When a woman comes out as a feminist through advocacy and activism, the (Nigerian) society already assumes too much from her and burdens her with a lot more. She is either seen to be proud, too angry, badly behaved or a man hater.
I understand this perception is a result of patriarchy, but I still wanted to understand this particular Nigerian pysche, so I spoke to a friend of mine, Hassana Maina who happens to be a writer and an advocate for victims of sexual violence. She has had her fair share of engagement with anti feminists and her opinions are valuable to me.
She started by explaining the reason why society holds feminists to more critical standards. Feminism exists as a movement to oppose sexist cultures which have normalised the oppression of women, and require women to make themselves small. The imbalance in the society gives men more power by virtue of their gender and opens the woman up to all forms of injustices.
It comes off as a rude shock to a deeply patriarchal and sexist society to see people they believe to be banished as second class finally saying enough and being unapologetic about it. So they naturally become oppositions to a movement that goes head on against systems they have long benefited from.
In the course of this unapologetic advocacy, the patriarchy fights feminists by devaluing their activities, making irrelevant their missions and goals but most especially, creating a distinction between a bad woman and a good woman.
The response of a sexist society to the woman who has decided to claim her space is to slut-shame her, placing sexual expression side by side with the loose woman concept.
This is very brilliant patriarchal tactics because in one breathe, society’s only role for the woman is to reproduce without exactly enjoying or being vocal about the process, and at the same time, objectifies women to the extent that sex exists for them to give, not necessarily for them to take, with the apex of sex being a man’s climax.
This shows from the politics of agency and conversations where it is believed that widows cannot remarry. Sisters, mothers, daughters, have their honour and the honour of their families tied to their vagina. Or leaked videos, images, and chats leads to “oh and she said she is a feminist, she says; say no to rape”
One of my father’s criticisms of feminism was, “people will think you don’t want to marry, people will think you are not interested in men.”
The translation of calling yourself a feminist is claiming agency and ownership of your body, questioning language, overturning sexism.
Imagine a woman that is bold enough to talk about sex, demand sex, demand for it to be done a certain way whilst demanding respect, wants a seat at the table, goes into business and politics, and still says; I won’t take your last name.
Society is out of their mind scared, rattled, and they should be.
But we do not have to be perfect to be a force for meaningful change, do we?
After reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminists, I would like to call myself a bad feminist, because this is what makes us human beings – we are a collection of our mistakes.
As a feminist, you get to points where your ideologies will be tested, where you feel you should know better, speak up and be able to smell misogyny from afar even when they come in acceptable guises. But you don’t and then you beat yourself up because you believe that you have betrayed the sisterhood.
There is this presumption that people who advocate for change are perfect in every aspect of their lives but you cannot use people’s personal lives to avoid responsibility for yourself.
The politics of “perfect” is an intentional one that has been created to shut women up and give them a place but, unfortunately, we are such shameless women, I wonder if they can come up with something else.