Feminism Is A “Dirty” Word

Feminism is a “dirty” word.

And as with any dirty word, people would rather not be labelled with it. They twist themselves into knots to avoid the tag even if they believe in its basic tenets. Sometimes they call themselves humanist, which is another kettle of fish. Even the Oxford dictionary links the definition of rabid (marked by excessive enthusiasm for and intense devotion to a cause or idea) to the word feminist.

Comments under the Bella Naija story of self-proclaimed feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s pregnancy is pockmarked with jeering comments like this one by one Akeem:

“Who would have thought, her feminism game so strong I thought she would impregnate her husband.”

So what is feminism then? Contrary to what Akeem thinks, it’s not about a woman’s ovaries turning biology on its head and starting sperm production. Feminism is about the equal rights for men and women. Why then do people feel so threatened by this movement that they try to tear it down?

It is a bit like the black power movement, which is about affording black people the same rights as everyone else. The rights and opportunities to be the best version of themselves. Some white people feel threatened because they know that white power, by its very nature, means the domination and oppression of other races. It is the same with feminism. People (mostly men, sometimes women) think it is a way to dominate others because modern masculinity is inherently about the domination of other people. It is why dear Akeem proclaims under the same article that:
“Insecure women hide under the canopy of feminism just because they want to always have their ways[sic] and not be submissive to their husbands. You don’t have to worry about gender equality if your are surrounded by responsible men”

I’m a feminist and really, you should be one too. I didn’t identify as one in my early 20s but towards the end of the decade, I definitely was one. I grew up and lived in situations that inevitably led me down this path. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to follow my own choices and be the best possible version of myself. I have little interest in catering to the needs of a fellow adult but I was raised to do exactly that. I worry about walking alone at night and daily fending off catcalls on the street. It vexed me that women in my community could be replaced because they couldn’t run a house, like women were only valuable for our domestic skills and not as people.

Looking outside my life and into the wider society, I saw even more problems. In a news feature about the extraordinary work she’d been doing at NAFDAC, the great stalwart, late Dora Akuyunli took us into her family kitchen. We saw a similar example recently, when the richest woman in Nigeria, Folorunsho Alakija maintained that she still washes her husband’s underwear. Why can’t she just be a person with truckloads of money and achievements?

Through some of these experiences, I came to learn that men are better than you just by virtue of being born a man. That they make better decisions than you do because of their sex and because their religion says so.

Recently, a Mr Seun Adewole wrote a letter to the editor of The Voice in reply to a story about the first female president of Malawi, Dr Joyce Banda. “I am an African man but I am not ashamed to acknowledge that some women are perhaps more gifted in managing others than I am,” he says.


Thank you for the grudging admission and the need to re-assert your masculinity.

These reasons may not feel so concrete to some. They may feel Nigerians don’t need feminism. “Imported” feminism is for the West where they have problems like being taxed for sanitary products and fighting for equal pay. In other words, not-so-serious issues. Nigerian women are free to do anything we wish. We can vote, we can drive, we own businesses. Feminism isn’t our culture.

But the thing is, Nigerian women fighting for equal rights isn’t new and it definitely is not an import. The Aba Women’s Riots is an example of women fighting for equal rights. They protested women’s exclusion from roles in government. That was in 1929.

We have to continue that culture of fighting for equal opportunities. The right to be treated as a whole person. Yes, women can drive; but we are also subjected to genital mutilation. Yes we can vote, but despite being half of the population,women have just 5.6% and 6.5% representation in the Nigerian House of Representatives and Senate respectively. Women own businesses but over 25% of girls are sexually assaulted before they get to 18. In some places we can’t rent houses unless we are married. Some restaurants and hotels won’t even attend to us without a man by our sides. These large aberrations in our society are related to the “little” ones like catcalling on the streets. They speak to a general disregard of women.

So as much as we would like to think that we have moved past the sexism of the old days, it still prevails. A man in England was jailed for treating his wife like a domestic slave. In Nigeria we cannot get a basic law passed to protect women. This is not surprising in a House where a senator declared his wives as part of his assets and holds a man who got married to a 13 year old girl.

Feminism isn’t about knocking men off their perch, it is about being on equal footing. It is about navigating life being the best version of yourself. It is about being allowed to make adult choices without fear.

Feminism is still a dirty word. It shouldn’t be – we all need it.

photo credit: On the Streets via photopin (license)