LOUD WHISPERS: Women Are Not Beasts
A response to Olatunji Ololade’s Beasts Of No Gender, The Nation.
‘We have too many women reading too much meaning into everything and agitating about anything, like the television commercial in which a joyous father of a newborn yells into his mobile phone’s mouthpiece; ‘Mama na boy o’. To them, such an advert constitutes an offensive patriarchal mindset’.
‘To be a feminist, if not a defect, is at least a fetish; like porn. The feminist is that woman who dulls down to an artificially created set of sexual-political sensibilities, in order to satisfy her emotional lust for being perpetually ‘oppressed’………like porn addicts, paedophiles, rapists and racists, such woman is an emotion junkie – infinitely handicapped yet propelled by her lust for unearned benefits……’.
‘Feminism can not exist without man-hating and that is the cold-hard truth’
‘Blaming socialization for women’s predicament constitutes the worst of feminist claptrap’
And it goes on and on. There is a Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. The first time I read this very troubling rant by Olatunji Ololade against feminists/women’s rights advocates was three or four years ago when it was serialized in The Nation, a leading national newspaper in Nigeria. I think one of two things must have happened. First scenario – Olatunji probably got so many horrified responses from women, it gave him a serious high which took him a long time to come down from, hence the need for another shot of adrenaline. The second possibility is that he did not get enough push back the first time, so he became emboldened and decided to up the ante.
In the interim, Olatunji became an award-winning writer, receiving CNN Multi Choice African Journalist awards back to back, as well as other local ones. Of course we are always proud of our fellow country men and women when they bring home well deserved laurels, it is great to have something to celebrate about Nigerians other than news about us being perpetual scoundrels.
After wincing and grimacing through the January 2016 version of what passes for Olatunji’s analysis of the state of gender relations and women’s rights activism in Nigeria, I have decided to raise a number of issues with him in the form of some unsolicited advice as follows:
• Olatunji needs to take his responsibilities as a leading journalist and writer in Nigeria more seriously. Research, analysis, reflection, empathy and empirical evidence are critical to any nuanced understanding of an issue as complex as feminism and gender relations. The quality of debate you have in private spaces is not the same as the one you place on the pages of a national newspaper – in all its three part, problematic glory.
• I advise our award winning brother to do more reading. The more writing you do, the more you have to read. Olatunji needs to read the work of Nigerian feminist thinkers such as Ifi Amadiume, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Bolanle Awe, Ayesha Imam, Ronke Oyewunmi, Ama Ata Aidoo, Amina Mama, Bisi Aina, Simi Afonja to mention a few. He would also do well to look at what other African women such as Sara Longwe, Abena Busia, Sylvia Tamale, Awa Thiam, and so many others have to say. These women, alongside scores of others, have worked to produce a body of knowledge and thought on African feminist theory and practice. The summary of their definition of Feminism is one of a global struggle against all forms pf patriarchal oppression. Their analysis includes not only a critique of white, western feminist hegemony, but also serves to create a unique space for the conceptualization and practicalisation of a feminism that resonates with the lived experiences of every day African women. One of the greatest contributions of African feminist thought, has been its insistence on locating feminist discourse within Africa’s historical realities of slavery, colonialism, globalization and marginalization. In essence, you cannot talk about an empowered woman in Africa without liberating her entire community from poverty and lack of opportunities. This includes the men and boys in her life. Some of these women I mention are my teachers and mentors, some are peers, and they are all my friends. Most of them are mothers, wives and grandmothers. I am sure none of us ever dreamt that a day would come when a privileged, educated African brother would liken us to ‘porn addicts, paedophiles, rapists and racists’.
• Mr Ololade needs to broaden his analytical horizons. Patriarchy is real. It is not in our minds. It has never simply been about Men versus Women. It is about the use of male dominated institutions and structures such as politics, religion, education, economics, culture and tradition to create a universe in which one gender becomes superior to the other. Olatunji said women made a big deal out of a seemingly innocuous ‘Mama na boy ‘advert. Even his fellow men understand why the fuss was made. Let us call the new baby boy John. In some cultures, on the 8th day of his birth, a goat will be killed. If the baby is a Mary, they will kill a chicken for her. John will grow up to be the first to have a shot at education if his family is poor. Mary will have to learn how to be a good wife because that is where her career prospects will lie, if she is to lift her family out of poverty. Perhaps Ololade missed the drama we all witnessed, approximately ten years ago, when a wealthy politician celebrated the first birthday of his first son after five daughters, with the gift of a Rolls Royce to the little boy. Yes, Olatunji, ‘Mama na boy’ means something.
• Our good friend needs to learn more about social change organizing. The Women’s Movement is one of many social change movements. All movements have their history, contradictions and fundamental principles. There will always be contestations around vision, values, leadership and practice. Just as we wonder about the leadership inconsistencies within many labour unions for example, it does not negate the principle of having a space to advocate for the protection of the rights of workers. The women’s movement has thrown up (and continues to do so) its own fair share of contradictions. On the one hand, we have been perennial advocates for the inclusion of more women in decision making at all levels. When we do have women in decision making, we then become alarmed at their total disconnection from the very struggles that threw them up in the first place. The battles many of us have fought for women’s control over their bodies and their sexual and reproductive rights have been thrown in our faces when we observe the rather bewildering choices some women make. My point therefore is even with all these contestations, it does not negate the raison d’etre for a struggle against patriarchal oppression.
• I urge Olatunji to dig a bit deeper into the history of these struggles in our own communities. The argument that feminism came to us via western feminists is a very familiar one. It is also an assumption based on sheer ignorance. Our history, language, rituals, art, music and various forms of cultural expression all speak to a unique role of women (albeit subject to certain controls) in our societies. Alongside this heritage runs a long history of struggle against patriarchy. The fact that it has not been adequately documented or named as ‘feminist’ does not mean that those struggles did not exist. Has it ever occurred to Olatunji to reflect on why it is that wherever we had communities of women known for their economic resourcefulness i.e. in ancient Yorubaland, we had a corresponding belief in the existence of witches? Long before international development agencies made Gender Budgeting a key policy tool, Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was leading other women to critically examine the budgets of the colonial administration in Abeokuta.
• Olatunji needs to appraise himself of a gradual but significant shift in global feminist politics. Even with the dominance of western feminist agendas, it has become clear that the feminist movement in that part of the world is not what it used to be, simply because most of their liberal feminist demands have now become institutionalized. This is one of the reasons why Hilary Clinton is battling for legitimacy with a new generation of women who do not know a world in which women had to struggle for acceptance. For those of us in the Global South, where, in some places, your very existence is at risk because you are female, our feminist movements have waxed stronger. The African Feminist Forum (AFF) is one of the leading feminist spaces in the world. The African Feminist Charter launched by AFF in 2006, has been translated into languages around the world and is used for training and sensitization of women in many countries.
• Olatunji struggles to understand the concept and process of socialization and what legitimate bearing this has on the lives of women and girls. I suggest he adopts some male mentors to help him think this through. I highly recommend men such as Otive Igbuzor, Chidi Odinkalu, Kole Shettima, Ogaga Ifowodo, Wale Ajadi, amongst a host of others.
Inspite of the recurrent vitriol in Olatunji’s epistle, I detect a sincere yearning to have a more inclusive conversation around gender issues and power. As a feminist, wife and mother of a son (who I do not want any woman to hate), I believe I have learnt a thing or two about having conversations that can move all our communities forward. Women do not want to replace Patriarchy with a Matriarchy. We want to live in a world in which there is mutual respect, rights for all, and opportunities that are not mediated by the sex we are born with. I would like to share that world with my brother Olatunji, but first he needs to stop the bullying, change his drinking buddies, get some progressive male mentors, and start using his powerful platform more meaningfully. PS: If you want to win another award this year, don’t call women beasts!
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Feminist Activist, 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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