I will try to tell you what I think of this topic. I was on clubhouse the other day in a room of Senegalese women, the women were sharing the dangers, the fear, the oppression they face in their daily lives as women. So the title of the room was “Why are men afraid of feminists?” The men were coming on stage to say that the women were victimizing themselves. And there was nothing wrong in society. And so the women were very upset, rightfully so I think. Other men were coming to defend the men who spoke before to say that the women were rude. These men went and created a counter room, where many people went to, I also went to that room. They calmed things down. They said, they just want to have a discussion. I could make a parallel with racism: where one person is telling you there is no racism, and then you go through racism and you know, there’s racism and the other person is standing here denying your experience.
Yes, feminism is something else. But what came through was that the men were saying there was no problem, they were invalidating the experiences of these women who go through a lot of stuff in their daily lives, in their families and in society. These women are doing concrete things to help other women who are victims of domestic violence, rape and things in their communities. So the men who are hung on the words said the women were rude: “if they cannot speak politely, we cannot speak with them.” For me, it was all down to their ego, because the women were rude they should not be listened to? I went on stage and I told them that if we go above the words that these women were angry, can we hear the pain that they are trying to share? Can we hear what they’re saying? told them that when I was a child in Foumban, I played a lot with my cousin Abdou of my age, we were not even five years old. We would play hide and seek and chasing each other with glee. As soon as we got home, they would be told to serve Abdou food. “This child is as stupid as I am, why do I need to serve him food?” I would reflect to myself. He was my age. And I was already serving him. I was angry about that. But if I said something, I would have been hit for being disrespectful.
Boys are socialized differently from the way girls are socialized? Research shows that before five years old, boys are more sensitive than girls. So what happens afterwards? Of course, the socialization comes in in this patriarchal system that sustains for boys to be soicialized differently. They don’t go through the same things women go through. I saw it with my own experience, where I was already serving this other child who was exactly my age, there was no justification, he was not an elder, he didn’t need any help, he could go get his food by himself. I was taught to serve him for food, bring water for him to wash his hands. Patriarchy, puts the women in a position where they support a patriarchal system. We are educated to sustain these rules, shut up, be in our place even when violence occurs sometimes. “Those are our traditions.” “We’ve always done it that way.” “These ideas are from outside.” As a male growing up in such a system, you don’t have the same experience as a woman, you don’t have the same violence imposed on you, in such a sensitive and hard, that requires we confront uncomfortable parts of ourselves, it requires the men to face their ego, it is as if they have been accused of being bad people. But that’s not it. When a person is silent for so long, when they start talking, they will not talk in a very smooth and constructed way, they will come across as angry and frustrated. I invite everybody to come with compassion to listen to these women, because most of them went through a lot of hurt and suffering with nowhere to turn to and no one to talk to. Now that they’re starting to talk, we should listen, and the men should listen even if it is hard. The feminist movement needs the men to work together with the women to undo these patterns in society that don’t serve us. A woman who is educated will sustain more people in her family. We have to work together to change things.
“Am I a feminist?”, I questioned myself. I did not quite identify myself with the feminist movement from the West but I still think I am a feminist. I want women to have equity, equality in society, this is even what this podcast is about, patriarchy ties women down in such ways that they don’t even know they have the power in them, the resources to stand, that they’re strong, they can do things on their own. It’s like a brainwash where traditions are sometimes misused to oppress women.
When my mom ran away from her first marriage, she didn’t remarry. And my uncles wanted her to marry not because they wanted her to be so happily married and in love. No, it was for their own honor. “How could she live alone they. She doesn’t even cover her hair with a headtie. How could she? How dare she do that?”, they would say.
But whenever she came to visit no one said anything in her face, she had a good job and everyone was expecting her to share her salary with them. They would come and brainwash me as a child to tell my mother to marry. “Mama, please can you marry so that you can bring the honour back to the family.” I would say. She would smile and not say anything. The situation was not easy, the other women in my family were married off without any education. “I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be like that. I would run away if they did that to me? I was just thinking for myself.”
We have to be able to hear these stories and make changes. We have to dismantle these systems that oppress women. Men have to accept to question their own position because everybody would be better off. I hated being a girl child, I saw the way I was vulnerable. I was treated different. I didn’t like it. I was not respected. I was a tool, I had to clean serve and serve. I wanted to be a boy because that is where the power was. If I was a boy, no one would do anything to me.
These experiences leave us with some trauma that play tricks on us in adulthood. I remember the first year, I live with my then boyfriend now husband. It was terrible. There were many traumas playing out. Every Saturday I would be in crisis mode. We had to go to groceries, clean the house and take out the garbage. I will repeat to him that I’m not here to cook and clean for him. This came from my childhood, he never said he was not going to cook and clean. I was so traumatized by my cooking and serving in childhood mode that I was bringing it to the relationship. These things have a lasting impact, we will be better off as a people, as a society if we tackle them, if we accept there is a problem without hiding our head in the sand.
I would say I’m an African feminist, because in that context, I understand what I’m talking about. If you have any ideas to share on this topic, or you want to tell me if you’re a feminist or not, or if you have any questions you would like me to read on the podcast and answer please find us on Instagram @overcomingyourstory, or on my website, Miriamnjoku.com. You can send an email.