looking at sexism, as well as race and class oppression. In Nigeria, race might not be so much of an issue, but class certainly is. As a woman born into an upper-middle class or financially-comfortable family, I will enjoy many comforts that a woman born into a lower class or less well-off family will not e.g. guaranteed education, the ability to choose what type of career I want and not have my choices determined by financial need. I could therefore have a life that is less subject to sexist and class-based oppression. However, individual women's achievements are worth very little in ending oppression, if all other women in society do not have access to this same (almost) freedom (Note: I say (almost) freedom, because ALL Nigerian women have to deal with sexist oppression at some time or the other). There needs to be a platform for all women to share their own reality.

This would be a long and interesting journey: firstly, because it seems to be that many women have accepted sexist oppression as a way of life and easier to accept than to change; and secondly, because class and economics is such a sharp divider in the Nigerian society that I wonder at the feasibility for all women to come together to share their stories.

Some people would say that women have always found a way to "work around" men to get what they want and so really wear the pants in our society. I would argue not. As long as we still have something to "work around", then women still face some level of sexism.

Ultimately though, it is important that men and women work and live together respectful of each other and the gifts that each brings to the table, without any attempts to constrain the other into fitting into a preconcieved 'box', which guides how they should think; how they should behave; what they should desire out of life; and how they should relate to each other. Overly optimistic? Highly unrealistic? Not-in-this-lifetime possible? I certainly hope not.


Anonymous said...


I cannot believe you are a feminist!!! Whatever that means.


Ore said...

LOL! Well, you knew me way back when...

Well, being a feminist or supporting feminism does not mean hating all men, or wishing they would all go and die or something. It does not mean flipping the tables and wanting women to be superior to men either. It means wanting to get rid of any form of oppresion based on sex.

Nneka's World said...

Please my sister preach on Jare!
i dont understand men of now adays when you say you are a feminist is like you told them you have AIDS!
Anyway, Merry Xmas and Happy New Year

Everchange said...

I just received a book called "Black British Feminism", and in it one of the writers suggests that we should talk of "Feminisms" instead of "Feminism" because there are so many different "denominations". I disagree with the idea that the feminist movement in the west is or was anti-male. There were definitely certain groups who hated men, but that wasn't universal. In fact, that feminism is anti-male has been the age-old excuse given for ignoring the feminist message. It irks me as much as someone telling me that anti-racist activists hate white people and the whole reverse-racism crapola. How many feminists have killed men?

It's hard to come up with a good definition for feminism since there are so many different types. I like Bell Hooks', especially the part about the 'ideology of domination'.

I choose to call myself a feminist because I respect underlying ideas in feminism such as the equal rights of women. Yet I'm interested in more than just women having the same jobs as men, or 'gender and development' and other economic aspects. I'm interested in examining gender roles and understanding how much the interaction of genders is 'of nature' and how much is the result of social conditioning. I also seek to examine the WHYs behind everything. This means I also like to study men and understand 'men's issues'. The work of people like John Stoltenberg (and even some mushy selfhep gurus) has helped me understand the social conditioning behind masculinity and how men lose under patriachal domination, as well as women. JS and others like him, are feminist, hence disprove the idea that feminism doesn't care about men.

I claim feminism (and not womanism) because I respect and admire the histories, traditions and schools of thoughts behind feminism. To me, womanism is vague and much too 'earth-motherly' and 'woman is essence' for me. I don't really think all women have special mystical powers and that women as a group have a special role to play in community. To me that's stereotypical and reeks of confined roles. But I guess I'll leave endless ramblings about feminisms to my blog!

Ore said...

Hmmm, I like the idea of there being "feminisms" rather than "feminism", because there are so many strands out there. Just from talking to people and reading books and articles, I realise how it seems like everyone has a different idea of what feminism is all about.

I didn't mean to imply that Western feminism advocated male-bashing though. I probably didn't qualify what I was trying to say properly.

I haven't read a lot about men's issues (asides from the male-point-of-view type articles in many women's magazines). The one book I did read that attempted to describe masculinity seemed, in many ways, to ascribe to the stereotypical notions of masculinity and that really turned me off, because I don't subscribe to the "all women are this way and all men are that way" type of thinking.

I would be interested in the "Black British Feminism" book. Who's it by?

Everchange said...

Oops sorry, I got a little carried away. I wasn't referring to you in particular, but the general stereotype here in the West as well as in Africa about feminism. Sorry about that.

The book is Black British Feminism: A reader, edited by Heidi Mirza. It's a collection of articles by various feminist authors. I got it really cheap on amazon, now all of a sudden the price is higher.

John Stoltenberg wrote this book called The End of Manhood in which he talks about the way men are socialized. There's also another book called The Courage to Raise Good Men (I can't remember the authors) that I really liked. I only recently started reading up on men's issues, and it's been a lot of fun. There's this website too - that's dedicated to men's studies. They talk about a variety of issues, some articles are good some aren't so great. But it makes for interesting reading.

Standtall said...

"Feminism is personal, but also political". So darn right!!!

I met a lady at PEG meeting. She has all the characteristic of a woman that believed in equality and feminism but she said she did not believe in both. Why? I am on a journey to find out