Not another ism: who needs African Feminism?

Feminism is

Who needs feminism? Why complicate this ism further by categorizing it as African / Asian / Third World, etc Feminism?

The answer to these questions is simple; in the words of bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody. Irrespective of sex, gender, race, class, geography, sexuality or any imaginable way human beings have been classified through the ages, feminism is FOR you. Feminism is not simply about women. It is not about women versus men, it is not about quotas. It is not another boring rehashing of the perceived differences between men and women. Feminism is not about women trying to be men, dominate them or vying for their obsolescence.  It is especially not evil.

Feminism is about dismantling systems of oppression in all their forms and whatever their bases. ‘Locating’ this dismantling in identity constructs (African / Muslim/ Queer etc) is a means of ensuring that the oppressed (including those who aren’t aware of their oppression) are instrumental in attaining their freedom, that they understand and assume their role as agents, not passive recipients. Paolo Freire once said, “The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.”  It is thus necessary to affirm all people, to affirm their essence and the worlds they weave

Unfortunately, human history is not a long sequence of positive affirmations. Instead, it is filled with instances of dominant groups mistreating, maiming, mutilating, objectifying, lynching and dehumanizing groups they deem inferior. This is largely justified on the basis of the way people look with those deemed superior inflicting force and imposing their ideas. After all, they sit at the top end of the scales of codification. Throughout history, physical difference was so magnified in popular imagination and entrenched in psyches that it became instrumental in the curtailing of freedom, a tendency that has characterized ‘modernity’ and colonialism. The emphasis of difference and its supposed value ripens social relations for racist, sexist, imperialist and totalitarian orders’ picking.

Biological sex, a key aspect of our appearance tends to be the primary basis upon which human beings are ‘classified’ from birth. It largely determines what you will be named; expectations of your dress code, how you are treated and the spaces you can and cannot access, to name a few. This largely has to do with perceived strengths and weaknesses which place men and women on opposite ends of a false dichotomy.  Archaic myths persist to this day such as: “Men are rational, women are emotional,” “Men are providers and women are home-makers,” “Instead of being goal oriented, women are relationship oriented”, “cowboys don’t cry,” “you throw like a girl,” “a wo/man can’t do that” “African women are submissive,” “African women are very fertile” “Black men are abusive” etc etc.

Why even harp on about feminism (let alone a geographically specific hybrid) when there’s racist and class-based oppression to deal with, you may ask. Because it is absurd that in 2014 we are still talking about quotas, that rape is more likely than unlikely and that we are still protesting the illogical dehumanization of people on the basis of physical traits. The systems we are trying to untangle are founded on institutional chauvinism, the support for one’s group, cause or sex at the expense of others. An African Feminist outlook can help us to discredit this chauvinism, unpack our hurt and do some much needed healing. This is necessary in a political-economy that was built on emasculation and infantilization, where men are called boys even when they have fathered, where brute force has long been a means of governance and asserting power. Our violent past, marked by brute hyper-masculinity, echoes in the misdeeds we daily commit to each other.

I have tried on numerous occasions to explain to friends and family why feminism is the lens though which I assess the world and my experiences on various levels; inter-personally, with family, community, politics, economics and geography. I like to think of feminism as a toolbox with the spanners, screws, hammers, nuts, bolts and spanners I need to take a system or situation apart and put it back together. Each situation needs to be tackled by the right tool; this is not to imply that feminism is simply a reactionary mechanism.  Similarly, there is no singular feminism; it is a fluid system of ideas and ideals which cannot be imposed but lived.

African feminism is an effort to transcend the myths which are compounded by racial, geographic, religious and other stereotypes. It is about the pursuit and use of spaces to construct and live limitless archetypes. It is an ode to the validity of dreams of boys and girls of every hue and strand to live, to subvert, to decide, to protest, to love, to BE. Feminism is for black boys rendered bulls-eyes, criminalized and marked by melanin, for cultures deemed inferior and silenced by gun-claps, for philosophies skimmed over at the end of courses.

Feminism is about the preservation and respect for human autonomy. It is about the need many bodies and body-politics share to escape the brutal history where victor defines vanquished, where everything and everyone is classed by appearance and equivalent value given.   This aspiration, this desire to transcend phenotype, is why I need to locate my feminism in Africa. To trace it in the steps of women and men who practiced trades so numerous and so advanced history cowered in their shadow and sought to silence them. My feminism is not bound to continent, it straddles lands, swims oceans and ascends peaks. My feminism is transcendental, catching ripples from Mayan priestesses and Salam witch trialists. My feminism is mine, it is at the intersection of the dimensions that make me, in the words of Elaine Salo it is “enriched by the doyennes of a homegrown South African feminist tradition that takes account of women’s race, social statuses, geographies, sexualities and personal histories.”

Feminism is for every body.

Find bell hooks here>>: