Ask an African man what he thinks about feminists. Go ahead, and record their answers so you can email it to me later. I like a good laugh to start my mornings. If he is like 90% of the African men I know, his answer will be around the lines of, “You mean those white women who don’t like to cook?” or, “Those single women who can’t have babies?” or my personal favourite, “You mean LESBIANS?”.
Feminism, as many of us daughters of Africa know, is taboo on the continent. I would define feminism as a woman who takes gender seriously and addresses discrepancies between the sexes throughout her everyday life. She is a woman who will not conform or adjust her beliefs for the sake of a man’s (or society’s) comfort. Still, throughout Africa our brothers and sisters tie feminism to western voodoo, a type of evil cult that tells African women it is okay to be unmarried, focused on your career and not on procreation, or that the institution of patriarchy in Africa may actually be – shocker – detrimental.
So imagine the struggle of being a self-proclaimed feminist, raised and educated in the US, now living back on the continent, trying to date African men. The struggle has been real. It seems as though African men on the continent, even those who’ve returned from university or work abroad, have an image of their perfect woman, and she is definitely not a feminist. I’d say she’s more of a maid. Let me explain. First, every African man wants a cook, like his mama. Meaning girls, be ready to chip that manicure-peeling cassava and you better pick up his plate when dinner is done. And how can you expect a grown man to dish his own rice? Don’t be foolish now! Next, he wants a personal assistant. A woman that will check on his family, make sure his mom has all her prescriptions, remember his little sister’s birthday and ensure that his favourite suits are ready for that business trip the next week. You know, the usual tasks we women went to university for. Finally, he wants a nurturer, a woman ready to become a mother as soon as possible. African men want kids, usually lots of them. They want a woman who will take pride in bearing multiple children, along with the breastfeeding, potty training, washing, burping and, in general, 24-hour babysitting.
Now, are the aforementioned tasks and attributes a sure sign of being anti-feminist? Not always, but sometimes I feel that when dating African men there is not too much room for compromise on the woman’s side. It’s all or nothing with African men. To say that you hate cooking, will be no one’s assistant for under $70 000 a year, or that you are not interested in being someone’s mother is romantic suicide on this continent. Many African men love “strong” women, but to be overly vocal about how sexism is negatively affecting women, for example, can turn you into a bra-burning radical that rejects traditional notions of marriage and doesn’t shave her legs. And what African man is supposed to take this kind of woman home to meet his African mother? Again, don’t be foolish!
Even me, an opinionated over-analyser who quotes Pumla Gqola on my Tumblr blog, would get nervous during a first date with a tall, dark and handsome African man who my mother would call “ozzband” [husband] material”. As the two of us would sit there getting to know each other, he’d hit me with the boom early on and say something like, “I mean the first thing I look for in a woman is her cooking skills, I like traditional women you know?”. I would cringe, smile and respond, “Yeah, cooking is important, having a traditional marriage is not the worst thing in the world.” But the whole time I’d be thinking, “What the hell Stephanie, there’s nothing traditional about you besides the fact that you like to eat foufou and sauce with your hands.” But because African men don’t do feminists, I always felt the need to dumb my ideals down a bit as to not scare these brothas away.
African men have set and continue to set the dating tone on this continent, and since many still want that cook/assistant/nurturer/superwoman, it has left us self-proclaimed feminists in a box, a very lonely box where we watch as friends get married and we end up being that guest sitting in the back discussing bell hooks’ Feminist Theory with no one in particular.
So I ask the African men out there: Is it true? If a woman walked up to you wearing a T-shirt with the words “African Feminist” on it, would you be intrigued or intimidated? Curious or concerned? Do you not do feminists? Or am I over-generalising?
By Stephanie Kimou | Published in Voices of Africa on October 15, 2013
The State of Feminism In Africa Today
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The Feminization of African Men
The Personhood of Nigerian Womanhood
Love In A Time of Fear: Albino Women’s Stories From Tanzania
African feminisim has to recognise, respect and promote also the African female who is happy and finds fulfillment within the traditional patriarchal confines. It must not prescribe itself as sole model of feminine advancement. There are women out there who find the most kicks in life out of mothering and nurturing as culture demands of them than putting on make-up and preparing those slides for the next excecutive briefing at the office.
Must I hide now, before the pelting begins?!
#FreedomTrapped allow me to throw up.. after your post. “African feminism HAS TO Recognise … as culture DEMANDS” Dear Lord! You can not be serious! And I am SURE you have a convulted sense of what Feminism is.. Feminisim respects equal opportunities of both genders..maybe you’ve forgotten that.. and that cultures are about how people relate to each other in a certain time. So culture changes too.. its always changing.. maybe what you mean is tradition.. the same way Female genital mutilation is culture and tradition in many parts of Africa (you must love that) because their cultures demand it. The same way child marriage is “culturally” prevalent in many parts of the world.. not just Africa.
If God, or the reason we are on earth meant for women to be born stupid… they’d have been born stupid.. and we wouldnt be hearing this palaver of “feminism this.. equal opportunities that” Since that is not the case.. it is obvious this African culture that you are so defending.. “has to recognise, respect and promote (also) the African female who seeks happiness, fulfilment in equal opportunities in all stations of life that are just as easily availed to her brother.
Well written and honest article
Reblogged this on Observations of a Nigerian Teenager.
Bundu Bandit – you could have been a lot more charitable to FreedomTrapped. It seems to me that her/his point is that there should multiple versions of being a woman, including the ones in which a woman sees value in the traditional role women are usually assigned in traditional culture. To say this, is not to commit to the oppression of women necessarily – it is not the traditional roles of women that is fundamentally oppressive about some of our cultural practices, it seems to me, it is instead the fact that women are not seen as having alternative possibilities; cannot break out as it were from these roles. But if the role of feminism is to create the conditions for freedom, then women should in principle be free to live up to whatever version woman they see value in. To deny women who so wish this choice would be to replace one singular, oppressive idea of ‘woman’ with another equally monolithic and oppressive one, or so I think.
Your article is well written. Even living abroad the African men still want the traditional roles. I can’t tell u how many times they’ve told me “I don’t do feminist” or if u don’t like cooking we are not a match. At the end of the day I stand by gender equality/feminism movement.