“Why feminism?” I get asked a lot.
Why not? I am a feminist.
Yes, am a feminist and when I die, I will be proud that I was a feminist.
So how did it start?
“You Are A Feminist!”
Like every other feminist out there, that name was given to me before I knew what it meant.
Like most feminists, the first person to ever call me a feminist was a man, a friend among others during a conversation where I questioned their perspectives on women. And it was not in a soft tone. I was at University at that time and my attitude left many people with mouths ajar.
And it kept happening. Whenever I didn’t remain like a doormat in situations where most of my female friends would, I would be called a feminist.
The first times I was called a feminist, I refused the term! No, I am not a feminist! I said.
This is because the name feminist was reserved for bad women in society. I had heard the term before but it had been in a bad light.
So, I said no, I am not a feminist.
Later on, a female friend would refer to me in the same tone and so I began to do my research on what the fuck feminism is.
A Young Girl with Dreams
I grew up a bag full of dreams.
I wanted to become an actress and writer in between there was a lawyer, neurosurgeon, environmentalist, a YouTuber, basketballer, etc. phase. Ever since I was a young bud, I craved to be great.
The first series I ever watched was The Relic Hunter in 2000 on KBC and you remember how she used to kick ass. She was a hero and I wanted to be just like her. Well… am not the relic hunter but I kick ass too.
In the village where I was raised, there were few working women. One of them was called Wairimu. She lived in Nairobi and during the holidays, she would bring us, sweets.
Oh! how we children admired her. We would ogle at her clothes, hair, lipsticks and we wanted to be like her. She smelled so nice.
My Parents’ Dreams
Growing up, my father encouraged me to be great. He wanted me to be a lawyer and I believe it still hurts him somewhere that I did not become one. Don’t worry dad, I chose the right side, I became an activist. Amandlaaa!
He forwarded to me every newspaper article written on Martha Karua, “The Iron Lady,” read a copy of the Standard or the other one. And I revered in her glory, I got intoxicated in her prowess as a lawyer. I loved her.
And there was Charity Ngilu and Linah Jebii Kilimo, yea those were the women I grew up revering. And then there was another greater one who shared my grandmother’s (and even my name) Wangari Maathai. This one rocked my bones in every way. She would become the one I admire of all. Now her face and words are pinned to my feminist wall.
Dad and Mom were also readers. Mom liked Kenyan literature which influenced me significantly. Dad liked Western literature where I met Sidney Sheldon who wrote about women who inspired me, women who crawled through the mud to be great.
My mother wanted me to be a successful woman with kids. She wanted me to have a better life than she did. She told me one thing before I sat for my KCSE, “I know if you want to, you will pass. You only do the things you want.”
A Girl with Many Questions
I questioned a lot of things when I was growing up. And by a lot I mean aloot. I would anger adults very fast. Yes, I have been caned many times.
I asked my CRE teacher why we called God a ‘He’, I asked her why we used “man” as a representation of human beings. Mrs. Ndirangu told me the usual bullshit. “God is a spirit but because he provides, then he must be a he.”
and “man” is just collective, it does not mean much.”
These answers devasted a young adolescent girl. They felt wrong.
At home, I questioned why my sister and I would do chores but my brother and father would not do the same. That eventually changed in our home. The children of that house do all the chores depending on which they like most. I am proud of that.
And by then I still had never ever known what it meant to be a feminist.
Mrs. Murage was my Literature teacher in high school. In her words, even never having declared herself a feminist, she helped us see the plight of women in both ‘The River Between’ and in our society.
She asked, “why is it that women are the ones who take their children to school, who go to school functions? If your child needs to be taken to school, you as a woman will need to leave your job and go do the parental duties. Yet both of you are working!
She confirmed that the notions I had were not false or isolated to me. They were legit.
I adored this woman.
Some cool girls I met in high school resonated with me, most didn’t. They thought I was crazy. By now the word crazy has been used on me so much, I have realized it’s the right way to be.
They believed that men were stronger and better than women. It felt wrong to think that way.
Still, not a feminist.
Building the Gender Stereotype
There was a disconnect between girls and boys moving from primary school to campus. For those who went to boarding high schools, you can relate.
High school was the disconnect where men went to become men with their fellow men and women went to become women with their fellow women. A kind of rite of passage.
We would only see each other during holidays and school functions. Being restricted to our sexes, we were differently taught how to be women and men of a patriarchal culture.
Men were taught how to survive, and hunt through this world.
Women, on the other hand, were taught how to be submissive by having a load of crap drop on our heads and being oppressed like shit.
Want to know how this worked?
How many girls’ schools in comparison to boys’ schools went on strike in high school?
I know what you are thinking. But think about it this way, people who protest are people who are aware of their rights and won’t bend down.
The more silent people are in any society, the less free and decisive they are. So now you get me?
Gender roles cemented: Boys become men who can provide and do whatever they like, girls become submissive women who will get married and take care of domestic affairs.
Study but don’t apply it
Even though we were being told to become “women of substance” there was that oppressive air that conditions you to be the submissive person that our culture requires in a wife. It’s believed that a woman goal is to become a wife and mother. And high school prepared us for that.
These are not bad roles, I mean if it wasn’t for my father’s wife and my mother, I wouldn’t be here to usher in this new era. I hope to become a great mother someday. Even if not of children from my womb, but a mother. If I do get one of my own, all thanks to the great mother.
If a woman decides to become a homemaker, it is not bad. It’s a choice. On the other hand, she will become financially dependent on a man which is the top reason why women stay in abusive marriages, they can’t make their own decisions without money.
And then in campus… Almost a feminist.
We went to class with boys and girls. I being the third gender.
We were taught by professors who were both female and male. This didn’t change much from high school.
We all participated in class. Both girls and boys. We all did great at copy-pasting each other’s work and stealing exams. We all did great at drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
Though I did realize that when it came to arguing women’s rights, I and just some countable on my right hand fought for us. Most of the women shied off even when men were just blatantly abusive. They remained silent. And even smiled shyly on their sides.
There was something wrong with this world.
Even when a friend of mine and I began a movement against sexual violence and rape culture, most of our female classmates fought us together with the men. They called us angry women with sexual frustrations.
Judged by my vagina
In campus, girlfriends were doing dishes and laundry in their boyfriend’s hostel. And my boyfriend was criticizing me for not being a good-enough woman, a real woman ‘capable of being taken to his mother.’
At that point, it hurt being told I wasn’t a complete woman because I wasn’t doing womanly stuff.
And for some months I tried to fashion myself in his image so I could get the chance of being introduced to mommy-dearest. Allow me…muhhahahhahahahahahahahahahahhahaaaaaaa!
Don’t worry, we all have to grow.
I don’t like chores, at all. Like literally. I have hated chores since I was young. Most of the beatings my mother gave me were for leaving and finding the house the same way. Call me, lazy, I have made my peace with.
I plan on getting rich and creating more employment for people who would like to earn from something they are good at.
I tried to clean my room so often before he came (I know to you its common decency but you’ll just have to ride with me) so you know, wife material. I tried to wear dresses and earrings more often. You know, be a complete woman.
Oh! I suffered trying to reach impossible standards for someone whose goal was to break me.
When we ended things (of course I did the breaking up. Gangsta points retrieved!), I looked myself in the mirror and I couldn’t recognize my reflection. But 21days of that and I was healed. I decided never to be someone I am not for someone else.
The Shoes Don’t Fit
I wondered why I had struggled so much to fit myself in a certain way that society has said we should and, in this society, we all police the behavior of women. Men do it, other women do it, older women do it to younger women.
I love my freedom. I want to do with my life as I please. Of course, without causing harm to anybody.
Feminist roots supplanting…
I have to exist in a society where I have the right to become the best version of the woman I am. And that should not even be defended on paper or in a court of law. I should not have to explain the kind of choices I make in how I talk, walk, dress, or eat.
Right now, the world has changed and if you haven’t seen that, wake up and turn on google.
Among my peers, both females and males, we have all gone to school, right? Then why should I waste my education and choose to become a homemaker? Why should I put my life in danger by relying on someone else for all my needs when I can do that too?
I am a hardworking person just like the rest of my peers.
I work for my own. I do.
Then, why is it that still society places pressure on me to be in line with their expectations of my gender performance?
We are all performing our gender here.
Sadly, for the longest time, gender has been thought of as binary.
That means we have thought of gender as either feminine or masculine. No in-between.
Our conception of gender is informed by our sexes. Meaning- what you have between your legs. Biology.
In our patriarchal culture, biology determines sociology. You have a penis between your legs says you are masculine “mwanaume” (macho man) and as such you have to perform a certain way so that you can keep confirming your gender.
But what if you have both like Hermaphroditus? Do the roles and expectations still play a part?
In our marginalizing culture, people would rather call you a freak if you have both sexes rather than create a space for you to exist peacefully.
But then, this is only in our culture.
Get out there and realize that in Indian culture, they recognize an intersex and these people called “hijras” play an important role in India’s ceremonies and festivities- culture.
Patriarchal culture has existed for a long time in society.
What have we gained?
I’ll tell you: two world wars because somehow men believe that violence is the way to go.
Violence breeds from masculine energy.
Men fight because they can exercise their strength on each other. It’s a kind of power play and domination. Of course, some men do not reap from violence, they are few.
Feminine energy, is nurturing and caring. Again, some women reap from violence and do not have this burst. They are few.
If women had a voice in the societal processes of that era, they wouldn’t have allowed the war to happen. Why?
Because of that nurturing and caring energy that extends to their children and families.
Women are always stopping fights. At home, whenever we fight, my mother comes between and gets very angry at us for wanting to hurt any of her children.
A mother’s love for her children would never have allowed the world wars to happen. But women were silent at that time. They had been silenced. We only acted as support systems and agreed with every decision that our male leaders made. It’s worse in Africa because at that time we were under European colonialism and we didn’t have a voice.
Our patriarchal culture has only led to depression, mental health breakdowns, and more violence.
More men than women go to war while there are so many women who could fight but are stuck in their houses because they are married and have kids.
More men than women provide for their families and hate it. Wouldn’t it be better if we could help each other? Coz I hate it where I hear a man says to his wife, “wewe hakuna kitu unashindanga ukifanya!” (there is nothing you to contribute to in this house!)
And that’s not even true. When he was out there hustling, she was in that house making it possible for him to make it. Washing his clothes, taking care of the children, making un-poisoned food.
That statement has led many women to stay in abusive marriages coz they didn’t have any financial muscle to help them leave. So, they stayed and some even died. Globally, 4 women die every day in their homes after being battered by their husbands. And this is not happening in isolation, it is the same society that you and I exist. The same society that pulls the blanket higher when you hear a woman being beaten by her husband.
We are living in a capitalistic society where you survive if you have money. You have to buy everything you need.
We have to own property. Only 1% of women own property in the whole world. Out of the poorest people in the world, women make up for 60%.
This means all of us must work. And when we work, there is no fucking way the woman will still come back home to cook every day. Aiii (nooo) That’s slavery.
Instead of arguing about who will cook, why don’t you employ someone to cook for both of you so you don’t have to do it?
You come home weary to find food on the table because an energetic person who wanted to do it, did it.
You see, this life doesn’t have to be this hard.
We have restricted ourselves to roles that are becoming unbearable for us.
That is why we have words like “umama” (lack of manliness) for men who do not attain the masculinity shit.
I will tell you who a real man is,
A real man is one who leads him and others towards being more loving, gentle, kind, and honest.
If you are doing that, it doesn’t matter if you wear make-up, heels, you are getting a vagina, have a small dick…. (j’en sais quoi) …. Fuckery!
A real man is one who uses his muscles to protect the oppressed in society.
A real man is one who is in touch with both his masculine and feminine energies and have them balanced. Even the god Shiva knew this.
So finally, I called myself a feminist.
This was after understanding how systems of oppression work together to create a hierarchical structure in the world.
These systems like capitalism operate on the lines of sexuality and gender, which are the biggest, race, class, religion, etc. That system has it that at this point in history, we will have a straight white male from a wealthy family ruling the superpower of the world.
These systems have it that as a woman, black from Africa, a third world country, I occupy the lowest ranks in this world. I dare not mention the transgender women and men in our countries who are not even thought of as people.
And these are the fruits of this patriarchal capitalist society.
We have to dismantle the patriarchy. It has brought us nothing but pain, oppression, and violence. We need to march to a feeling and free society.
Women must be protected from sexual harassment in the workplace, home, streets and everywhere we exist. And we don’t even need the law for that, we just have to abandon a certain way of thinking-patriarchy. We must be recognized as human beings on this planet. A society that recognizes our existence because women are here. We are alive.
I realized that I am not the first feminist. I am lucky enough to step on the foundations of the sacrifices of my predecessors, Stella Nyanzi, Caroline Mutoko, Wambui Otieno, Winnie Mandela, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sahle- Work Zwede and so many others.
It’s because of them that I have the boobs to fight for my rights and leave a better foundation for the women who come after me. I am here because of a few women who dared the impossible.
I was reborn a feminist. And I want a feminist society.
A society where we can recognize and appreciate diversity, then include everyone in our new eco-feminist manifesto cum eco-socialist where we care about our community. A society where everyone who exists in it can do so equally and we can have more acceptance.
That is the society I want. This is why I am a proud Kenyan Feminist reborn.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- We Should All Be Feminists