Tuesday, March 5, 2013

‘Ole ‘Ole to the Loud Annoying Feminists Out There

I just read yet another piece celebrating the quiet feminist. The privately strong woman who fixes her light bulbs, changes her car tires and achieves her own but doesn’t disturb the peace with all that agitation about women’s rights, equality and all that other brass stuff. Lately, I have read so much about this kind of feminist that I was beginning to feel a little ashamed of my own taste in feminists. I have always favoured the loud, disruptive Tamales and Kimbugwes over my next door privately independent woman. Then, on a facebook thread debating the current marriage and divorce bill, a woman arrogantly proclaimed, “I am not a feminist and I will never be.” That statement just made me snap. Really?! How far are we going to rescind before we are back to square zero thanking our husbands for loving us enough to beat us?
So this hear, is to say, I am done and tired of apologetic feminism. This is to sing a loud bellowing ‘ole ‘ole to that loud, disruptive feminist who earned my equality and other freedoms. This is to send a resounding slap across the face of that quietly independent woman. Get off your ass and help a girl become what someone else earned for you.

Yes, there are strong and wonderfully independent women in the world whose children should sing their praises. I like to think I am one of them. But does being an independent woman necessarily earn one the right to be decorated feminist? I think not. Unless we are willing to equate a repaired shoe to the cobbler who mended it, that quietly independent woman is a product of feminism but not a feminist herself. Unless of course she does something that actually reduces the disadvantage at which women in her society stand.
You see, we trivialize feminism when we interpret it as being merely about our individual lifestyles and self-esteem. “Oh, see I am a feminist. I fix my own light bulbs. I can change a tire.” If that was what feminism was about, we would have shored ages ago considering how easy it is to change a bulb. But it isn’t about you and yourself esteem. Instead, feminism is up again some major obstacles that litter our systems and laws. Things that actually kill women. Forget about dirtying your designer blouse as you change tires.  These are things that we cannot put to an end simply by having a high self-esteem. Consider that upto 100 women in this country are murdered by their spouses each year. Now, how does the slactivism of plugging your own plumbing change that?

The thing that most saddens me when I read about this sweet humble feminist is that invariably she is compared to the disruptive system warrior. Apparently she deserves as much praise as Sylivia Tamale or Miria Matembe. Are you kidding me? To change the reality of women she will never even meet, Tamale puts in all the law and research hours it requires. Matembe takes all the public ridicule to her femininity that it takes. FIDA lawyers publically shed tears over the delay a domestic relations bill they probably don’t need themselves. In so doing, they change national policy and perspective and thereby shift the meter for women’s wellbeing.  Do you really think that is the equivalent of your mother raising you? Well my dear, unless your mama’s quite strength has the charisma and circumstance of Mahatma Gandhi’s it is unlikely to change much for anyone except you. Meanwhile, another 40,000 women will die this year procuring an unsafe abortion because a government dominated by men and privileged women continues to de-prioritise contraceptive care.

So fix all the light bulbs you want but in my book, you are not a feminist until you are doing something to better the lives of women beyond you. 


  1. I’ve enjoyed the fire in this post and I prefer the shit kicking, bullshit ripping feminist myself. But let us not undermine the magic of our gentler sisters. Not everybody has Tamale’s kind of fire and it’s not only fire that can achieve change. Sometimes, fire even stops people listening.
    We humans need better examples, less dependent/ self-conscious women because of how impressionable we are. If this tyre changing lady is positively influencing the girls and boys and men around her, well this is me singing OLE OLE for her too.

    That said, fuck slacktivism and laziness and this is a good slap to all of us keyboard feminists.

    1. Couldn't agree more, Mildred. We won't all be marching on the streets and we shouldn't discount the value of people growing up seeing women quietly demonstrate their strength and ability. It's an important part of the fight, if not as loud. And while I applaud the Tamales of this world, their message is moot if other women who aren't quite as loud are not taking that message home to their everyday lives. And even though changing tyres is the easy example thrown around, it goes further than that.

    2. Which women are we talking about? The middle class girl who already is privileged and would probably have turned out right with or without feminism? Notice that Tamale for instance is not calling on the girls to wear dreadlocks and scream girl power. She is doing research that screams at the system to provide more equality because in most of this country women's inequality mets out such things as death and physical over and above low self-esteem. Women die in child birth where a $15 anti post-partem bleeding drug could saved each life. Only it is not on the government's essential drugs list. We need to sort that our before we let ourselves go into the feminism of self esteem.

    3. It has to happen concurrently. It is one thing to have the laws in place, on paper, and quite another for women to be empowered enough to be taking them home, living by them, demanding that others live by them. So while I agree that that fight is important, and that we can do more actively (we can absolutely do more, especially those that have the means to) I don't think it's fair to imply that the quiet, everyday battle is not as important. And I don't believe it only happens with 'middle class' women either. There are women at every level of society taking the reins, and their example is important.

    4. It is important to be a positive role model. It just isn't AS IMPORTANT as actually working to make systems more equitable or less cruel to women. Band aids are important. They are just not as important as anti-septics for a festering wound. I feel that the way we are going may in fact be detrimental as more as more women let themselves off the hook with the claim that they are fighting the quiet everyday battle. The policies we most need for example are not ones you'll necessarily take to your individual home. Making obstetrics emergency care a priority is one example. I hate to over-argue it but I really believe that once we look way beyond ourselves, at the whole society and judge scale and depth of particular problems including ones we are not at risk of, we will all come out with the same priorities.

  2. Mildred; in this society, so much more needs to be done. Maybe we need a better image to show what the gentler sisters change because to me children growing up in an environment where tires get changed seem so privileged that what impact you are having with them seems so little. How about this, let us talk about the middle class Ugandans who pay the school fees of disadvantaged girls. My parents have raised about 7 other children who are not their own. 5 of them are girls and it is no accident. Now that is no fire but all power

  3. Great blog post! You might be interested in what Rita Banerji has to say. She's a prof in India, and writes a lot about infanticide and gender issues in India. Her site is The 50 Million Missing.