Monday, July 1, 2013

Feminism And The African Woman In The West

For many Africans in the Western world, there is a semantically supercharged word—other than homosexuality—which seems to invite disapproving murmurs, smug dismissals, confusion and sometimes vehement denunciations. It is a word that has come to connote some fundamental perversion of an African’s understanding of social order. This word is feminism. Let us backtrack a bit here. If you examine the cultures of non-Western societies (and for Western societies for thousands of years before feminism gained wide acceptance there), it is not far-fetched to deduce that they are/were predominantly male-dominated or patriarchal. Males are/were the primary authority figures central to social organization; males occupied the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property. Furthermore, in patriarchal societies fathers held authority over women and children. As a matter of fact, anthropologically speaking, this seemed to be the default social organizational scheme and system of government that most humans have used successfully for thousands of years from ancient hunter-gatherer arrangements to tribal societies to today’s industrialized and complex sociopolitical configurations.

Can one therefore now assume that such male-domination in these societies must perforce go in tandem with female subjugation? I think that such a conclusion does not necessarily follow. This is the point at which feminists of every stripe will usually vehemently protest, negatively label and end further discussion on the matter. Well, a clear distinction needed to be made here. The fact that in most of the societies that human beings have ever lived in and thrived were male-dominated does not have to imply female subjugation and enslavement. Rather, it implies that there was an understanding that men and women functioned optimally in certain roles—roles which not only understand the unique biological, physical, emotional or psychological differences between the average male and the average female, but also helped to entrench social order and cohesion. In many of such male-dominated societies, a woman may not always be the visible political or social head; nevertheless a woman’s vital role for the well-being of such societies could never be overestimated. 

In other words, while women (and children) in African societies are to varying degrees subordinate and supportive of the menfolk with reference to the holding of visible political or moral office, they are by no means subjugated; nor are they in a master-slave arrangement, nor rendered utterly and inescapably subservient. In most African societies, it is normal to discover that the father is the visible head of the family; that the CEO or supervisor at some office might be male; that the head of some religious gathering will most likely be male; that the military and paramilitary establishments have a male majority; that construction workers are usually male; that tedious farming and mining is done by males; that menial and back-breaking physical labor is provided mostly by males etc. Here’s an important rejoinder though: in some cases, you will also find women occupying these roles. At this juncture, it is useful to emphasize that since the women raised in such cultures equally have ways through which they are contributing immensely for personal or collective advancement, they do not necessarily see themselves as marginalized. They realize that if their goal was to take up some of the jobs that were and have been traditionally carried by men, they would have to show not only their capacity for such tasks but display a matching or perhaps better competence at such tasks in order to be chosen with or above their predominantly male rivals. These African women are therefore not seeking for forced concessions borne of male guilt nor preferential treatment nor the abandonment of meritocracy for the enthronement of some absurd notion of skill-specific, gender-conscious equalitarianism as is being preached by some shrill radical feminists in the West.

Be that as it may, there is a proper and narrow sense in which feminism ought to be viewed by African women in the diaspora. Here I am not talking about young African girls and women who, having now found themselves in the West in their tender ages, are thus racing unrelentingly to outdo each other in assimilating into the pervading western culture while jettisoning their African culture and heritage. I speak rather of African women who were groomed in African societies and thus already possess a less-than-positive disposition towards radical feminism. As an aside, I must also confess that I am not personally enamored of the term ‘feminism’ not just because of its inherent negative connotation in today’s usage but because the term, rather than call attention to some sad human mistreatment of fellow humans be they male or female, subconsciously peddles the undue exaltation of the female. When feminism de-emphasizes merit and skill as some criterion for selecting among men and women but calls for special concessions to the female (solely on the basis of gender) as some means of leveling the playing field, beware the hideous face of feminism has surfaced. 

At any rate, it is pertinent for the African woman to understand that proper feminism is really a campaign for human rights; for the fair and reasonably equal treatment of women. As such it possesses a sliver of morally justifiable philosophy which ought not to be approached with languid indifference or nervous suspicion. For instance, it should be pointed out that there are places where women have virtually no rights, or are treated as second-class citizens. Call them hyper-patriarchal societies or whatever you wish, but they are examples of the absurd extremes of human social organization. These are the kinds of places that stand to benefit by some clear-minded advocacy of proper feminism. Of course I am talking about places where a woman has very many civil and personal rights curtailed or practically nonexistent. There are places where a girl may not go to school to be educated or if allowed to go to school may not be allowed to pursue advanced degrees; a female may not drive an automobile for pleasure or if allowed to drive, is required to have a male relative present; a woman may not vote or aspire for elective political office; a lady may never expect to be in a position of influence or authority in the religious setting; a woman may never hope to become visible heads in the business or corporate world or if allowed to lead must necessarily serve at the pleasure of some higher male superior; a woman may not even be allowed to visit or enter certain public places where men and women might reasonably be expected to co-habit; a woman may have certain jobs or positions pronounced completely unavailable to her simply on the grounds of her gender; a woman may not expect to earn as much as her male counterparts for doing the same work; a woman may not own specific types of property rather said property passes on to the closest male kin, etc. Clearly, there is some good that can be said for feminism if it is understood primarily as a fight for human rights; if it is understood as a battle for the better treatment of women (and men to a lesser extent).

Sadly, this is no longer the case. This movement or philosophy in this day and age seems to have been hijacked by a shrill, emotional-sans-rational and increasingly strident army of misandrists! One notices with utter dismay that the present generation of younger women (especially African or African-American women), seem to have dubiously internalized the bizarre lesson that feminism is shorthand for “Men are bad; men are responsible for female woes; men must be fought, defeated, and ultimately displaced”. Feminism for many young and impressionable African girls now simply reduces to misandry; ergo they go to shocking but predictable lengths to demonize men, masculinity, or masculine gender roles in society. The adverse result of this new radical feminism sweeping into the hearts and minds of newly minted African feminists is seen in its dire consequences for social order and cohesion. 

Since men in the West are now haplessly watching the mindless blurring of the genders and of gender roles, and watching with witless resignation at the radical expansion of female rights and privilege, it is hardly surprising that the template that served for thousands of years to serve up social harmony and cohesion is now withering away. The overt and possibly legally-backed confiscation of and consequent misappropriation of traditional masculine values (and contributions) by garrulous, radical, feminist termagants has proved a curse. Take a look at the traditional institution of marriage and family and see how it has suffered a terrible beating. The men, emasculated as they are by unfair alimony, divorce, property-sharing, wealth-sharing or child custody laws are now checking out or refusing to get married in the first place leaving in their wake a generation of young children who never had the benefit of a male role model or a father figure. And you wonder why these children are undisciplined or rebellious to authority? Life hasn't fared well either for all these single mothers who refused to acknowledge the differences between men and women and found a way to send the men in their lives packing rather than humble themselves to work with their husbands, has it? Are they really enjoying this burdensome task of raising a generation of wayward, rebellious youth? I sincerely doubt it. Neither have things also fared well for the single women out there looking for love who seem to be incapable of committing themselves to any man who is not an obsequious, emasculated pushover since they cannot abide being told--as the feminists that they are--that certain roles are best suited for their male partners or that as much as they would want to usurp such roles they may not.

It plays out also in the workforce. We find that the men who have been forced out of school to earn money by doing two or three unskilled jobs to support a child they had in some mad fifteen minutes of pleasure can no longer compete in the workforce against the women they knocked up who can now afford to get higher degrees and receive child support while doing so. As a matter of fact, when you examine the hiring practices at many places of employment, you might even be shocked to see that the misery and resignation of the average male continues as now some hiring firms de-emphasize demonstrable competence and skill in favor of female or racial diversity quotas. Indeed, the cancer of rabid and fanatical feminism does not end there when you consider the unnatural impositions on male-to-female interactions in the workplace. A man therefore has to be studiously aloof or detached in cross-gender office interactions in the name of professionalism or he could be slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit at the drop of a hat and thus stand to lose not only gainful employment but possibly acquire a record as a sex offender. Is it any surprise then that chivalry is dead and men, out of fear, do nothing to help poor struggling members of the opposite sex at work or elsewhere? 

Indeed it seems that with the modest gains of proper feminist efforts came an ever-increasing breed of frantic unabashed man-hating viragoes. This seems to have led to the ascendancy of radical feminists, who in pushing for their version of feminist utopia, have engendered a perceptible but steady decline of male freedoms and rights. This has brought about the unpropitious, dystopian decline in social stability and cohesion as men, increasingly retreating into their shells, fail to step forward to assume the roles that they have biologically, physically, rationally, and psychologically discharged for ages. It is at once instructive that the young African woman living in the West should be especially careful not to buy the noxious ideologies of her Western radical feminist counterparts, who having abandoned the wise pursuit of rights for women in unfavorable hyper-patriarchal enclaves, are by their own actions antagonizing and dispelling men, ruining relationships and marriages and drastically impacting their societies at large.

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