By Samira Ali/ @
This is a post on feminism.
I am not here to tell why you should be a feminist nor am I here to defend feminism. That it is not my intention or my job. I, however, am going to tell you what being a feminist means to me and how this notion manifests itself in my life.
Growing up, I was always that girl who got irritated when boys were made out to be better simply because they were boys. I wouldn’t say, at that time, I consciously identified as a feminist since I still perpetuated sexism as much as the next person. However, I can remember the first time I became consciously aware of the sexism in our lives. It was like walking down a flight of stairs and suddenly missing a step, that sudden jolt you feel is exactly how I felt that day.
My best friend, Naomi, was talking to this guy who said that the reason she got along with these two other girls is because all three of them were ‘wife Material’. What does that even mean? Wife Material? I have never looked at any of my male friends and thought that everything good about them should be reduced to whether some random girl will marry them or not.
What if you do not want to marry them? What if they never get married? What if they do not want to marry you? Why is the only thing that matters to you whether they can get married? I was angry and didn’t stop being so for a very long time.
This was a few years back and I remember, the months after that, I was perpetually angry. It was like my senses had been heightened. I started seeing sexism everywhere. It was like a super power.
I saw it amongst my female friends and the ease with which they could call their fellow women ‘sluts or whores’ for simply having sex on their own terms. Why did having sex suddenly seem like such a terrible thing when women did it, but when guys did it it was fine? Why did we not challenge this double standard?
I saw it among my male friends and their constant need to place their expectations on all women, the absolute entitlement that they exhibited over women simply because they were men. I saw it when being told that I was friend-zoning you because I did not want to date you, as if I had to be with you. As if you are entitled to date me simply because you are nice to me.
It even seemed that my inability to watch sports had nothing to do with my preferences but everything to do with my gender.
For a while, I even considered never dating anyone because all the guys I knew were subconsciously sexist and I didn’t have the energy to deal with them.
Another thing is I always loved movies. Now, that I was paying attention to the movies I was watching I begun realising that they failed the Bechdel test. I kept wondering why the women constantly needed to be naked? Or why these two women were fighting over this clearly mediocre man. Why did this female character need to be raped in order for her to develop further? I begun to realise that many movies were in fact problematic in who they portrayed women. For a while, I couldn’t even listen to music in peace because people couldn’t seem to refer to women without calling them ‘whores or bitches’ or some other slur.
I started wondering why everything feminine was seen as inherently weak, easy. I wondered why being seen as feminine was seen as an insult. It was a terrible time for me, if I am being totally honest. It was terrifying having to stand up to people for saying things that were clearly the norm. It was exhausting pointing out other people’s problematic behaviour and trying to reconcile my ideals with people I was starting to see I couldn’t keep having in my life.
Moreover, I had to deal with myself.
Why did I think that men crying was a sign of weakness? When did I decide that my future husband should earn more money than me? Why was it OK for people to make fun of short guys or deride certain penis sizes? I had to confront myself and say Samira, ask yourself, ‘Why do you dislike that girl? Why are you competing with these girls? What do you get if you win this competition?’
I was going through a very uncomfortable change where I questioned everything I had been conditioned to think and started making a conscious decision to decide what I believe in.
I started reading a lot of books on feminism and engaging in online forums on the matter. I am obviously still doing this, as learning what I choose to believe in and unlearning the old is an arduous task. It is being constantly cognizant of what you are saying or thinking or why you are reacting a certain way.
It is being aware. Being present.
Now that I have decided I am a feminist, what do I do now? How do I manifest it in my life?
It is in the small things.
If I cook, it is because I enjoy making tasty meals. If my future plans involve getting my masters in engineering and a doctorate in science and then once that is done have children, and be a stay at home mother, it is simply because I want to be present in my children’s lives and not because my uterus throbs with the beat of all womankind. Basically, I make an effort to never use ‘because I am a woman’ as a reason.
It is being aware that the choice to be who you want be is up to you and not determined by what you were born as. It also means extending that choice to other people. It is not placing stereotypes on anyone and allowing them to be the person they choose to be. *even when I do not agree with it*
Being a feminist, specifically an intersectional one, has made me aware of the different ways a person can be marginalized. The way people can be pushed aside because of everything from their class, to their sexuality and even their religion. It means not being selective in my outrage of oppression. It means standing up for all people, being bullied for something they shouldn’t be bullied for.
Let me be clear, I do not want to be treated like a man. I do not think in order to be a better human being I have to take up masculine behaviour. I like being a woman, I enjoy it. Even the things that are ‘traditionally’ feminine, which are scorned at are not things I am ashamed of. Sometimes, my own version of revolution is getting properly dressed up even if the boys in my engineering class may not take me seriously. My looks have no effect on my ability to think, I know that and I am sure as hell won’t let anyone take my lipstick from me.
¡Viva la Revolución!
I can tell you that I am proud of being a feminist. It has made me aware of my strength. It has made me kinder and more comfortable with change. It has given me an idea of the kind of person I wish to marry, the way I wish to act in my relationships and even how I want to raise my children.
I am deeply flawed, as we all are, and my feminism will reflect my flaws. I make mistakes and fall flat on my face. However, as long as I am willing to do better, to be better, I do think it is a worthy cause to dedicate myself and my life to. So, it is safe to say there are a lot of things I could apologize for, but being a feminist is not one of them.
Check out Samira’s blog by clicking here.
For more posts on feminism read this post on the #FeministWhilstAfrican Twitter Hashtag, this one on African feminist spaces on the internet and this post showing the #SexingWhilstFeminist storify. Also check out this piece on #ForBlackGirlsOnly.
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