African Women have BEEN Feminists

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Definitions of feminism first came from the West; a term deeply rooted in a history that didn’t include women who looked like my ancestors or me. I remember reading “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan in my undergraduate Gender course. Excuse my French, but that shit confused me, this was a book all about middle-aged white women who were tired of being housewives, they were unhappy with their plush lives and unsatisfied with suburbia. THIS Friedan called “the problem that has no name,” the unhappiness of 1950’s white homemakers who apparently wanted more for themselves than a life of leisure and reproducing. I was concerned, and that’s when I knew there had to be a different sect of feminism. I knew there had to be more layers to feminism because there were more women in the world than white suburban housewives.

I remember calling my mom in Abidjan one day asking her to define feminism. It was mostly a joke, like when I ask her opinion on Kim and Kanye or H&M’s Versace line.  Asking her about things that she doesn’t think impacts her life breeds funny answers like, “Does Kim pay for my fuel? Is Versace in my family?” So when I asked her for her definition she surprised me by telling me the story of how she urged my dad to play a bigger part at home when they first moved to the US. She told him that he needed to help clean, and cook, and wash my older brother because that’s what good men did, they helped their wives.  She said even though her in laws saw her as emasculating my father, she stood her ground that helping your wife did not make a man any less masculine.

My mother went on to tell me that my grandmother was a feminist; she fought with men for her space along the banks of rivers so she could fish for herself instead of depending on her husband. My grandmother was a single mother who happened to be married, so she worked hard everyday of her life to find the money to send my uncle to pharmacy school in Dakar and my mother to Paris. My grandmother knew that while my Grandfather was having children outside of their marriage, she had to be the one to provide, that was her role. My grandmother was a feminist, my mother is a feminist, neither is able to give you the long convoluted definitions that have confused the academic world for decades, but their strength and demand for respect and equality in a historically patriarchal society is their definition.

As women of the diaspora, educated abroad, existing in many different worlds, its important for us to understand that our ancestors have BEEN feminists. Strong women who have triumphed over domestic abuse, single motherhood, colonization, war, all while carrying their communities on our backs. Senegalese writer, Awa Thiam, puts it so well when she says that “the Black woman of Africa suffers a threefold oppression: by virtue of her sex, she is dominated by man in a patriarchal society; by virtue of her class she is at the mercy of capitalist exploitation; by virtue of her race she suffers from the appropriation of her country by colonial or neo-colonial powers.”  With so many things against us, how could we survive without the strength to fight for equality, respect, and recognition? We have fought for our voices to be heard, for our pay to be equal, for us to be recognized as vital parts of our societies.

So, as the West continues to try to define Africa, and its women, in the paradigm of poverty, disease, and helplessness; its important to remember that while American and European white women were burning bras, our ancestors were raging against colonialism. They were becoming the first black women educated in their respective countries. They were fighting in civil wars. I mean lets be honest here, African women have BEEN feminists, lets not let academia confuse that for us.

This was the opening of our WomenCraft Artisans Leaders Meeting this week.

Basically we brought together the best weavers and best entrepreneurs  out of the 300 women within our cooperative to share thoughts, visions, and ideas on how they lead their respective groups. 

One of our leaders got up and said:

“Women! We must not be harsh with our men now that we are making more money then them, that is not the way to handle things. If we do not give them a small part of our money, they will see no use for us to be in this group, and will not allow us to continue. We must share and not be so proud.”

It was so interesting to see that these women understand the patriarchy in their communities, and come together to discuss ways to move past certain day to day hurdles.

I was loving everything as y’all could guess…

FEMEN

What happens when white feminists continue to represent the white mans burden, meaning their self proclaimed duty to illuminate the darkness in which us brown and black women continue to live.

Again, why there will never be a universal notion of feminism, this is an example of the debauchery that happens when women’s lived realities are ignored and replaced with the perceived reality which white feminists see.

Muslim women will continue to be stripped of their own narratives as the world focuses on dumb Ukrainian women topless in front of someone’s place of worship.

The horror of it all.

Quotes, on quotes, on quotes.

“I asked a young White woman why she was studying social anthropology. She replied that she was hoping to go to Zimbabwe, and felt that she could help women there by advising them how to organize. The Black women in the audience gasped in astonishment. Here was someone scarcely past girlhood, who had just started university and had never fought a war in her life. She was planning to go to Africa to teach female veterans of a liberation struggle how to organize! This is the kind of arrogant, if not absurd attitude we encounter repeatedly. It makes one think: Better the distant armchair anthropologists than these ‘sisters.”-  Ifi Amadiume

I am writing this because I need people on the internet to know that these images are actually setting women back at least 18,599 steps:

Some would say that these are images of strong, successful, RICH, women just being “bosses”. They are making it rain on skrippers and are smacking booties in the video for their umpteenth hit song. All good fun. All examples of powerful women doing big things in their careers. No, no..no. Stop it. This is actually what I would call unfortunate gender appropriation. Meaning that these two superstars are actually just replicating stereotypical sexist acts in order to validate their existence in traditionally masculine spaces. I.E instead of steering their music, or behavior in such a direction that would uplift the women who consume their music and images, these women revert to what they have been taught. That the public disrespect and over sexualization of black women in the media is what sells records or gets baller husbands. Rihanna I love you, I’ve been getting down to your hits since high school, but what makes you think that copying and pasting the lewd behavior of men in strip clubs is empowering? If this was your personal life fine, but to proudly flaunt these photos on your social media outlets is disappointing. To show off how much of a boss you are by dropping $20 bills on these strippers private parts is not a sign of power, it’s a sad attempt to do what the boys do, and there is nothing more tragic than a woman whose ambition is steered towards being as xy or z as a man.

On another note, when did being a boss automatically mean you need to see how closely you can mimic a Lil Wayne video? Nicki Minaj are you really doing all you can to aid in the perpetual cycle of big booty fetishization on my TV screen? Is that you really rubbing and smacking the asses of video “models” in another sad attempt to validate your existence in Hip Hop? Is this the path you are blazing for future artist and females trying to bust through the music industry? The notion that black women are unable to have successful music careers without becoming walking representations of male desire has arrested our development to the point of self mutilation and in some cases complete destruction. It is bad enough that we must navigate the deep waters of skin lightening, long blond weaves, butt injections, and the like, but we now have famous figures continuing the cycle by partaking in the same sexist banter and behavior as the men.

It is a reoccurring problem when women construct their identities, particularly in the hip hop community, around patriarchy and sexism. I know it is easier said than done, but when are our favorite artists going to begin creating their own spaces that do not include gender appropriation?

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this…

Quotes, on quotes, on quotes.

“When I wake up in the morning, there is a background of recognition, certain forms of discourses, cultural identities, specific histories, both personal and collective connections and disconnections, capacities and limitations that confront me and work through me. This constitutes my identity as an African Woman.”-  Bibi Bakare-Yusuf

South Africa is a buzz over the gang rape of a 17 year old girl in Soweto. As anyone with eyes, ears, and half of a brain understands, rape is a huge issue in South Africa. Women are rapped everyday, in various places, and with various objects. The heads of government know and understand this fact all too well. These men in power are not new to the rape culture that fuels the sexual violence in this country, and I am not too bold to say, that many of them have too taken part in such hatred and dehumanization.

Nonetheless, what is making this gang rape of this child so explosive in this country? WHY THIS TIME? This same 17 year old girl has been rapped before. She was kidnapped and held as a “sex-slave” in Soweto in 2010, as well as another incident of rape that same year. All reported to the police, and both cases dropped because of “lack of evidence.”

Rape is clearly only taken seriously in this country if it is recorded and sent to as many blackberrys and iphones as possible. So this is what it has come to? Without a video or photo attached to sexual violence, it is obviously not as tangible to the people in power, the government, the police, those charged with protection of their people.

South Africa’s leading newspaper reported that “Police spokesman Kay Makhubela said soon after learning of the video Tuesday, police, with help from people in Soweto, arrested seven men who appeared in the video.” So this is what victims need, for their rapists to pull out a cell phone and record the whole ordeal? Then the victims should ask them to politely post it on youtube as soon as possible. Thanks!

I am not making light of a situation, but I am trying to draw attention to the JOKE of a legal system here. Sadly, when rape is taken out of the private sphere and into the public sphere (a youtube video), it becomes political.

When a video goes viral, this young girl is no longer a victim, but a part of a political agenda, a name to drop out of the mouths of various politicians and law enforcement officials who say they take rape seriously. Well I call bullshit, these tactics are no longer enough, no one is blind to the fact that this video has put pressure on South Africa’s leaders and that is the ONLY reason this child’s rape is being addressed.

This system has failed her, and not only her, but the millions of women and children she represents. South Africa is failing it’s women.

The Feminine Mystique begins with an introduction describing what Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name”—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. It discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being happily married with fine children.”

I was 19 when I read the Feminine Mystique, and I was 19 when I began looking for an alternate definition for this word feminism. If being a feminist was about trying to decipher white middle class women’s problems, I was in the wrong field.

“The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”- bell hooks