Opinion: Yes, Feminism Can Be African

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Metal by Olga Lolo

My first encounter with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was during my senior year of college, when my professor assigned us to read Americanah. Not only did I fall in love with the storyline, but I was intrigued by Adichie’s eloquent and personable way of writing, and her commitment to addressing a span of issues ranging from black hair and interracial dating to immigration and racism in the states. Which is why when I finally got my hands on Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, I was stoked.

But as I continued to read and research the ideas behind Adichie’s manifesto, I came across many strikingly different responses to her thoughts. One response that particularly caught my eye was Amara Jail’s post proclaiming that Adichie’s feminism is simply “un-African”.

In this post, Jail affirms that not only is the western concept of feminism dangerous and oppressive toward African women, but that “African women are nowhere in African societies oppressed”. While I agreed with a few of her points, I found the bulk of her post to be generally detrimental and harmful.

The term “feminism” as we know today is a Western concept, yes. However, ideas endorsing women’s liberation and the dismantling of patriarchy can be found in societies all over the world, including African societies. It appears that Jail is greatly misinformed about the true intent of intersectional feminism.

The feminism that Adichie discusses is not the traditional white woman’s feminism that Jail attacks. The original women’s liberation movement in Europe and the U.S. was created by white women and for white women. No one is claiming this movement considered the rights of African women, let alone African-American women.

The feminism that Adichie discusses is a concept that would undoubtedly benefit African women and African societies, which does have an issue with gender, contrary to what Mrs. Jail claims. Adichie’s feminism is intersectional, and targets issues affecting ALL women, including black women, Latina women, Asian women, Trans women, and more.

Issues like the high rate of maternal mortality, the wage gap, early marriage, female genital mutilation, are all examples of gender-based violence that affect African women today. And honestly, saying that there is no gender problem in African societies is akin to saying that there is no racism in the U.S. Of course, gender issues extend beyond African countries; patriarchy is the dominating system of gender oppression in the world, appearing in nearly every modern society. But to say that this system of oppression doesn’t exist in African societies at all? That is quite profane.

Furthermore, Jail’s proposal to Adichie asking “who should kill the lizard or the snake that enters the compound?”, either Adichie or her husband is quite tasteless and continues to reaffirm outdated gender roles and stereotypes. Jail’s critique of Adichie seems almost personal at times, at one point stating that Adichie “feels worthy of a certain attention, when men do not give her the attention that she pleases, she feels upset, and concludes from these narrow experiences that men are deemed more important than women in African society.”

I beg to differ, Mrs. Jail. One’s personal experiences with misogyny do not simply reflect their own simplistic and insignificant insecurities, but rather the greater problem of patriarchal and misogynistic concepts that continue to infiltrate our societies. Claiming that African societies do not need feminism belittles the severe gender inequities that women continue to face. And honestly, what is this massive issue that the author has with the principle of uplifting women? The morals and ideas behind intersectional feminism are concepts that could benefit women globally, and we are certainly not above the persisting struggle for equality and women’s rights.

 

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