I grew up in a house full of women, so Feminism has always been easy for me; in many ways, it was inevitable. Growing up in a home devoid of gender roles meant that for a long time, I viewed the world through rose-tinted lens.
So when I observed my neighbours and the differences in the ways they raised their daughters as opposed to their sons, it didn’t sit right with me. When I went to school, and my teachers said I couldn’t do certain things because they were meant for boys alone, I felt wronged. When I went to buy a toy gun, but they only let me look at the dolls they had, I felt violated (I may or may not have ended up murdering the doll).
When I heard that I would have to cook and serve my husband, I hated the idea and did not see how it was sensible. During the time my father was with us, he cooked; he makes a mean Banga soup. He had no qualms cleaning or going to the market. He was imperfect in many ways, but he never upheld gender roles.
The kind of women I was surrounded by didn’t exactly help the patriarchy. I remember one of my mum’s friends talking to us about marriage. She said, “you and your husband share the work. If you make the soup, he pounds the yam”. I don’t remember a lot from my childhood, but I can see that day clearly in my head. It’s one of my favourite memories. I grew up around independent self-assured women, and it greatly influenced how I viewed the world and my interactions with it.
For years, my Feminism was based on getting women to view the world the way I do. To know that they were free to make their own way, that they didn’t have to “submit” to any man; that they could fly a plane or invent the next big thing if they wanted. My Feminism was personal. My Feminism wanted women to be like me. But guess what, that’s not enough or practical.
Activism of all kinds needs to be Intersectional. We must recognise that oppression and liberation do not mean the same thing for everyone.
The first time I came across the phrase “Intersectional Feminism,” it was in a tweet by Tito. I was perplexed. What did they mean by women don’t experience oppression the same way? Wasn’t it one patriarchy? Well, it’s not one patriarchy. Oppression is not spandex; one size does not fit all. That’s when I discovered I needed to read.
Groups and theories seem far-fetched sometimes. There are so many things I read that I can’t relate to. For instance, how the oppression of Black American women is often two-fold; how the subjugation of a woman who fits into europatriachal standards of beauty may be near radically different from how it affects a woman who doesn’t.
Reading theories made me see that if I really wanted to fight for all women, I had to hear from all women. I couldn’t limit my Activism to my personal experiences; that is, for lack of a better word, reductive.
Feminist theory isn’t just scholarly articles and books. Feminist theory is listening to your granny talk about her struggles as a woman who wanted to work in the 70s. It is Facebook posts, Medium stories, Tweets, blog posts, videos, movies. Feminist theory is anything that exposes you to the stories of women, anything that amplifies our voices.
Books are important, the works of Bell Hooks, Roxanne Gay, and Mona Eltahawy have shaped and reshaped the movement, but they’re only a fraction of what Feminist theory really is. Feminist theory is the stories women tell; it is their voice.
I am not the voice of women everywhere; I can’t claim to be. They have their own voices, and I must know when to defer, when to be silent, so their voices can be heard.
Personal Activism is a great starting point. If I did not see how oppression worked in my immediate environment, if I did not know that it could be better, I may never have had any of the ideals I currently hold dear. But growth is essential; Personal Activism can only take you so far. The theories, they’re what help you finish the race.
I maintain that true enlightenment (read wokeness) cannot be achieved until we learn to listen to the voices who shout with us but differ from ours.