My Feminism is African and It Is Necessary

“From the beginning, I believed whatever I was told, downright lies even about how to behave, although I had my own inclination.”

Sefi Atta, Everything Good Will Come


In college, I was once told by a male friend that my adoption of feminism was “un-African.”

In fact, his exact words were “this - meaning feminism- has nothing to do with you. African women don’t believe in feminism.” Revisiting that conversation a few years later is equal parts infuriating and amusing. 

I still seethe at his comments because of his shameless attempt to deny me of something that I had just found and relished, something I felt named and gave room to so many things that had been orphaned for so long. I laugh now because I realized that he was threatened because feminism had given me a kind of self-realization that I felt no one could take away, but his myopic idea of feminism didn’t allow him to consider that. Instead, he had equated feminism with a god that I would inadvertently serve and obey when instructed not to cook for my husband and wash his underwear. 

Feminism is many things to many people, but the all encompassing word I use to describe what feminism means to me is agency. Agency is power, agency is choice and agency allows me to determine how I choose to live my life as a woman. Growing up, I didn’t feel like there was much room to meander outside the prescribed guidelines of how a woman like myself should live her life. 

Attending school was a necessity, obtaining an education was important but to what use that education would be was limited. As a girl, I wasn’t encouraged to disrupt social hierarchies, run for president or author award-winning books, what came after school would be tame, non-threatening and most likely a career born out of obligation instead of passion. Next, I would get married. With all of the fairytales I had ingested, my marriage, like my career, would also be one of necessity, not unbridled passion. I would love my husband, of course, but it wouldn’t be the breathless and complicated kind of love I saw on screen or read in books. 

Finally, I would birth children to cross the finish line. A girl to pass the patriarchal laden baton and a boy to carry on my husband’s name and legacy. The roadmap for my life before feminism seemed uneventful because I felt like I didn’t have the option to choose where my life would go. 

In an ironic take on my friend’s comments about “un-Africanness of feminism. It was African literature that made the feminism that I learned in the classroom seem, robust and real. Ten years after Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come was published, Enitan’s questioning of the way gender roles dictated her personal and political life introduced me to the importance of fighting, physically and emotionally, for one’s freedom in any society that doesn’t recognize your humanity.

 Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s wives is a modern day folklore that epitomizes the danger in the linear roles that society has taught women to occupy. Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood is a harrowing tale that exposes the fact that motherhood can be far from joyful if it is only a status meant to be achieved. These fictional women and their very real authors proved to me that feminism and the resistance of patriarchal strongholds are as African as it gets. Most importantly, they urged me to use feminism to reimagine what I have been told to believe is true about myself as a woman in Nigeria.

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