I was recently skimming through an online edition of one of the national newspapers. As we may all appreciate, the news in Kenya, for quite a while now has been full of politics, stories of doom and gloom whose editing too many a time leaves a lot to be desired. There are also lots of sensational stories, mostly relating to sex, relationships and marriage to catch the eye of the reader without any particular interest or direction. I usually gloss over most stories and on a Sunday morning, I look for a news article with some positivity to it, an encouraging story of triumph despite obstacles or an innovative idea seeing light, with a chance to excel.
So on this Sunday morning I read a story about a Kenyan making a name in the US film industry. This Kenyan happens to be a woman. The piece tells the story of how a Kenyan woman is making a name for herself directing films that touch on the tensions between African-Americans and Africans in the United States. It talks about how she excelled in her studies and got a scholarship to study in the US; she defied her father’s expectations to become a lawyer and ended up studying theatre and performing arts, her real passion. The article narrates how she overcame many obstacles to be where she is now and although she has not yet seen substantial financial fruits, she is receiving acclaim and recognition.
The paragraph before last then goes to mention that this Kenyan lady is “unmarried and has no children”. I was dumbstruck. Irritated. Perplexed. Annoyed. I asked myself of what relevance this particular piece of information was. I scrolled up to see who the author of the piece was. Someone named Kevin Kelley. I noted that the Kenyan lady had been interviewed on phone but wondered if she had consented to this particular phrase. Maybe I was getting cross on her behalf yet she didn’t mind but the truth is that I felt offended, not on her behalf, just offended as a woman.
I found it disparaging, even if the intention was not for it to be so. I wondered what would have been said about marital and parental status had the Kenyan director in question been a man. Would he have been referred to as an unmarried, with no children or ‘an eligible bachelor’? I think that the latter would have been what we would have read. It is probably a good thing that her age was not mentioned but we can all make conclusions from reading the full article.
This instance reminded me of two things. One was a quote that I recently came across that says a single woman after 30 ceases to be referred to as single and is instead referred to as unmarried. The second, and more significant, is the TedxEuston talk by one of the prolific writers of our times, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The talk is titled “We should all be feminists”. It has a lot of seemingly simple yet intelligent thoughts and makes for reflective watching and listening.
When many of us hear the word feminist, what comes to mind is the meaning of the word as we have learnt from society’s perception of feminism and not the dictionary definition. It is right to say that this meaning that we have learnt is usually barreled in a lot of negative sentiments. Society’s inferences are about women who detest men, women who do not believe in being married or doing housework; the list of negativity can go on and on. As Chimamanda rightly points out, the dictionary defines a feminist as a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes; in the equality of rights and opportunities for women.
I do not want to spoil it for those who may have not watched the video and intend to do so, but suffice to say that Chimamanda points out and questions the idiosyncrasies of society’s upbringing, expectations and perceptions of women and of……..wait for it……..men. Some of us may say that ‘our’ culture does not recognize that men and women are equal but rather that everyone has their place. She rebuts that by saying that “culture does not make people, people make culture” and this I find to be very true unless we want to make culture benefit only certain segments of society, at a given point in time.
I am reminded of a debate online that ensued when someone raised a question about his girlfriend’s sexual history and the discussion descended into disparaging comments about how women can be loose and are bound to lie about how many sexual partners they may have had. It was clear that many men expected to meet (and maybe even eventually settled down with) ‘sexually virtuous’ women (a virgin would be a bonus!).
Yet it is these same men who expect to have their sexual desires satisfied (on a daily, weekly or monthly basis), whether in committed relationships or not and of course this brings up the question: who do they expect to meet their sexual desires if not women from the same pool from which they expect to find ‘sexually virtuous’ women?
I am also reminded of this advert for a popular brand of stout that had huge banners around Nairobi with the punch line “Welcome to the table of men” or “Drinking at the table of men”…something like that. You get the gist. I remember how idiosyncratic that punch line was given that this particular brand is apparently patronized by a lot of women, including pregnant women! Need I say more? Look around you and spot the idiosyncrasies on men and women’s status in society.
While what may be termed as the movement for more equality for the sexes has come a long way to date, it is articles such as the one I came across that make you wonder how forward-looking/moving we are.
Chimamanda ultimately makes an indirect call for all of us, men and women, to become feminists and make the full humanity of women our culture if it is not already so.
Call me a feminist. I will take it as a compliment.
More importantly, be a feminist.
By La Femme