“Feminism or Extremism; A Hard One to Call” by Jonathan Abotiwine

When Hillary Clinton was on the verge of becoming the first female President of the United States of America, I was exhilarated by that prospect. The nation, which is arguably regarded as the strongest and most civilized nation in the world was on the verge of electing, for the very first time in their history, a female President. My admiration for the former Secretary of State was enormous. So much so that it took me a long while to realize that Hitler’s former playground has had a female chancellor forever; that’s hyperbolic so let’s just move on. I’m talking about Angela Merkel. Let’s come closer, closer to home. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I have tons of respect for that woman. This is Africa. I mean Africa we dey, she became President of a country that smeared itself with blood from incessant fighting. Only recently did she hand over. She handed the nod to a former ‘Blue’. Apparently, Chelsea teaches players more than how to win matches. We take side lessons on how to win elections too.  I’m really going to have to stay focused and eschew the humor if I intend making sense with this piece.

I don’t want to pretend that gender discrimination isn’t an issue anymore in some parts of the world. I’ll also not be a hypocrite and claim that the female gender doesn’t fall victim of this form of discrimination way more than their male counterparts. What I will state emphatically is that our global pursuit of gender equality is being militated against by the very people who should be fighting the battle.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes. The second definition offered by the same dictionary defines feminism as an organized activity on behalf of women’s right or interests.  You see, there should be a compass so that at least the global discussion and advocacy for feminism takes a uniform outlook and direction. It makes no sense to exclude women or men from some forms of activities that either sexes should otherwise be entitled to but for their sex. The UN has by its Agenda 2030, which is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) specifically goal number 5, stated the direction of feminism that the world needs: “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. This is our collective task as a planet. Engaging women in the global fight for gender equality is crucial to the success of our march. They need not be seen as beneficiaries of our actions, they are the driving force. They are the agents of the change we seek.

A fact one should not miss when considering issues of gender discrimination is the cultural hurdle that strongly hinders gender equality in so many parts of the world. Over 140 nations have constitutionally committed to eradicating all forms of such cultural practices and beliefs that have the tendency of crippling our efforts towards achieving SDG number 5. In Ghana, our cultural setup predisposes men to some roles and women to others. I’ll describe my mum as a career cum business woman. I grew up doing dishes at home. There was a time I was thirty minutes late for school because I didn’t do my duty. I had to finish that task. I hated doing the dishes, I still do. My mum wasn’t moved by my hatred for the act in the slightest sense. I know how to cook a couple of meals because again my mum won’t buy the “Cooking is for women” nonsense.  Here is where it gets funny; my mum would close from work much later than my dad does and somehow she still finds time to fix supper. There have been times when the stress was too much for her and she just had to decree that we ate from outside. Of course my dad had his roles too, the few times he tried something in the kitchen to help, we ate without smiles. The food was tasteless. The point I’m trying to make here is this; none of this affected her professional incline. Even today, I can’t think of a single way in which her roles at home infringed upon her rights or placed her at a disadvantage with respect to her male counterparts. I’ve not seen her pay check before but I suspect it’s more attractive than so many men her age who don’t do chores at home.

The essence of the slight intrusion into my home is to drive home the point that our energy towards the fight for gender equality must be channeled in the right direction. Are women still discriminated against at work places? Are women denied privileges and benefits that men their age and status are accorded? Are some girls still left at home while their brothers go to school? Are girls/women denied access to opportunities that should be generally accessible to all genders? These are the questions of relevance. For those who call themselves feminists, and I think I’m one myself although I may be more in the words of definition one than two, this is where our focus should be.

I interned at a law firm this summer and I met a woman who I’ve been in awe of ever since. I felt we need to appreciate issues of gender from her perspective. I was particularly interested in how she made it to the top in our Ghanaian society. Her talk was inspiring and I wish I could transcribe the words in this piece. She said, “It depends on what your priorities are”. Sometimes we get our priorities totally wrong. In India, their social dynamics differ from ours. You know women pay the bride price of men right? In Ghana isn’t that weird? In the west, the entire idea of bride price may just be absurd. Where we all converge is on the salient questions that I asked above. The trivialities don’t matter. No they really don’t. We should be careful, lest we turn the noble cause of feminism into an extremist movement. A movement of paranoid women who see every oppressive act as one against gender is what were are most likely to be left with if the approach some of us take in addressing gender issues doesn’t change. It’s okay to tell little Mathilda the reason she didn’t make it is because she didn’t try hard enough. It’s perfectly fine to let Angela know she was rejected because her resume was unattractive. It would equally just be the best thing to do telling Maame Akua that the reason she’s not promoted at work is because she does not show as much commitment as she should and that it has nothing to do with the fact that she cooks for her husband at home.

As this piece was inspired by recent exchanges or opinion on social media, I will venture to add my voice to a debate that is probably over my head. Marriage is a contract. You may call it a divine union, or a choice or any other flowery name that properly conceals the legal terminology. The truth is what two people decide to do in their marriage is their complete business. A man may commit to do the chores; a woman may commit to do one other thing. What really matters is the agreement. I see no invitation for a feminist in the scenario of a man describing the role he expects his wife to play in their home. My dad always took us to school. I don’t think my mum took me to school more than 10 times my entire life. She had her roles. Of course everyone has their ideal preference. Some women love to cook, others don’t. Some men love to provide for their families financially, others don’t, lol. Whatever whoever prefers isn’t really the business of the feminist. See we have the SDGs on our mind. We have real issues to take care of. If I want a woman who can clean my house with the speed of the flash and cook food of so many varieties like a chef in a 5 star restaurant, what is your problem? I may find one, I may not. That’s not part of our mandate as feminists. If I find one such woman, I have no problem with her achieving all she desires. I won’t stand in her way. But if I lose my senses and do, you may walk into my home, figuratively though, with your feminist agenda. Until then feminism is not extremism. Let us watch out for the line of separation. It is not thin, it is visible enough. How did we even get here?