Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Favorite -ism

Happy International Women's Day, all and sundry :) I just want to grab this moment to address a few common misconceptions about feminism that I encounter here all the time.

1. Feminism is not synonymous with affirmative action. I have to say this because whenever the f-word gets invoked, there is always someone getting mean-eyed about how either women shouldn't get what they perceive as preferential treatment in the labor market or about how men are being sidelined. Thing is, feminism is a large and complex -ism that cannot be reduced to a few practices such as affirmative action in the labor market (or political sphere for that matter). It is a public relations problem that I think our formal feminist institutions might do a better job of addressing, because it does kind of make the issue reductive.

2. Feminism is not synonymous with man-hating. That's just a holdover from the past, when more militant groups of feminists rejected the masculine and went off on that rant for a few decades. Not only is this a minority issue in the feminist movement, I think it has been incredibly damaging and obviously folks are still suffering the after effects. Perhaps more people would be comfortable calling themselves feminists if they didn't have to contend with that little problem. A propos: there is a new movement mostly in the US but also somewhat in Europe where issues of masculinity are being dissected as men negotiate a society quite different from those of the past where their roles are no longer so strongly defined or supported. Pretty interesting stuff to read especially if you are a feminist. Holler in the inbox if you want some material but it's easier to just google "Masculinism." And yes, it is different from patriarchy :)

3. Stop calling feminism "mambo ya Beijing." If I could, I would try to think up a new term for feminism in Kiswahili because Haki za Wanawake and Mfumo Dume do nothing to capture the dynamism and relevance of the -ism. Still, please, for sweet chunky monkey's sakes don't call it "Beijing."

4. Men can, and do, benefit immensely from feminist advances in societies. I know that the idea is a hard sell in this market, but believe me. A society in which women enjoy more freedoms doesn't have to look like the US, and can be quite healthy for everyone.

One thing I admit I found a bit strange was the repeat notion- can men be feminists? What do you think, and why?


  1. "A society in which women enjoy more freedoms doesn't have to look like the US, and can be quite healthy for everyone."

    Could you elaborate on this part please?

  2. @Mugizi: Yes. That statement was shorthand for the idea that we need not mimic those parts of American culture that may be in conflict with our own societal mores. This is to reassure folks that feminism can be culturally adapted and need not be overly prescriptive... nor overly "Western." One big fear of feminists that I encounter frequently, for example, is the notion that "independent women" must develop characteristics that are often unpleasant for communalistic cultures- like adopting aggressive individualistic ego-driven careerism as a way of life. This need not be the case, although I am all for women being free enough to do whatever suits them best- even if it means NOT becoming a stock character who draws too much inspiration from Sex and The City...or for that matter refusing to be forced to cover your hair. You are right to detect some censure in there as well: I am personally against the commodification of young women in popular media that the US might not have invented but that it has exported around the world all too effectively in the form of Lindsey Lohans/Spring Break Girls Gone Wild tradition. Does that explain things a bit?

  3. Word!

    Asante sana for this post! I hope more people will pass by and read...

    Kuna marafiki zangu wakiambiwa nanihii ni 'feminist', basi hata kumsogelea kutoa salamu ni tatizo*!

    Answering your question: yes, I do think men can be feminists; some of them (read 'us') even support the movements without their (read 'our') knowledge.

    I have got one concern, though. Do you think maybe some people (i.e. feminists) take it "too far" sometimes? As in, they don't really grasp the true essence of the freedoms they are fighting for, and consequently the conflicts within a society multiply?

    I mean, if some dude asks his partner to cook makande for him/the family - more importantly, because she very is good at it - it does not have to yield a 'commotion'. You know what I mean? Some might argue this applies to most movements out there.

    *Got an idea, I would call my daughter(s) "Feminist"... just to chase the naughty boys away! LOL

  4. @Elsie: Makes perfect sense, I was just not getting it initially. I like your idea of "culturally adaptive feminism" - in my academic mindset I immediately thought "Someone could write some very nice papers about this" :-) (hint, hint)

  5. it is a mountain, and a steep one at that. see the cautionary tale of what happened in egypt on iwd on the heels of the revolution where women were front and centre (if not always seen in the media). a post from a male gendered feminist:

  6. If feminism is defined as Merriam-Webster defines it (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism), one definition being: "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes", then yes, I believe men can be feminists.

  7. @Jetsetter: thank you for that post. I never get to read from male feminists in the Middle East and this made me feel good right on the inside. :)
    @Biche: yerp, run with it. there's a few definitions out there, but I like to work the positive inclusive angle. :)

  8. @SN: eh bwana we. just forgive me: i meant to reply to your excellent comment halafu halafu... no excuses cut it. First up: Word! back at you. Second: waambie hao marafiki wanawaogopa ma-feministi wasijisumbue kwa hilo. wanawake wengi ni mafeministi wa kijanja tu :) and they'll never be able to tell...
    On the division of labour issue: umegusa patamu (as Makwaia wa Kuhenga would say). Dude, I love to cook and so do lots of women and men. kula makande yanayokufurahisha, usijali jinsia ya mpishi. it's called a division of labor for a reason: so long as it's negotiated, no trouble to be had. It's about making the transition from assumptions to negotiations and fair play. Au siyo?

    High Five.


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