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.

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Yesterday the Fall interns and I went to visit one of our artisan groups in Burundi, right on the border of Tanzania, only about 30 minutes from our office. It was such a nice trip, especially since I hadn’t seen these artisans since they began their literacy classes a couple months ago.

They are progressing so well! They are reading words and short phrases in Swahili now, and there are even a few who have moved into a beginners english class! Imagine my surprise when they were able to great me in beautiful english!

Lord have mercy, I almost fell out, our capacity building manager (and my wonderful roomie) has done a great job with this program.

These mamas are always growing and I love it.

Since a major part of my job at WomenCraft is marketing the products that our artisans make, I get to travel around the region meeting them and recording their lives through photos for our new website and online store. Its the best, I ask them to smile and they say, “make us laugh and we will smile!”

Speaking butchered Swahili is usually good enough to get them to laugh at me, then I snap pictures of them and all is right in the world. I feel so blessed to be here, doing this, I  am not sure how I ended up here but I am so so grateful.

So so so grateful.

So I’ve been in Tanzania for almost a month! I can’t really believe it, I feel like I am watching myself, like I’m not really present but I’m watching myself live here. Its odd lol.

Nonetheless, last week was amazing, we went on our route week to visit all the women we work with around the Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda border. The pictures are random shots from that week, meeting all our Artisans, seeing how they live, how they organize themselves, they have such entrepreneurial spirits…naturally, they are African women. They were so welcoming but they were confused as to how I was African and didn’t speak Swahili, I told them soon ohhh soon! Im learning Swahili quite quickly thanks to my tutor and flash cards lol.

Anywho, TZ is beautiful, the people are quite entertaining, and I am excited to travel around East African more, I’m going to Dar es Salaam next week for a work trip, almost 24 hours of traveling to get there. Pray for me yall.

More later, Im at an internet cafe and I don’t feel like paying for another 30 mins.

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.

“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

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.