Feminist this, feminist that, femi -knee-st this, Femi-Nazi this, Tw-eminist that! Thats how a typical day starts and ends on my social media timeline. All sides, all genders and all creeds. The fight has become polarizing to the point that one cannot imagine it once was a joke because they will be called gender-shaming, misogynistic or patriarchal or worse. And the fights are happening even amongst the women too.
I have often wondered how the old feminists did it? How did they get through it? Or did they never get through? How can we fight for something for so long and have made such little gains on it? Therefore, I surmise that at the heart of this movement is a key piece that keeps acting as a saboteur to this whole mission.
Male patriarchy (which among hard core feminists is the heart of all darkness and dwelling place of Zerubbabel himself) has been described as men keeping women suppressed through cultural customs and norms to deliberately create inequality and oppression. In more cultural settings you see mention of breast ironing, female genital mutilation and labia elongation. These crude customs of yester-year have been parked at the doorstep of all men to bear full responsibility for. But, one quickly learns that men alone – even if they wanted to whole heartedly – cannot repeal these customs.
For example, breast ironing was started to flatten breasts of girls entering puberty so they wouldn’t be preyed upon by older men – by their mothers. This was so they could still be virgins when they were married off in a society that valued virginity but that would not punish men for defiling small girls and would rather punish them that speak truth to power.
In the case of labia elongation, the working theory it is that the practice is meant to make women “sweeter” for men because the labia gives extra sensation during sex. Cases where husbands return brides so their mothers so show them the “the bush” are not unheard of. “The bush” is the euphemistic term for girls entering puberty when they begin the labia elongation practice. This practice is enforced strongly by maternal aunties and mothers in order not to bring shame upon the family once marriage time comes.
The more gruesome FGM varies across different tribes but basically involves the carving out of part of or all of a girl’s labia and clitoris. This was ostensibly to prevent girls (who undergo this process on the cusp of puberty) from being errant wives. Its brutally enforced by societal structures and a ruthless shaming system
When I was in the Sebei region on the last #KoiKoiEast trip a few weeks ago, we sat around a fire and a man told us of a culture that praises courage and bravery. He said if your mother ever flinched at her circumcision (which they are working with government to eliminate for girls now by the way) everyone who disagrees with you would always refer to you as the “The one whose mother ran away” and these tags are hard to escape. Like millstones around one’s neck beckoning shame and derision from society. They stay. They hurt. They cut deep.
In all these cases, mothers, aunties and female figures in society play a central role in enforcement and adherence to these norms.
And that is where I get confused.
If we are fighting the men in our generation, are we not self-sabotaging? If a young man within your generation (those of you date cross generationally can stop skip ahead) says to you “I think my wife should wash my boxers” and you stand up bash him or a young woman your age says “I want a man to marry me, provide for me and in return I will raise his children and build our home” and they get railroaded out of town. You aren’t solving the problem. That’s their paradigm. That’s the construct in which they see their world.
But who framed that world? Who told them that these things were acceptable? That women should give up careers and sit at home and that they can’t be everything they ever should? It’s not the boy child who grew up alongside them chasing butterflies and eating mangoes.
And that’s why we must have the courage…
The courage to confront our parents about the things they haven’t done right by us in terms of educating us (not school fees, fool!). The absence of fear when taking down with belief systems, constructs, practices that contradict what we know to be logical truths must be palpable.
And that is both for everyone
Because only by facing our parents (the entire generation) who are bastions of sanctity and are revered can we truly begin to make a difference. We can’t be in a society where you were born in a polygamous family, you have never discussed that with your parents but you are out here calling all men trash. Or you are the child of a concubine, but you go around spreading misogynistic vitriol. You are only playing yourself child.
That’s why it takes courage…
It going to take courage for us to tell our parents that we are gay. That our friends are gay. That we work with gay people. That we share food with them. That we know them. That some of them struggle with it. That we work for them. That they have funny jokes. That they are people. Someone’s son and daughter. That others will never overcome their fear. And that others will never come out because they don’t have the courage.
It’s going to take courage to tell parents that forcing their children to live at home until they get married means they won’t understand the responsibility of living on their own, making decisions, independence, planning, adulthood, looking after their partners. It produces poor husbands and wives. Young people are facing these things in their marriages and their relationships. We need to talk about it.
It’s going to take courage for us to ask our parents who work in government to stop blaming everyone else and ask them what they did to stop the country from going to shit. What did they ever do to keep things on course? To reason with them when they say “we did it for you” and not be relenting in our quest to understand what our own role will be for our children.
It’s going to take courage to have conversations about having sex for favours. For jobs. For cars. For houses. For food. For gadgets. With men and with women. When our mothers did this for security, society respected them as kept women – church or no church; ring or no ring. But the men are different now and everyone fights for theirs. The conversations on men sleeping with women for money, access, property and rent? And men sleeping with other men to take care of their wives? How much courage will that take?
It’s going to take courage to bring up and challenge the tribalism, myopia and archaic attitudes parents get stuck in. Things like “we don’t marry those people” or “You would rather not marry” or “If you marry her I will not attend” must stop being heard as threats to people trying to form unions that are propagating the future. They must be taken down with boldness and furor.
It’s going to take courage to tell our parents that getting married and all the previously accepted forms of social validations will not be our portion. That some women do not want a husband or kids or to settle down. That some want to adopt children instead of having their own. That some men will just not be husbands. Those conversations take courage because they require us facing constructs we have known for a long time. But we must find it.
It is my hope that our generation finds the courage to face our parents and confront their demons because only then can we face our peers in honesty and good spirit. Only then can we stand and share with each other the sweat and tears it will take to rebuild this country after these old people are done phucking it up.
Or we could just give up and emigrate to another country and let it be someone else’ problem? The Chinese are coming here, expatriates come here and never want to leave, multinationals are coming over, oil companies are setting up. They already messed up their homes. If we leave, there’ll be no one to fight for this ugly red-dust pearl of Africa.
So, we stand and fight. As a generation. Men. Women. Gay. Straight. Religious. Atheist. African. Mixed. Light skin. Dark skin. Thicke. Small. Chubby.
But first, how to find that courage… to