Amara vs. Chimamanda.

Taking her turn on GrandmotherAfrica, a popular intellectual platform for Africa’s most discerning minds, Amara Jali, a Malian scholar and essayist, provoked a heated debate on women equality in Africa, issuing a definitive warning: Feminism is simply un-African,” clarifying that “Feminism is a western idea and a western terminology. It has no kin in Africa. Much like cooking French Fries in Africa and calling it an African French Fries. No, it is just French Fries cooked in Africa.”

Amara continues: “African women are nowhere in Africa oppressed, chained and forced to labor…,” sharply contrasting the feminist position of Chimamanda Adichie, whom she accuses of creating “her own version of the word [feminism] for herself.” Amara  asserts, rather forcefully, that “African women do not need to be pitted against African men to incite some gender civil war that only benefits the west….” She asks: “Who should build the bridge over the river? Young women? Soft men?”

 

Buhari’s kitchen

It is not clear whether Amara will revise her position on account of President Buhari’s recent comments about his wife, whom he says “belongs to my kitchen, the living room and the other room.” The Nigerian President was reacting to a BBC interview in which his wife, Aisha Buhari, is reported to have said that Buhari had lost grip on his government, alleging that “The president does not know 45 out of 50 of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years.”

On Twitter, the hashtag #TheOtherRoom is trending and gathering astonishing reviews about the President’s Stone Age assessment of the role of women in politics, gender equality in Nigeria and Africa’s place in the global intellectual community. A shocked Nigerian lady remarked: “Buhari is not alone in this; many African men do not respect women. They beat us, stamp on our rights and boot away our dignity.”    

An embarrassed Nigerian attempted to unravel the riddle of “The Other Room,” suggesting that it is a hencoop or dog pen in the President’s large mansion. She adds,  rather sarcastically, “The coop is the lovely place we have reserved for our women–in terms of human rights, political appointments and social recognition. Buhari is very right, we belong to his other room, not the main room.”   

 

Guts, Grit and Gumption

Aisha Buhari has guts. She has grit. She has gumption. She says it like it is. Is this what Feminism is about? I don’t know whether I am a feminist or not, but I believe and support any movement or idea that promotes women’s rights and liberties. I am not offended by attempts and campaigns that seek to push the frontiers of our human rights a little further, to give women more space. I even support affirmative action policies that advocate a 40% quota for women in all decision-making structures.

Well, I guess I am a feminist–assuming Ama Ata Aidoo’s definition of feminism is our standard. The award-winning novelist and playwright describes a feminist as anybody who believes that women are thinkers and doers, and can do just as good as men. That would include Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, both of whom proclaim they are feminist. Obama recently said: If you want to know what a feminist looks like, look at me. Ban wanted a woman to succeed him as Secretary General.

Feminism, therefore, is not a weird idea that better suits some metropolitan elites in homosexual-friendly societies, than Africans. Here is a workable definition: “The belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people can be either male or female human beings, although the ideology is commonly (and perhaps falsely) associated mainly with women.”   

 

Chimamanda’s feminism

Chimamanda offers a simpler definition: “A feminist is a man or a woman who says, Yes, there’s problem with gender, as there is today, and we must fix it. We must do better.” So what are the problems? Well, Buhari just gave us one. Let’s look for examples–from patriarchal societies where women are counted as economic units and inherited as property when their husbands pass away. Her in-laws would sack her from the house she and her husband toiled to build. She is dispossessed of her land. When she resists, she is accused of witchcraft. She must have killed her husband.

While there are systemic abuses of the rights of women in the African traditional set up, Amara insists that we may be confusing womanhood with feminism. The former, she says, is “within the African embrace” while the latter is “a foreign ideological machination that is formulated” to weaken our idea of manhood and womanhood. If sex is demanded before a woman gets a job, is it a gender rights issue? Is it ammunition for feminist action, or a problem that comes with being a woman?

 

Every man should be a feminist

Remember, men have their problems too, and their agitations are not spinned off as Masculism, or what Nicholas Davidson calls ‘Virism’ in his book ‘The Failure of Feminism.’ ‘Sometimes, I feel quite stupid when I sit in the living room foraging through newspapers while my wife cooks in the kitchen. She had just finished bathing Randall, our second son. Reagan, our first, is shouting for a second bowl of cereal. I am served dinner and the plates are cleared. My wife is a manager in a bank.

That is typically African, you might say. My white partner in Canada did the cooking and the laundry, and cleaned more. I shoveled the snow and usually walked the dog but I knew I was toast at home keeping. I associate with Chimamanda’s worry that even when the lady pays the bill at the restaurant, the waitress says thank you to the man. I didn’t see this in Canada but I get it in Ghana every day.

It is Stone Age thinking for a man to think himself superior to a woman. Not when Hillary will be president of the world’s most powerful country. It is perhaps most redeeming for all feminists that Donald Trump lost the American presidency to his careless attacks on women. Well, it seems Buhari just trumped Donald on insults. Only God knows who lives in Buhari’s other room. Aisha’s is the kitchen.

 

19 COMMENTS

  1. Culture is dynamic. Cultures and values evolve. Have other cultures evolved to the point where at least the perception that all sexes are equal is highly prevalent?
    How have these cultures if any evolved to the point where “all” sexes are perfectly equal on all spheres?

    I would have said that in Africa our challenges with issues of gender and human rights may well lie in our cultural values and where we place the sexes in our everyday lives. In Ghana the Akans have a saying that “when a woman buys a gun it rests on the chest of a man”.

    I find that this saying was widely used and held true as a belief by my parents’ generation, where women then, perhaps happily and willing deferred all important decision making to men?
    My peers today may hardly hold this ” belief” as true nor confidently toss the saying out there if at all. My point is, issues of gender and human rights are global and evolving in nature and the battle of the sexes is a universal work in progress, some more “advanced” than others.

    But in a world where values are distinctly different and diverse what would the criteria for advancement be and who is to determine that?

    On feminism can it be said that if and when the universal and fundamental goals of human rights are fully attained feminists would no longer have a cause to battle regardless of cultures and their respective values, thus rendering the subject of feminism useless?

    I ask because it appears that those who judge Buhari and his like and call them out equally share in the sin. When a potential president of a country like the United States of America lashes out at women with ease and have women defend him, you know for sure that women themselves need to re-evaluate their perception of who they believe they are and where they place their gender.

    “IF” indeed gender inequality is a problem then it is not unique to our neck of the woods, neither does Africa has it worse than others and that its name is not Akosua.

  2. We may also consider globalization and its influences ( pluses and minuses) on our thinking and how they shape our outlook as African women in a world where all things African are held as substandard by those who know what value Africans hold but purposefully water it down. Yet they are not the worse culprits, Africans are, by consistently putting our own down.

  3. Esi Arhin Turkson, you raise important concerns. Most striking I believe, is the issue of “globalization and its influences.” There’s very little doubt that the One-Size-Fits-All approach tailored by Globalists, who, quite conveniently, also reside in the west, will continue to gather reaction – vehement reaction, if I may add. Gender Roles, as they have come to be known are fluid as societies undergo change. But change as you have indicated is “evolving in nature and the battle of the sexes is a universal work in progress.”

    What has become so familiar to the movement in favor of “gender equality” is neocolonialism, neoimperialism and neoliberalism accompanying the western organizations that promote it. Feminism is not coming by way of American NGOs, say, without an equal footing in the expansion of U.S. military basis in Africa. All of which invoke chilling recollections of Slavery, Evangelism and Colonialism. This is probably why discussing feminism alone, especially the Feminism to which Chimamanda subscribes, the feminism from western gazes, as separate from the imperial machinations of the west remain a narrow outlook in addressing the nature and form of the oppression and reactions of oppressed/colonized peoples.

    But that is not to say that Africa doesn’t have her problems. We do. We do not bury our heads in the sand and act like we don’t. Buhari’s comments have given gender activists in Africa a huge soapbox on top of which they can stand and proclaim what they feel is nasty about African culture. I condemn Buhari for his statement, and I wish others didn’t use it as the purest reflection of the place of women in Africa. For after all, in this so-called “dark” part of the globe, more African women of note have risen higher in world history than have other peoples’ women in other parts of the world. This history is what we must be proud of. This 12,000 year history is what we must fashion to our advantage to enable us defeat neoimperialism and subsequently supply all our children, boys and girls, with equal opportunity. The emphasis for me, lies squarely here.

    • My Sista Akosua these are all diversionary tactics and a way for them(westerners) to control our narrative and throw us off the scent of the expansion of military bases in Africa which is in fact the real culprit that will cost us even more. So the more they divert attention to social issues(which in fact we have plenty) the more they can control the narrative and the more we will be distracted and fight amongst ourself. Divide by creating phantom issues and conquer

    • I don’t even know and understand why issues of feminism and the girl child has become front and center of our African narrative?????. Are these the most pressing issues we have as Africans in 2016????????

    • I, too, very much doubt that feminism achieves anything for Africa, even for the so-called girl child it purports to be coming to Africa to help. You are absolutely correct that this distracts from the issues facing the continent, the most pertinent of them now is the expansion of U.S. military basis in Africa. This for me should be of utmost concern throughout Africa. This for me should be of utmost concern for folks like Chimamanda. She hasn’t written a single essay about the building of a U.S. military base in Nigeria in return for cooperating with the U.S. to defeat Boko Haram. Why does the U.S. need a military base in Nigeria in order to help out with Boko Haram? All this escapes the narrow imaginations of Chimamanda in my opinion. While she concentrates on social issues in Africa, the west uses it as a means to distract from their drone base now in Niger. How can we achieve equality in the world where we are hounded at every turn by other people’s military industrial complex? How much more for gender equality? I am in agreement with you.

  4. In my humble opinion, foreign Christian values and foreign ethnic Islamic traditions newly introduced into Africa, have done more harm to the role of women in African society than anything else. Of course these two strands of these religions have not come to Africa without the militaristic nature of colonialism and slavery. Instead of tackle the imperialism of AFRICOM (the USCOMMAND in Africa); instead of concentrate our energies on re-introducing proper African Christian and Islamic values in Africa; instead of reviving Voodoo (which has given women even more higher statuses in African societies); instead of fight against U.S. Cultural hegemony, we are rather busy helping Globalists enact a warfare between men and women, between African women and their men. For me, this is shameful. For me this is a clear indication that we do not as nations, and as people, understand what actually ails us. We have not obviously understood our own diagnosis. For me, this is sad.

    • Ei! Dade Afre Akufu you dare to mention Christianity and Islam and accuse these two religions of having ” done more harm to the role of women in African society than anything else”? From a Christian point of view, the Devil is a liar! You need deliverance! Lol Never mind that you have serious grounds for this assertion.

    • I know! lol. My Christian and Muslim friends would like me to shut up on this indictment. But with time they see through the veil and are comfortable identifying the problem.

  5. Akosua M. Abeka and Esi Arhin Turkson, you folks hit the nail on the head. Yes, we have issues in Africa. Sure. Who doesn’t? But more, the greatest issue is that 14 African nations still keep all their monies in French Banks! That is the greater obstacle to equality. Ghana still kowtows to the whims and caprices of the American Terrorists Washingtonians. That is a greater obstacle to the pursuit of equality and happiness in Ghana. Not African men, like Dade Afre Akufu has said.

  6. Akosua I agree with you that equal opportunity for all is certainly the place to begin, without the underlaying set limitations imposed.
    I believe anyone can build capacity for just about anything if the person so wishes.

    By the way, the Queenmother is the kingmaker in the Akan traditional setting. Why is that? What does that tell us about our traditional bureaucracy and its hierarchy system with regards to gender?

    I’m thinking about the reference Akosua makes to our history and the strides African women have made as well as the achievements past and present.

  7. That is one fascinating aspect of most African cultures that most continue to forget, my dear friend Esi Arhin Turkson. Africa, in terms of gender equality, was at most points in her illustrious history more advanced than her compatriots. Now, let me expand on this idea about the Queenmother and show how we have turned our backs on the inspiration of African culture and traditions in informing our capacity to write and enact laws suitable for uplifting our communities.

    In most of our southern states, the Queenmother remained the Kingmaker and the only one who could destool the King. This had important implications on kingmaking, lawmaking, policy initiatives, etc. Why not for example, always elect a Man and a Woman with equal powers, at the least to rule our new nations, to head our districts? I don’t get it. But come to think about the whole ideology that informs this western push for “feminist” policies in Africa, this feminism imposes a fake “equality” on the genders. This makes it now impossible to say that an institution so important as government must have both a male and a female heard. Although in a weird sense the ideology believes that “randomness” might actually produce equal opportunities and outcomes. Well, the belief goes that if men and women are indeed equal, then there’s no need to impose gender specific treatment. Of course, our ancestors thought this was nonsense, hence the place of the Queenmother in most cultures.

    That means, it’s our place in the world in the twenty-first century to build an Africa-centered imagination of the world. Yes, we need a female prime minister all the time, and a male prime minister as well, perhaps! We don’t need to look to other cultures for inspiration. There are enough lessons here in Ghana for us to learn from and build upon. Until we can look inwards, we will continue to be confused about the role of men and women in society.

  8. “Well, the belief goes that if men and women are indeed equal, then there’s no need to impose gender specific treatment.” This is indeed baffling in that when folks like Chimamanda stake this Feminism Movement in African countries, most people assume that the west wants to see an equal representation of women in all affairs of the state. But the whole idea of the equality of the genders is contrary to this point. Akosua M. Abeka, this understanding is not at all insignificant. Thanks for bringing it up.

    By staking that the genders must be equal, it wipes out ideologies of “preferential” treatment. For example, we must then have gender neutral bathrooms, we cannot have pay for maternity leave, we cannot afford pay for childcare leave for women, and so on. The claim that neoliberals make, and which most folks in Africa do not comprehend is that, by gender equality the feminists want our women to not be able to receive “preferential” benefits as a result of their unique gender. By erasing gender roles, they can force women to stay at work, against their will, against the risk to their health, to work in their godforsaken factories. You need only look at the U.S. to see what this neoliberal capitalist ideology entails.

    This for me is the most contradicting and intriguing point about the feminist movement.

  9. Solomon Azumah-Gomez. Akosua M. Abeka you are making my head reel with thoughts. Taking me to areas I have not ventured… Should the Feminist police find you two! But hey I’m thinking granting equality without set limitations at the same time recognizing the uniqueness of the sexes and letting it come to play may be hard to balance? Yet perhaps to achieve holistic equality we must necessarily have this balance?

  10. This is an unnerving point of discussion, especially seeing that I hold my beliefs because I am a man. But as I man I was born of a woman, and a woman raised me. This for me remains special in a world born by women. To say we are equal, I find it even demeaning to women, through whom we have all come to the world. Women are special and must be treated as such. I strongly believe this. But when a women wants to log wood, I believe no one should stop her – equal opportunity. No set limitations. If women want to fight e die for country, sure. No set limitations. But should there be a draft, I seriously hope that women are not forced to enlist. On the other hand I feel men should be forced to do so. So equality is a weird word. It assumes that men and women do not have unique qualities and hence are well suited for somewhat unique activities. That said, equal opportunity should be the norm! Although I think she should be discouraged from diving into a diamond shaft to mine gold for some white men who find the stone interesting.

  11. I am all for women enjoying the same rights as men. That is non-negotiable.

    But there is a blind spot in feminism. The assumption that the role of a mother as a nurturer of the next generation is some how an inferior position to the role of the man. That is purely a perception issue. Having said that I do believe a woman should have the right to work and earn money if she wants to. She should have every right to do with her life what a man wishes to do with his. But at the end of the day it is her ability to be a woman that would justify her existence. Men are men and women are women. If you are a feminist as a woman then first be feminine!

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