Feminism is advocacy for women’s rights on the basis that both genders are born equal and deserve equal rights.
However, over the years, in a bid to balance the scale, feminist movements have focused too long and too hard on women and relegated the need to carry the “other gender” along in these feminist discussions.
And the effects have been hindering especially in regions where gender-based injustice are culturally ingrained problems.
Unfortunately and for whatever reasons, the F word, as we now like to call it, hasn’t been met with open arms especially from the gender it is seemingly out to protect. Whether as a residue of systemic patriarchy in the African continent, a desperate desire for cultural preservation, or a fear of what a new way of living and seeing may bring, the idea of a feminist woman (or man) is still not warmly welcome and irritable. For this reason, it is very common to find more liberal feminists in this part of the world, who overlap feminist ideologies with human rights ideologies and believe them to have one and the same goal – equal opportunities for male and female anywhere in the world and in whatever sphere and this sounds pretty very noble.
Writing for The Guardian and echoing those same words in her viral interview with Comedian, Trevor Noah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says: “Some people ask: ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest,” Adichie continues.
“Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general — but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”
She also says “my own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.”
“All of us, women and men, must do better.”
For Adichie then, a more advanced feminist movement is one that will include both genders in debates and discussions that seek to tear down these backward ideologies and progress to more gender neutral/equal standing ground for everyone.
Here’s the problem. The modern feminist movement has been split, frankly as with many other such modern day movements, into a deluge of sub sects with their individual ideologies so that a lot of times, and for a lot of people, a feminist is a member of a discordant women’s choir struggling to make it into the local league. Modern feminism has been reconstructed through individualistic rhetoric to mean a lot of things some of which indirectly are the very problems resulting from patriarchal ideologies that the movement seeks to eradicate. So therefore, not many women and men are eager to be associated with the word or the movement.
Kathy Caprino, in this Forbes article aptly lists five key reasons why people are increasingly wary of being associated with the word feminist and the movement feminism:
1. Feminism has been associated with strong, forceful and angry women, and our society continues to punish forceful women.
2. Many people fear that feminism will mean that men will eventually lose out – of power, influence, impact, authority, and control, and economic opportunities.
3. Many people believe that feminists want to control the world and put men down.
4. Many people fear that feminism will overturn time-honored traditions, religious beliefs and established gender roles, and that feels scary and wrong.
5. Many people fear that feminism will bring about negative shifts in relationships, marriage, society, culture, power and authority dynamics, and in business, job and economic opportunities if and when women are on an equal footing with men.
But radical feminists (RadFem) argue that feminism that argues for equal opportunities and equal rights for men and women is not only unrealistic and impossible, but far off from what feminism should be reaching to achieve. A RadFemFatale site on Medium insists that “the reason women are oppressed is because we are different from men. Historically, patriarchy has used difference to justify subordination. We do not need to be seen as equal to men: we need to be seen as worthy and valid not in spite of, but because of our differences.”
In other words, for most RadFems, the idea of equality is based on a comparison to the male gender and using them as a standard, that women should be allowed to have the same things as them and to be given what they would be given to enable them attain what men can attain in a society that is already very male driven. And how you see this play out is that feminists – because on the belief in equality of the genders – will advocate for more women in male dominated industries like tech and the military, but will not advocate for more men in female-dominated industries like beauty and hospitality. How equal is that?
So therefore, by attempting to completely extricate themselves from a male driven society and culture, they will usually present the feminist argument from a stand point that excludes and seeks to exclude men completely. The stance says, ‘abolish the patriarchy’, ‘banish male supremacy’ and so on, seemingly extremist language that result in some of the problems listed above in Caprino’s article.
When discussing human rights and in an attempt to make a case for equality, there’s always the presence of an argument for equity – an argument that says that our world is wired to be unequal and therefore by no means can we create equality amongst people so varied but fighting for similar resources and goals. Social equity posits that what men need to survive and to live purposeful lives, is not in spite of their gender or race or social status but because of it. Therefore, fairness comes into play. People should get what they need and not what everyone else gets as demonstrated in this image you must have seen before:
“Equality demands that everyone has the right to be treated the same; equity demands that everyone has the right to access what they need to achieve that equality”, writes Melanie Heyworth for The Big Smoke.
If we extend this argument into the feminist movement, you have what scholars refer to as Equity Feminism. Yes, roll your eyes, there’s just so many schools of thoughts to this one thing and yet the problem we are trying to solve is simple (although multi-faceted).
Gender Equity says that men and women should be given all the opportunities that they specifically need and require to get ahead. Gender Equality says, give women what you would give men so they have an equal playing field. Gender Equity puts into play the fact that men and women are different in so many ways and that these differences are important factors in the development and advancement of humanity and should not be downplayed neither should they be obliterated. Gender Equality indirectly says, by offering up points for equality, that men and women are wired the same and so deserve similar leverages to get to their end goals.
Ultimately, does it matter what we call this ‘thing’? Will naming it make for a faster pace at achieving the end goals of the movement? Feminist, gender quality, gender equity, are these debates about what term we need it to go by enhancing the impact of the movement in the interior communities and the age-long cultures that the movement is trying to turn on its head and so on?
I think that it is. I think like Adichie says, there is an acknowledgement that comes with what you name something as important as this and how that reflects on the readiness of others to associate with it. Our names when we are born, are carefully thought out. We make split second decisions on what business and brand to associate with because of names and the image is helps us portray. And in this case it is no different.
So maybe, feminists should kick out the equality of the sexes in its agenda and incorporate gender equity.
“If gender equity is the mission, the goal and the aspiration of feminism, then maybe we can entice more people – men and women alike – to engage with it and to wear its cloak. And just maybe we can temper that negative perception that makes the Cashes and Bishops of this world refuse the label,” Heyworth says.
In the long run, the idea is to make sure that the ripple effects of the successes of the modern feminist movement is multiplied enough to stir the waters of norm and bring about the wave of change that we desire in terms of crushing gender roles, cultural subjugation of certain genders, limiting their socio-economic prospects, gender-based violence and every other ill and injustice that is perpetrated in our societies because of gender.