The discourse of the concept of feminism flared rapidly in recent times with many writers and analysts holding copyright maces to lengthy screeds on the issue, even to such extent, some may see this article as an attempt to dig up an empty mine. Certain enough, with the fire of feminism on every rafter, different self-styled feminist-warriors hug different brands of it. In no small way, this has led to a dire misunderstanding of it. Irrespective of these divergence of views, one thing is certain, the movement preaches twin tenets, which are actually two palms clasped in embrace; equality and equity. This article is not an attempt to pillory any view on the subject but to make the most unbiased view on feminism more pellucid.
The meaning of the concept is pretty straight forward but there is no refuting the obvious truth that most recently, the concept has been hijacked by live-hard extremists. These ones have created a hypertensive extension of the concept into every facet of known life, pushing this term from its stellar sitting to mere female-chauvinism. Consequent on this, on some levels, you won’t blame the general hatred the generality of males have for the concept itself and its fire bearing messiahs. In addition to extremism, some persons are still mistaken as to the boundaries of this concept and what it portends. These persons extend it to explain traditional quixotic tendencies. I still remember when my family went to spend some time in Ebonyi State with an Uncle Peter and his family. We got to Uncle Peter’s house in Afikpo without any hassle and were given a warm welcome. His wife wasn’t around and he explained she had gone to visit her mother at Uwana.
“Bring a bottle of wine from the kitchen” he instructed one of his daughters – Uncle Peter has five daughters and a son.
His daughter Ife brought wine and glasses which she placed on the table . . . and left.
“You are the first son?” Uncle Peter turned to me.
“I would have asked you to take priority or serve your father first but no, serve the ladies first” he said.
I wondered why. It felt odd serving my sisters before Dad.
“You know why I asked you to serve the ladies first?” Uncle Peter asked me after I had finished serving my family.
“No. Please tell me” I said, trying hard not to sound churlish.
“Feminism” he said confidently. “I know you must have heard of the word. Let’s give equal rights to women. Allow them come first in certain things” Uncle Peter said.
I was thoroughly abased by shock when he spilled these out. To my mind, it was axiomatically out of place. So serving drinks to my sisters first before my father was in line with giving equal rights to women? So putting ladies first in certain things aligned with the ideals of the movement of feminism ikwaya? Was this not an unconscious slip towards female chauvinism on Uncle Peter’s part?
Respectfully speaking, I saw another ‘Uncle Peter’ on campus. There was this time when shuttle services within school were not available, only drops. So one morning, I was late for a class and ran to a red Audi vehicle in a bid to get a drop. The driver, a bald, dark complexioned, compact man stood by his vehicle and I walked up to him.
“Life science” I said to him.
“Oga I no de go” he said in pidgin.
I shrugged and walked to another vehicle. But then, something got me really piqued. A pretty girl walked towards the same cabby who had just turned me down.
“Life science, I’m going to Life science” she said sweetly.
“Enter let’s go” the cabby said. I was shocked. The same man who had just turned me down was about to ferry a pretty lady going to the same destination as I. I walked up to him immediately.
“I thought you said you were not working?” my tone was pained “Why did you agree to drop her?”
He didn’t mutter a sound. He simply stared through his windscreen while the pretty girl got into the car. I was quite incredulous. Here I was, quite late for an important class and this man just rolled some stones of delay unto my path. It was not until the lady settled in that he looked at me.
“Ladies first” he smiled and drove off.
I hissed and shook my head in bewilderment. Someone tapped me from behind. It was a student.
“Maybe he’s a feminist” he said.
“This can’t be feminism” I disagreed snappily.
A lot of things like these go on in the society and we somehow, ignorantly kick them under the all-encompassing carpet of feminism. Of the two illustrations above, Uncle Peter’s case, more or less describes a gentleman’s approach to women and nothing more; a spin-off of the 19th and 20th century take-your-hat-off-and-bow-to-the-ladies European trend. On the latter case, well, it is either he had his innocent reasons, clandestine personal intentions as do most employers or he has a crazily twisted comprehension of what feminism portends. It is twisted perceptions such as these that give rise to ugly brain children on the term in the society, for instance, the slide towards female chauvinism. Chauvinism has everything to do with giving preference to one gender over another. This does not preach equality in any form.
On feminism proper, there are those who believe generally, that the concept of equality among the sexes is a concoction from dreamland that can never be actualized. Among these persons, is friend of mine, who in the folds of our discussions on the topic would draw positions on the issue that would send feminists today, covering their ears screaming ‘blasphemy’! In more ways than one, his position looks quite valid and accurate. According to him, “whether we like it or not, the genders can never be equal. There are certain jobs suited for men, enclaves women dare not dive into. When a feminist is faced with positions such as these, with an unnatural light and pride in their eyes, they point out certain women, few extraordinary persons who have smashed glass ceilings in certain respects and professions that were previously thought to be the preserve of the male gender. Why call them extraordinary or laud them to stupor since they are normally supposed to be equal with men? Why not just nod and let their efforts go unnoticed as does those of the generality of men? . . .while the position of children is understandable in the pattern of evacuation from war and disaster torn areas, that of women is curious in the light of equality between the genders; why are they also among the first to be pulled out of these areas? Why would a man be given laurels and back pats by the society when he opens the car door for his wife or any woman for that matter? The society’s pleased disposition where women are ‘helped’ and cushioned at every turn, the scurry to push women forward and the standing ovation at everything they do out of the ‘norm’, shows a deeply seated understanding and comprehension of the inherent inequality between the genders, bestowed by nature; inequality which it seems we are all scrambling to ameliorate and fix”. He would further opine with certitude; “Women can’t become monarchs in this country. Even in developed countries of the world, you can’t find a woman bearing certain ranks in the armed forces especially those that stuff the supreme reins of the entire force in her palms. “The basis for the male hegemony is beyond biology it is beyond what we see and know!” he would finish with gusto.
His entire position no matter how much we might want to cast spite on it owing to the movement for the “emancipation” of women, it is quite lucid and cushioned by contemporary data. This is so, especially the part relating to the restriction on women from ascending unto certain ranks and positions in the armed forces, especially in Nigeria by virtue of the exception in subsection 3 of section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution. However, irrespective of the biological difference between the genders, society has transcended beyond the traditional understanding that women must and should be relegated to the background at every turn. While the cabby might have had his own intent for picking the young lady over an earlier potential male customer, he was wrong to have couched his act under the guise of being a gentleman or like the student posited – “a feminist”. Feminism to my perception entails equality between the genders everywhere (aside the family). The infusion of equality between the husband and the wife in the home is quite an abrasion on the norm of the man being the head of the home especially in Africa, where much emphasis is placed on the traditional hierarchy in the family (The father, mother and Children in that order) and this arrangement is kept sacral, drawing its background from tradition, culture and to a mile, certain biblical views. If in any way equality is to be brought into the home, it is in line with reason and commonsense that equality at every turn should be brought with it. Just the same way this brand of feminism would argue that no cloak of specialization should be ascribed anyone in the home as regards domestic duties, no cloak should be ascribed anyone as regards finance. The bills should be shared equally and the bulk of the burden of its settlement should rest basically on the party with a stronger financial power even if it’s the woman – from each according to his capabilities, to each according to his need.
Personally, I quite adopt this traditional view but it should also be accepted that like every other concept connected with humanity, there is no hard and fast rule to it. Families are made up of different types of people and to some extent, persons with reasonably different styles of perception. Each family should allow themselves to operate whatever system they are at home with. Problems happen where a woeful extension of feminism is brought into the home only because that is what the “whole-world” is gearing up to practise or because it’s working for the neighbours. True feminism to my understanding, entails giving a woman a chance to prove herself like you would give a man. It portends the absence of wrinkled and alarmed faces in the society when she acquires property without recourse to her husband. It entails allowing her do her bit without that extra layer of supervision by reason of her gender. This should flow from the leverage to work in any environment, sporting any collar of any colour she deems fit; blue, white or pink, even if the environment is one saturated with masculine presence. By lucid extension, it encapsulates giving everyone whether male or female an opportunity in the society to do their bit and not stop the flow of opportunity tumbling their way by reason of their gender. This is the crux of feminism.
There’s no problem if any cabby or any person decides to carry only women in his car or where an employer decides to employ only women in their establishments. I only have a problem with the view – that this is an act in bed with feminism. If views like these are left uncorrected, it then moves the fight of feminism from the goal of bringing two parts at par as is supposed, to a movement of biting back at the male gender and establishing a female hegemony or as it seems, to a crusade where the sole aim is to ameliorate and compensate a weaker gender for injustice suffered through the ages. . . or is it?
– Caleb Nmeribe and Famous Chukwuemeka