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Explaining Feminism: 5 Common Myths About the Movement

Perhaps the most intriguing-and-yet-beguiled movement of our time is feminism. It has polarized many who have differing thoughts on the subject. Some interesting arguments have been made for and against it. However, a lot of the criticism levelled against feminism on social media stems from abject ignorance and an alarming refusal to embrace an open mind.

Below are five myths propagated by those who either know little about feminism or are intentionally trying to paint it in a negative light to keep people from actually discovering it for themselves.:

Feminism is un-African…whatever that means

Ah, yes. Let us begin with the questionable belief that some idea of equality could belong solely to a race or a continent and not be shared by others. A common argument is that feminism is not in line with African culture and therefore, it should not be practiced.

Now, there are two big problems with that reasoning. First of all, it is not un-African in any sense of the word. Secondly, even if it were against African beliefs – which, by the way, it is not – that is never a valid argument against it.

I will explain the second problem first. The fact that something negates our supposed idea of what our culture is does not mean it should be downright rejected. Why? Because, as Chimamanda Adichie once eloquently put it, “Culture does not make us, we make culture”. Culture is our way of life. Our way of life should not define us. We should define it. The very idea of a logical mind is to constantly question the beliefs we hold dear and see if they are relevant in light of deep reflection.

We have cultures in the world in which such practices as cannibalism, twin killings, slavery, rape and bestiality were seen as parts of the culture. During those times, they would argue with you till death that their beliefs are valid since they are part and parcel of their culture. So, what changed? Reflection and being open-minded to new ideas. The argument that something is part of your culture is not enough to validate it. We are all humans and our cultural values are fallible and subject to change. We just have to keep asking ourselves if the values we hold are not inhumane. To object to feminism – a movement that seeks to combat inequality based on gender – just because it is not your culture, is hardly defensible.

To the first reason, feminism is not against African culture, because first of all, there is no such thing as African culture. There is a multiplicity of African cultures numbering thousands which have their similarities, yes, but also numerous contradictions. We have some cultures in Africa which historically believe men to be superior. We have those who believe women are superior. Both patriarchy and matriarchy have existed on the continent at some point. We have had strong women in history defying gender strictures to actually live their fullest lives and benefit their environments for that reason – Queen Amina of Zazzau, the ancient all-female Fon army in today’s Benin Republic, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Efunsetan Aniwura and many more are feminist icons who scoffed at the gender imbalance of their times. Feminism has always been in Africa. We just did not have a name for it. The West gave it a name, but did not invent it. How could they have? A selfless belief in human equality is not the white man’s strength, after all. Do the words colonialism and slavery ring any bells, anyone?

Feminists are just extremists

This has been a common argument against every single form of activism in human history. Because nearly all forms of activism combat the status quo, many are often gripped with fear that if these activists have their way, the world will end and hell will freeze over. That is only because we have been so used to the way our societies are configured that we refuse to see certain problems when an oppressed group points it out. In fact, some of those against the movement are those in that oppressed group. A quote often mistaken to have come from Harriet Tubman, the slavery abolitions, goes thus: I freed hundreds of slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. Interesting, isn’t it? That the slaves were convinced that the way of life was the right way because they could not imagine it any other way. That speaks to social conditioning that makes us believe the world is a certain way because it is meant to be and not because our biases made it that way. Social conditioning makes us think anyone who opposes the status quo is an extremist trying to usurp our delicate existence.

But extremism is always relative, isn’t it? After all, the Taliban called Malala Yousafzai an extremist for fighting for the education of the girl-child because her stance was so radically against the status-quo, when they were the ones killing people. Many well-meaning white American liberals during the 1960s sympathized with the civil rights movement. And they were fine with allowing blacks to vote. But, tell them then that you wanted a black President, then they would call you an extremist going too far. But you cannot go too far with human rights, can you?

To be uncomfortable with people justifiably asking for their rights is to be on the wrong side of history, packed alongside the many bigots who, in the past, have denied youths, blacks and poor folk their rights to equal treatment as full human beings. There is nothing scary about equality. Hell will not freeze over. That is just your bias talking.

Feminism is of no value to the world

Many believe that feminism is just a waste of time with no value to the world. To them, it is just an exercise in foolhardy without any results. But the world we live in nowadays owes a lot to feminism. The idea of girls being allowed to go to school – that many women are now educated – is thanks to feminist agitations over the years. Today, we have women being involved in science and technology, the military and so on; helping make our world a better place.

In the past, women in many societies were not allowed to participate in law, science, philosophy, scholarship, religion; practically anything which did not include baking and changing diapers.  But that has changed today, hasn’t it? That has changed because of feminists – whether or not they even knew what the term meant – who realised they was a problem with gender strictures and moved for things to change. That change is what we are experiencing today.

Feminism has contributed to the current world order but it is still a work in progress. If we want to fully eradicate social and legal injustice based on gender, feminism still has a long way to go.

Feminists hate marriage and men generally

From twentieth-century feminists Eleanor Roosevelt, Virginia Woolf, Simone De Beauvoir, Ruth Ginsberg and Coretta Scott King, to the Chimamanda Adichie, Beyonce, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren of nowadays, there are numerous examples of feminists who either got married or remained in long-term romantic affairs with the opposite sex.

If that is not enough, note that there is nothing in the definition of feminism which requires hatred for men. In fact, many feminists are men, including yours faithfully.

Feminism is a girls-only club

Just like any other human rights movement, feminism is not limited to only a select few. It is a crusade that involves the two traditional genders. A lot of men in history and in contemporary pop culture have either personally identified as feminist or been labelled such through their actions: Thomas Sankara, Joseph Gordon-Lewitt, Dan Reynolds, Will Smith and so on.

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