LOUD WHISPERS: Defending The Indefensible

I was having a conversation with a group of male and female middle-aged professionals recently. One of the men in the group said that feminists like me are always quick to jump to the defence of women, even when they are in the wrong. According to him, because of intense levels of advocacy against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, he is afraid to talk to his female colleagues in the office. He is too scared to pay them a compliment when they wear something nice.

As he was recounting his experiences, my mind went back to many years ago when I was doing my National Youth Service at Nbawsi Girls High School, Nbawsi in the old Imo State before it became Abia State. There was a male teacher who used to go round the staff room flirting with the female teachers. He would slap them playfully on the back and pull the straps of their bras. They would all giggle at this and probably found it quite harmless. One day as he was doing his rounds of the backs and the bras he came to me, and just as his hand was about to touch my back, I swung around and tried to block his hand but I ended up hitting him in the face. He was startled and he jumped back. I said, ‘I didn’t mean to hit you, I just wanted to deter you from touching me the way you touch the others. Don’t try it with me’. He said, ‘Oh, I am only trying to be friendly’, and I said, ‘well, that’s fine, but don’t ever come near me again’.  And he never did. He also stopped pulling the bras of the other women in the staff room. I did not know that I had become something of a heroine as far as the others were concerned, because I learnt later that they had been putting up with his behaviour not because they liked it, but because they did not know how to stop him without sounding unpleasant. So that is when I probably learnt that it is more important to be respected than to be liked.

Listening to this gentleman talk about how he was afraid to offend women at his workplace, I felt very pleased that women have at last earned some respect, even if it has been built on a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Our daughters who work in offices still have to deal with sexism but it is not likely that their colleagues will attempt to pull their bra straps. Considering the high levels of gender based violence in our society right now, it is a very small victory, but one all the same.

The discussion in our group then veered in to the ways in which women behave these days. I am very sensitive at any attempt to slut shame women or blame them for pushing back against oppression and control. I must however confess, and I hope this does not make me a hypocrite, that I sometimes find myself hard pressed to come up with a sisterly defence of some women in the name of feminist solidarity. The gentleman I was talking to made a comment, ‘men don’t need to chase women these days, it is women doing the chasing and they don’t care if you are married or not’. I told him that men were still the ones preying on women and one or two cases does not indicate a major trend.  I knew deep down that they guy had a point but I did not want to admit it. One day my husband came back from a trip and showed me a note. It turned out that he had been on the same flight with a ‘B’ list Nigerian actress. My husband had no idea who she was. She walked up to him to introduce herself and he exchanged pleasantries with her. She went back to her seat, but she was probably not satisfied with the way the conversation had gone. She then wrote a note to my husband in which she told him that she was expecting to hear from him and hoped that they could become good friends. She included her phone number and said she would be expecting to hear from him. I laughed when I read the note and told him that perhaps she thought he ought to be a fan. He gave me a funny look and said, ‘Do I look like her mate that she will be passing notes to me’ and I replied, ‘Your mates are chasing her’. He gave me a funny look and said, ‘Here you go again. Defending the indefensible’.  

When I was young, I would never have dared walk up to an older, married man to ask for his number.  Some young women now openly proposition older men. When the telephone numbers of the members of the Federal Executive Council were published sometime last year, some  male Ministers received scandalous text messages and images from women. I look around at the brazenness of some women today and how they throw caution to the wind in pursuit of money, power and fame, and I ask myself, is this what is being interpreted as freedom for women? The feminist movement has been about equal opportunities, non-discrimination, respect for women’s choices, women’s control over their own lives and dignity. If there was a bullet point on the feminist manifesto about being ill-mannered, crude predators, I missed that one. I have been conflicted about these issues for some time, but almost on a daily basis I am forced to question what has become of feminist values and principles. Does it mean something else to another generation? Do my peers now find the feminist movement  irrelevant? Do women think they have ‘arrived’ and therefore no longer need to earn or give respect? Are we conflating a desire to be free and respected with the need to manipulate relationships with men in public and in private?

A few weeks  ago I was at an informal dinner party. The men present sat at one end of the room, drinking and chatting.  I was with women in another part of the room, we too were talking animatedly, and having a good time.  A woman joined us and asked why we were sitting away from the men. We said it was not deliberate, but we were having fun and did not see why we should bother ourselves with what the men were doing. The lady declared that she did not want to continue sitting with ‘just women’, so she flounced off to join the men. Soon after, I saw her exchanging numbers with some of them and taking selfies. I am all for claiming space and fighting exclusion. However, I did not in any way feel excluded just because a group of men had decided to hang out together. The women I was with were all successful, worthy role models. I enjoyed their company and wanted to know more about them and share stories. I had no interest in invading the space of men and I did not want them intruding into ours. I looked at the lady amongst the men and wondered if I was judging her. She had the right to hang out with any group of her choice, I just felt that perhaps she could have not been so brazen in her desire to catch the attention of the powerful men in the room. I found myself wishing that some women could respect themselves and other women more.

Women of all ages are still fighting patriarchal oppression and domination, and it is a struggle that will not end any time soon. We will not make much progress if we continue to allow men to divide and rule us. I once had a T. shirt that read ‘I will be a Post-Feminist in a Post Patriarchy’. If there are some women who believe that advocating for women’s rights is old fashioned and all that needs to be done now is behave exactly like what we are trying to change, then we still have a lot of work to do. Women do not need to become predators and schemers just because that is how men have ruled the world. The promise of the feminist vision is that we can build a world in which we will all have value and nurture relationships rooted in respect and reciprocity. From there we will go on to build healthy communities and thriving nations. Making it easy for those who do not want us to be more than what we are is not the way to go. Have a great week.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

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16 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Defending The Indefensible

  1. Femi Diipo September 4, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    This is deep, and it reminds me of a post I once read here on above whisper about women being the major antagonist to feminism. As much as I can’t remember the details of that post, what I know is that human being are hard to control and when we fight for freedom we must understand that some will still choose to be enslaved and that should be part of what freedom entails. No matter how noble an idea, vision or principle; some will still make a choice against it. So it should be expected that some women will always love and want the society to continue mostly as it is already.

    Reply
  2. Dom Dom September 4, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Perhaps it’s the patriarchal nature of the society that made some women so comfortable with male domination and constantly seeking men attention and manipulation as some form of survival method of getting some crumbs of power that fall from the men’s table to wield. Or perhaps this is the nature of some women and will constantly want that regardless of societal realities. Perhaps, we’d find out someday

    Reply
  3. Akpes September 4, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    This is very true ma’am. It’s high time women stood their ground when it comes to the issue of men ruling them. Men ain’t Lord over us and will never be.

    Reply
  4. Princess September 4, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Brilliant write up, saw a post yesterday which reads men are better leaders than women. I was pained when I saw it because that’s a fib that shouldn’t be told by anyone. Throughout my undergraduate days women have always being ruling and making sense, I’m not trying to be cynical here but that is the bitter truth. Women are already taking over the leadership mantle from the men in this generation of ours.

    Reply
  5. Kes September 4, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    @ Princess I concur to the fact that women are taking over from the men. #winks#

    Reply
  6. Tamara Nelson September 5, 2017 at 11:26 am

    If only we would listen and learn. If only.

    Reply
  7. Florence Jimoh September 5, 2017 at 11:29 am

    If women would want this genuine change, the road would have been easier to ply. We are the ones against our change just because of the delegatory mentality some women have. This is because they don’t want to work hard. They are just opportunists and lazy.

    Reply
  8. folami September 5, 2017 at 11:31 am

    It will surprise you that some hard working women still run after men to get things done. It’s more about the psychic. It’s more about getting women to realise that you don’t flaunt miss independent on social media while you doing men on their beds and claiming to be a hard worker. Let your work be legit!

    Reply
  9. georgina September 5, 2017 at 11:33 am

    @folami. You are spot on! You just hit it. See, some of these women that go about saying they are fighting for women’s rights will still be going after the husbands of their colleagues. For what na? It’s the psychic really. The Mindset must change.

    Reply
  10. DSEED September 5, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    Am so much in love with these. Just that its only few women that out there that still hold back to there dignity and respect. So men even think all women are the same when it comes to these area. God help us so that we can earn our respect back. I love the quote she used ” Its more important to be respected than to be liked”

    Reply
  11. Funmi Cole September 6, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    They have been taught to pursue the men. They have been taught to be bold and tap the men when they are not looking their way. That’s their school of thought. That’s what they represent and tarnish the image of those who are building something concrete and very valuable.

    Reply
  12. Bolanle Olatan September 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    I have said this time without number that the feminism we preach isn’t immorality. It’s for respect, dignity in labour, self appraisal, self discovery and support. If you see anyone doing something against that, that person isn’t a feminist but a terrible hazard to our community.

    Reply
  13. Nneka September 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Well said ma’am. God bless you.

    Reply
  14. Victoria E September 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    For peace sakes, Let us share this around. Women must read and grow.

    Reply
  15. Olakunle Olajide September 6, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Wow! This is so on point. But i think this has reduced a lot. Women now hold their own and not flaunt around being an opportunist. In all, we still have to spread this information, and this write up just did justice to that. Thank you ma’am.

    Reply
  16. Oluwatosino September 10, 2017 at 1:51 am

    Thank you ma for this post… I wish all the woman out there can read this post and learn from it…..

    Reply

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