The feminist who did not know her name

“So, you’re some kind of feminist then?” He makes a face like he’s just taken a drink of milk that’s gone sour before he recovers and smirks at me. He knows that his position commands authority, he knows that “feminism” is an ugly, dirty word and that what he really wants is my obeisance. There is something about me, something about my demeanour that challenges him, that challenges his view of how women should behave. He is eager to show me that there is no place for my attitude here. He smirks like he knows he’s won. Hush now little girl and remember your place. Emotions rage within me. Fear: please don’t dislike me or think badly of me. Shame: did I really have to be that outspoken? Finally, anger: my voice will not be silenced to soothe your ego. I am surprised at the quickness and clarity of my response. My answer is short, containing one word, yet it is long enough to carry the challenge and conviction of my thoughts. It is one word to seal my fate and to claim my title, I look him dead in the eye and say, “Unashamedly”.

When I used to talk of feminism I always felt the need to clarify what I meant, to somehow clear the air just in case you mistook me for a radical.  When the topic was broached I’d um and ah my way through a mandatory explanation, it was almost as if I was trying to grasp something that my fingers could not close around. I’d offer strained, empty words that were never sufficient. I’d often say, “Yeah, I’m a feminist, but it doesn’t mean I’m about to burn my bra in the streets” to soothe, to placate, to let others know that I was not contagious. In a way, I was not explaining anything, I was apologising.  What I was actually saying was “I’m sorry that I believe something that upsets you Mr Man, please don’t hate me”. This is me; I’m arrogant, unapologetic and a woman who is, more often than not, sure of her voice, yet there I was, time and again, explaining my way, apologising for wanting something that is so basic. That bothered me, it bothered me deeply. Why did I even care?   Maybe it’s rooted in a desire to fit in and to be liked (two things I’ve never excelled at, but that, are only human to desire). Maybe I knew that in this complex world, women must still tread carefully not to hurt the fragile male ego. Maybe I was cognisant of the fact that I had seen the face of leadership in our country and that it was male and I knew that no one likes the girl who causes trouble. Maybe it went beyond that. Maybe, beneath it all, I had some sort of a qualm with the very notion of feminism itself. Maybe I wore my title of feminist like a poor man wears an ill-fitting coat in winter; without true choice, in an attempt to protect myself from the elements because I had nothing else. Did I want equal access to opportunity across the gender barrier? Did I question the roles that we are taught to be “natural” for men and women? Did I believe that no one gender had the monopoly over logic, reason, intelligence or being nurturing? Of course, I did, but still the word “feminist” caught in my throat. How did the very notion of feminism become so ugly? Men and women alike have more than accepted the notion that feminism is about man hating, that feminists are a bunch of unhappy, angry females who are, deep down inside, very unfilled (no doubt because no self-respecting man would marry them). We have seen the “feminist” and we do not like her; she’s fat, unmarried and ugly. She has warts and stray hair grows from her chin. She spews vile comments with breath so terrible we cannot pay attention to her words. We look at her and feel sorry that she lives such an unfulfilled life. It is the beautiful, docile, well put together wife and mother who epitomizes the female ideal, we’d listen to her, we’d want our daughters to be just like her. Who wants to be a man hating, (god forbid unmarried) feminist?

So, this is my truth, I am a feminist, warts and all. I am unapologetically a feminist. The fact that it has taken me this long to say that is something I shall berate myself for later, but the important thing is that I am here now. I am here, and I am part of what we have started seeing feminists as, as men and women who share common beliefs about the empowerment of women, as people who believe in equal rights and that we need to see an end to patriarchy. Chimamanda Adichie was not just right when she said, “We should all be feminists”, she was making a call to action and it is one that we cannot ignore. I am a feminist, unashamedly and unapologetically, and I ask you my brothers and sisters, are you?

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