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‘Pearl, you know, you should just stop saying you’re a feminist.’

If I had a Naira for every time I heard that, I’d buy the 2017 Range Rover Sport. Or, at the very least, pay my rent. This, usually said in reaction to a sweat drenched, grease splashed, food aroma wafting version of myself at time ‘T’. Or to me rocking my nephew to sleep and then cradling him on my chest. This to my chipped nails or chapped skin from doing laundry, or anything considered domestic; or gushing when my boyfriend buys me flowers or some other romantic gesture. This to me cooking batches of organoleptic-looking meals of dubitable taste; this to me christening myself the official cook in residential writers’ conferences and basically serving to the best of my abilities all my colleagues, male and female alike. All of these things, these ‘exhibits,’ these traits, these things I do, this person I am — these things that are considered ‘unfeministic.’ These things which to a thinking human being are basic life-skills, are simple kindnesses, are empathetic — these things betray me because they are perceived as womanly. And my saying I am a feminist is me being simply perverse, subversive, laying false claim, or just having a total lack of understanding of a concept. A womanly feminist is an oxymoron, am I right or am I right?

Because, you see… I am a feminist — no ‘buts’ — therefore, I am supposed to be unwoman. And if that means losing my humanity and right to do the things I actually enjoy doing, the things I do by pure instinct, the things that define me, not as a woman, but as a person — if that means throwing away that baby with the bath water in order to prove a point — why, then so be it.

“Sister, pick a struggle,” they chide. “You cannot be claiming to be a feminist and be like ‘us.’ You are supposed to not like to cook” and when you do, the inference which goes from playful to serious is, in summary, “you are a fraud.”

We, the others, we are supposed to be soft and fragrant and have an inherent, congenital need to be taken care of. Because you see, as a feminist, I am supposed to shun softness and beauty and grace, femininity and the desire to care for another. I am supposed to in fact, reject everything a woman is supposed to be and become everything a man is supposed to be — hard, brute-like maybe, sloppy, unnurturing, careless, flip, be everything that not I, but you, the society that designs these things and raps the gavel for emphasis, say a man should be.

God forbid I know how many kilovolts a generator needs to carry all the appliances in my house. This actually happened. I moved into a larger house and on visiting my friend, noticed that their generator was able to carry most of their appliances, and knowing how unrealistic/unhelpful the internet and untrustworthy the store clerks can be, I thought I’d better ask someone who actually knew what they were talking about. So I asked my friend how many KVA their generator was and how much it cost. It wasn’t the fact that she didn’t know that confused and astounded me, it was the defensiveness of her answer, ‘so what if I don’t know. What do I care? My husband buys these things. What is my business? Why do I need to know? See, I am not you o. I don’t need to prove that I can take care of myself.’ To which I asked her simply, ‘sistah, who ask you?’ It was actually funny, the way she pre-empted my judging, because yes, I was judging her. Here’s what I was thinking. You’re a thirty-something year old woman, intelligent, have a good job, but more importantly, have two children. Now, what if, gods forbid, your husband dropped dead today? You would wake him up to ask him about the generator?

But, you know, god forbid. Nothing bad happens to the soft, defenseless, dependent woman. Until it does. And then she wonders how it was someone swept in and took over and took everything. Then we would blame a wicked society that does not protect its weak. But when you have all the tools to be everything you can be, and make a choice to mortgage that in order to fit a stereotype, to be taken care of, how do you expect me to get behind that? Clearly, I am addressing a particular kind of woman. The one who has all the advantages of the opposite sex and yet chooses to refuse, as is her right to take advantage. I have always struggled with how it is I get the same advantages as my male counterpart, and then expect him to turn around and take care of me — not when I am limited by biology as in the case of pregnancy, not when I am physically not strong enough because, let’s not be disingenuous, most men are physically stronger; not because I was a human being who just needed a hand. But because I was a woman.

And that to me is the ultimate insult. The fact that someone related to me and lent me privileges, not because they saw someone, another human being who needed help, but because they saw a woman… and all the things you expect I should be which automatically put me in prime position to be a beneficiary of your largesse. And of course, not to cherry pick, if you are going to take care of me like a child, then it is only fair that you reserve the right to treat me as one. And why the hell not? We, women, cannot be equal partners when it suits us and then turn around and have an adult-child, master-servant property owner-owned, caregiver-dependent relationship the next minute. We cannot ignore the customary negotiations during marriage ceremonies, where money and gifts, however small and whether or not they are returned — even the mere whiff, the gesture is offensive for what it suggests. You cannot do these things and then want an equal partnership. I’d hate to be a man in this pre-modern world of the modern woman. How confusing it must be.

And so, MY feminism is not a subjugation of men by women, haha. Nor is it man-hating. Nor is it losing femininity and becoming, or pretending to be a man, as though being a man were something to which one should aspire. MY feminism is simply this: when you look at me, see another human being, whose thoughts, desires, ambitions, plans, etc are as legitimate as yours and when you cut me some slack, when you lend me a hand, when you cut me down to size even, do so, not as you would someone who belonged to a whole subset you consider inherently inferior, but as you would someone who stood shoulder to shoulder with you. And if they did not meet your standards, it was because as a human being, they didn’t, not because as a woman, they were simply incapable.

Now, there are many schools and notions and ideas of and around feminism. And I am sure just as there are several denominations, under, say, Christianity and to the minds of the adherents, their stances are valid — if someone subscribed to a certain notion of feminism which I disagreed with, if I thought someone commodified femininity, or tried to use feminism as a tool of oppression, if I thought someone masked their misandry under the veil of feminism or I just thought someone had a concept of feminism which I averred… and (this is the most important point) if I found myself constantly through a series of (co)incidences, and happenstances, juxtaposed with this person, mentioned in the same breath, painted with the same brush as it were — I reserve and will exert my right, if I so choose, to wrest my personal brand and narrative by distancing myself from it. And if you have a problem with that, it kind of is your problem.

*Click HERE to learn more about the #MyFeminism essay series. If you enjoyed this essay, stop by on November 28th to read Kola Tubosun’s contribution to the conversation.

Read the first essay in the series—“Complicating the Significance of Gender” by Keside Anosike—HERE

Read the third essay in the series— “On the Necessity of Men” by Kola Tubosun—HERE

Read the fourth essay in the series — “Remembering to Scream” by Wana Udobang HERE

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About the Author:

portrait-osibuPearl Osibu is a Fashion Designer/Stylist, Nigerian writer and blogger. She writes a blog titled Fifty Shades of Me  where she publishes her short stories and keeps up a commentary on topical, social issues.

Her works have been published in Sentinel Nigeria eZine, Jetlife Magazine, Metropole, NigeriansTalk, etc.

She is currently a screenwriter—works with Mnet Tinsel—and a columnist at www.sabinews.com

She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

9 Responses to “My Feminism | The Unwomanly Feminist | by Pearl Osibu” Subscribe

  1. Nunu 2016/11/23 at 01:04 #

    This thing called feminism sef.

  2. Michael E. Umoh 2016/11/23 at 02:57 #

    I love this. All of it; especially this:

    “We, the others, we are supposed to be soft and fragrant and have an inherent, congenital need to be taken care of. Because you see, as a feminist, I am supposed to shun softness and beauty and grace, femininity and the desire to care for another.”

  3. Aidee 2016/11/23 at 04:50 #

    This portrays my own feminism too. I enjoyed every bit of it!

  4. Remi 2016/11/23 at 08:38 #

    Applause Pearl! You wrote my thoughts.

  5. Uju 2016/11/23 at 10:04 #

    Oh wow. This is powerful. Still reeling. Okay, I’m steady now/ Thanks for these awesome thoughts.

  6. Ifey 2016/11/23 at 10:54 #

    I have always said most Nigerian women who claim to be feminists actually do not understand the theory in itself. Feminism has branches – the extreme western feminist for instance is man-hating, doesn’t desire heterosexual relationships, wants to be a man amongst other things. That’s why I told you during one of our ‘gists’, that you’re actually a womanist.

    African women cannot actually be feminists because the needs of a middle class white woman are far different from what a woman in Africa needs. The proponents of the theory didn’t aim to create soemthing sigh universal relevance. It was tailored to their specific needs and society.

    Womanism on the other hand, embraces the black agency. I know this may sound racist or separatist but it what it is. If anyone will rather not choose a branch of feminism, then it’s better claiming to be a humanist as it kind of encompasses most of the ‘isms’.

  7. esther 2016/11/23 at 11:37 #

    “African women cannot actually be feminists because the needs of a middle class white woman are far different from what a woman in Africa needs. The proponents of the theory didn’t aim to create something sigh universal relevance. It was tailored to their specific needs and society.”

    Feminist theory and the feminist movement are TWO different things. Your argument is quite problematic and solely based on the idea that the movement’s “supposed” inception in white spaces is what negates African woman for claiming feminism, while also ignoring the constant transformation that has reshaped feminist discourse (however you define this) so that it could be inclusive.

    So no, neither the author nor any black woman for that matter, needs to “choose a branch of feminism” in order to be or feel empowered.

  8. Chiziterem 2016/11/23 at 17:51 #

    Wanted to reply Ifey, but Esther spoke my mind.

    I will follow this essay series. And recommend it to my female friends. The correct notion of feminism needs to be understood by most Nigerian women, at least the ones I meet.

    It’s all about stepping away from misogynistic bias, and simply treating everyone as equals, but as well not being blind to certain specific realities where physical conditions require the man at the upper hand, and even sometimes (emotionally mostly this), the woman.

  9. Fatie 2016/12/06 at 04:59 #

    Interesting. I have always maintained that I’m not a feminist, the concept is as confusing as it is broad. I, in a way that that may be described by some as narrow mindedness, see the feminism here as the struggle aimed at obliterating patriarchy, I do hate patriarchy, but I am afraid that if feminism is understood as the opposite of that, then a bigger problem will be unleashed.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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