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.