One thing that the past year has highlighted is how divided people still are all over the world. It is division across all borders; sexes, races, classes etc. What stood out recently was the division among women after this just concluded American election. I am well aware of the issues that still face women today and why it is necessary to fight but I get the feeling that the feminist direction was lost somewhere in between the search for equality. I have never considered myself a feminist but I know many of them and I have been reading some books that have been making me see why feminism is necessary today. Now I am on a path of self-education on the topic. But then again, maybe the word feminism is tainted and the movement should be given a whole new name since they don’t have the same agenda today. One of the agendas has been to get rid of the gender roles that have been constricting men and women to follow a particular path so in a way it’s a fight for both men and women.
There are a lot of people against the feminist movement solely because they feel that it’s an avenue for women to be put on a pedestal against their male counterparts. They feel that women get away with many things just because of their gender and the laws governing them. Many men and women have been vocal about this on the internet with many pages put up to show ways feminism is not for everybody. And so it started the joke online on meninism, men fighting for their rights and women who support them. You might have come across some of them on social media when they air their grievances on how women take advantage of them. In Kenya, a close equivalent would be people against the boy child movement.
Now, what most of the people are fighting back against when it comes to feminism is the group of radical feminists. ‘Those who give feminism a bad name.’ They fall under the stereotypical group of man-hating, problem seeking, superiority seeking type of feminists. Then there are the ones who feel other women are a letdown because they choose to do the traditional things required of them like being housewives, cooking and cleaning, popping babies and letting the man be in control. To them that’s a waste of all the effort put in by women for years to fight for a better life for them.
So when they announced the Women’s March recently, it was received with mixed feelings. This was a global movement as a result of what was happening in America so you can see why it rubbed some people the wrong way. There are those who felt it was a little too late because it would have been more helpful if they did it before the election, whether that’s true I have no idea. Others felt that this was just like the second wave of feminism where mostly the middle class women felt the need to rise up because there were problems affecting them but they were not as vocal when other problems were facing other women. Then there was the race issue where black women were annoyed that they never stood up with them when they went through their problems but they call for the masses to join them in the march since the problem touches them now.
When people started bashing the Women’s March, I got irritated and I rarely get irritated by things like that because I believe that we all have different opinions. I found it baffling that there were women who were not offended by their ‘President’s’ continued horrible remarks about women. I was irritated that they were bashing women speaking up against it and going as far as verbally attacking them. Then there were the ones who felt the march was suddenly necessary because it affected white women too and if that weren’t the case it would not have been received the way it was. That is true to some point but the difference is that this was a common ground for a majority of the women for once and instead of butting heads about it, they should have joined hands.
Of course there will always be groups of people against certain causes and that doesn’t make them right or wrong. But sometimes they are wrong. What people are forgetting is that this march was inspired by the commonality of being a woman. Other women might not understand the problems you face because of your skin tone because they have never experienced living life like that. It’s not easy for a man to understand what you go through as a woman because he has not lived it. Seeing it happen, feeling the pain when it happens does not equate to their sentiments being in tune with the problem since they have not lived through it. Many Africans know what racism is but many of us have not experienced it. We feel horrible that there are people who face it but I can assure you many would not wake up to march with Black Americans when the time comes because they have problems they are facing too. It’s not because they don’t sympathize, it’s just that they have different priorities.
Here in Kenya, one successful march that happened in the near past was the My Dress My Choice movement. This was during the time when many girls were being stripped by men because of what they wore; a dress thought to be too short or low cut or too fitting. It got to a point where even exposing your arms was something every woman was scared to do whenever they walked outside. Of course some people were against the march saying that women were being encouraged to have horrible morals by wearing fitting dresses or clothes that showed a little too much skin. But that is all subjective. What may be a little bit of flesh to you might be a whole lot of exposure to someone else. And being against someone’s choice does not give anyone the authority to publicly shame them by stripping them. The was also the march against gender violence recently where some people did not understand why these women could not make the choice to leave on their own when they could do just that.
It’s clear that all these movements are met with resistance by those who do not feel there is a problem, by those too privileged to have experienced the problems, those who have not educated themselves on the issues and those who are content with their lives just as they are. They will always exist in every movement, it’s a fact. The colonization period, they were there. The Civil Rights Movement, they were there. American Revolution, they were there. South African Border War, they were there. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. But what they should not forget is that it’s because of such movements that changes took place to afford them the comfort they have today.
The feminism ideology started in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the western world with a goal to attain women’s rights. There have been three different waves of feminism since them where they fought for different things and it all started with the fight for equal contract and property rights. It’s during this time that women realized that in order to make these changes they needed to have political power including the right to vote. And so their political agenda grew from there to include sexual, reproductive and economic matters. The Suffragettes emerged when women in different parts of the world had been given the right to vote but it had not yet happened in Britain. They are famous for their hunger strikes and property distraction. After almost two decades they were given limited rights for women over the age of 30 which was adjusted a few years later to 21.
The second wave was after the Second World War when the focus was on workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights. This wave was divided because not all women were facing the same problems. The black women in America were fighting for civil rights as they were not even on the same level of rights with the average white woman at that time. There were so many other groups during that time like the Gay and Lesbian Movement and the Asian-American Civil Rights Movement. The feminist movement felt like a champagne problem in the midst of everything else that was happening. This is the period that saw the birth of the radical feminists who wanted more power when many women were still powerless. This was the period middle class women had entered the workforce and could get on the Pill.
The third wave is dated from 1990. This when feminism branched out to include women of all races unlike the former waves where they mainly focused on problems faced by predominantly upper middle class white women. This is also the wave that saw how women viewed the problems that affect women differently. They disagreed on issued to do with gender roles and stereotypes leading to the different groups of feminism today since they all could not have just one agenda.
From this brief history it’s clear that feminism was a predominantly ‘white women thing’ for decades. And that’s probably why it’s still stronger in those countries than it is in others. The struggles endured by women when the movement began were not even remotely close. Yes, there are similarities to the problems but there are also differences that stand out. While they were going through the first wave, there were women who were living under the Jim Crow laws in the same country some of them and the fact that women in Africa who were being colonized by the other group during that time. So the different waves as described are not in line with the feminist waves in the other continents.
The whole world has not caught up with the western world when it comes to feminism. There are places, even here in Kenya, where FGM is still a problem. There are places where education is not given to girls, where girls are forced into early marriages and homosexuality is illegal. Which is why feminists fighting for women to be on bank notes or encouraging others to free the nipple can be considered as a derailed group and even encourage meninism. What are you thoughts? Leave a comment below.
We Should All be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More – Janet Mock
Black Feminist Thought – Patricia Hill Collins