There were so many revolutionary things about Jesus (the individual) and his ministry (Impact on others), and even though I’ve maintained him as one of my Feminist icons, it is very hard to allude the achievements of Feminism (Women’s Rights) to him.
Yeah Yeah, he may have stood up for the adulterous woman who was nearly stoned to death for a crime that required a male partner; and he may have excused Mary from the kitchen when Martha insisted she came to the kitchen to help her cook and clean instead of “enlightening” herself at his feet.
He also may have welcomed and “used” female social outcasts (prostitutes and polyandrous women) in his ministry and equalized ACCESS to himself and his kingdom.
However, since modern Christian theology almost totally overlooks Jesus’ principles of Gender Equality to center on Paul’s teachings on gender, I am afraid it is hard to trace the advancement of women’s rights to the church or to Jesus. His followers do not seem to agree with him on Gender Equality. In fact, many churches have even condemned the phenomenon tagging it “demonic” and “anti-Christ.”
Take for instance Ghanaian mega church preacher, Arch. Bishop Duncan Williams’ gleeful sermon reiterating an “unadulterated” version of a portion of the Bible that predicts a time where women, despite their economic “independence” and professional “achievements,” will be made to feel so “inadequate” that they would chase men and literally beg to be wedded to escape the “shame” and “stigma” of singleness.
Or also consider an existing video of Bishop Dag Heward Mills leading a group of his young church members to mock “Ghana Girls” for their inability to “cook” or “fry eggs.” None of these examples veer off our traditional/cultural/societal gender expectations that tend to reduce women to second class citizens via our double-standards. And in this regard, these astute men of God failed to reflect Jesus’ revolutionary take on gender dynamics.
I say all these to raise the point that, it is not out of “wishful thinking,” some miracle or mere coincidence that women have certain rights now. These rights were fought for consciously and viciously, in the face of strong opposition, antagonism and condemnation from all angles.
I am not too old in this Feminism journey but I am grateful for how much I’ve learnt in the span I’ve carried this tag. It’s been both an advantage and a disadvantage and I must say they’ve all made the journey worthwhile.
While the ideology and movement may have evolved over the years, the basic tenets and principles have not changed. And this is in cognizance of the fact that: (1) Every generation has its peculiar ISSUES; (2) Every generation will develop its own STRATEGIES and METHODS relevant to their time in addressing gender inequality.
For this, the FOCUS will keep changing and the LANGUAGE and BOUNDARIES will keep widening and extending to make sure “no stone is unturned” and “no one is left behind.”
Looking at how technical Gender is, I for one am happy that not many readily accept it or choose to identify with it; some level of dedication and effort is required to adequately grasp “the point of Gender Equality.” Aside Jesus’ audacious ministry, I put Gender Equality right next to it as the second most radical ideology in this world!
Simple Google dictionary definition of Feminism defines it as “A range of political movements, Ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes. This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those of men.”
Yes, the name “Feminism” highlights the feminine species and the movement generally tends to focus on women’s rights, but that is because the movement takes on our socio-cultural and political structures which have historically been “Male-dominated” and designed in many ways to center men’s “autonomy,” “access to opportunities,” and “leadership ambitions;” over women’s. THIS IS FACTUAL.
Therefore, in centering on women and their rights, we automatically reveal and expose in many ways: (1) How our society is set up to favour men’s development and (2) How our system (Traditionally, Culturally, Politically and Economically) could also be harmful to men and disadvantage them in other subtle ways.
Nowhere in this principle does it denigrate men, and nowhere in this principle does it relegate men’s issues to the back. Rather, in advancing women’s issues, we actually advance “everyone’s issues.” More so, any highlight of men’s nature is speaking to the nature of men as they have been “socially conditioned” and not necessarily how they appear “by nature.”
I do not know exactly when and why Feminism and Feminists have managed to ganger so much hate but then again, I’m reminded it is one of the most radical ideologies in our existence; the simple belief that Men and Women are EQUAL in VALUE and thus deserve equal access to opportunities for development. It may not sound radical enough to some of us but it can be for many in our society who are used to seeing women in a certain space and light, in relation to men.
Almost to the point that even though the movement is directly responsible for a lot of social and political advancements for both women and men, many would rather call it something else; many would rather avoid the name all together and many would still deny the direct influence of this ideology on their current realities.
A few weeks ago, a Nigerian female Presidential candidate, Eunice Atuwejide made the news on social media with her ambitious motive for running for the highest office in the land. First, because she believed she (even as a woman), could do the job, and also just for the heck of it!
The very first people to have received the news and heartily at that were African Feminists on social media. Her announcement was celebrated so much that we on the shores of Ghana got wind of it very quickly. But before we could even join in the celebrations, one of her very first utterances was to establish her position on Feminism. Why that was necessary, still beats my mind. But that also reveals the serious mental conflict many of our so-called “empowered women” are in.
On the one hand, they enjoy the benefits of the tenets of Feminism which are directly responsible for their empowered realities (Professional, Economic and Social achievements or Independence) which mostly pose them as social “anomalies.” They also appear fundamentally inspired and concerned about Gender inequality. But on other hand, they still want to “perform” the “ideal womanhood” for society by dissociating themselves from these feminist principles or worse, denouncing the entire Feminist movement all together to make them not appear “too threatening” to men and society in general.
Madam Eunice Atuwejide is not the first “powerful” or “ambitious” woman to go down this lane. Angela Merkel, currently the most powerful female political figure in the world has spent a chunk of her professional life also dissociating herself from the Feminist tag. And even in our home in Ghana, several other women who embody the feminist ideals have gone out of their way to denounce their association with it.
Some days ago, the reshuffling exercise by the President Nana Addo saw a new appointment replacing Madam Otiko Djaba as Gender Minister. In what appears to be her first public utterance, she boldly dissociates herself from the movement and worse, she did so on some very unrelated and misleading grounds. Ergo, she may not have directly rubbished or denounced the movement in its entirety, but her reasons for dissociating herself from the movement actually do that.
It comes off as no surprise that these women would either be confronted with their position on Feminism because everything they are is only possible by Feminism and IN THE NAME of Feminism. They may not have set out to pursue Feminism, but their realities were theorized and pushed for through centuries-old Feminist agitations and conversations.
Take for instance Madam Eunice, in the first post she made denouncing Feminism, she goes ahead to admit the stark gender inequality she faces as a woman with political ambitions in her society. Meaning she admits there is a gender-based inequality binding women from having equal ACCESS to these spaces that only men have, be it social or economic.
When she published her profile listing her enviable career and educational exploits, Nigerians on social media did not find her “qualified enough” until she edited and updated the profile by inserting her marital and motherhood status, exhibiting an outdated cultural mindset that ties women’s worth only to their domestic lives. Even with this, Madam Eunice is a two-time divorcee who sometime back actually made a personal decision to maintain her maiden name irrespective of her marital status and “regardless” of pressure from in-laws and family.
This woman is a non-conformist in every regard: too ambitious for society’s taste, too educated, too exposed, and too independent in her thinking. She is everything Feminism pushes for in women and she gets to make these choices because of the tenets of Feminism that set these conversations way before her generation. And although it may still seem unusual, there exist Feminists who are still raising these conversations and keeping tabs to make sure that women like her receive all the support and encouragement to live their best lives.
It is in the name of Feminism these “empowered” women get to dream. It is in the name of Feminism these women get to “choose” their paths. It is in the name of Feminism there exist structures now to push for their participation in public offices. It is in the name of Feminism they get to be unconventional without any damning consequences like in previous times. It is Feminism that will challenge anyone who decides to reduce them to a default second place. It is Feminism that will come to their rescue when their sexual lives and sexuality take over relevant topics and feats. It is Feminism that will silent people who try to use biology to disenfranchise qualified women. In all of this, it is the principle of Feminism that would hold the fort when they get tired!
It is very unfortunate to see these women, not only shy away from the tag, but also denigrate and “mislead” the public on the movement. However, this is also proof that “empowering women” is a continuous feet. These “empowered” women need to be empowered some more to gain the confidence to own themselves and stop pandering and performing to meet society’s narrow definition of womanhood and femininity. This trend smacks of a deeply-seated fear and mostly a lingering desire to “still” be in society’s “good books.”
I must also add that it is very okay not to want the tag but your reasons for not wanting to identify with the tag need to be “intelligent” and “informed” ones. Your reasons for not wanting the tag need not rubbish the entire movement which has chalked several successes over the years; your reasons for not wanting the tag need not reflect your own insecurities. There are quite a number of like-minded women who either still struggle to accept the tag or choose not to identify with it. Yet, they remain strong allies of the cause and still work in many ways to advance the rights of women in society. What is important is they still maintain high respect for the section of women (and their male allies) who have “chosen” to identify with the movement and maintain high spirits with the movement because they are informed on the “history” and “theory” of Gender Activism and Gender Equality.
Feminism exists to offer women AUTONOMY over their CHOICES and to nullify all LABELS/BOXES; it is therefore within the tenets of the movement to exercise your “choice” not to be “labeled” one; just make sure that choice is informed.
Feminism is an ideology, and like every existing ideology, it is subject to personal and collective interpretation; like every ideology, some may get it wrong; like every ideology, it evolves; like every ideology, it has its flaws and extremes. Therefore, in our quest for a JUST society, we must do well not to rob a section of society who have “chosen” to make Gender their priority by also opting for this label.
The Writer, Efe Plange is a Ghanaian blogger and social media enthusiast. She is a founding member of the Pepper Dem Ministries with keen interest in gender discussions. Connect with Efe Plange on social media.