Do you know who my icon is? The person I hope to be like or be better than someday? It’s not Michelle Obama, not the President of Croatia and definitely, definitely not Beyonce. The person I look up to the most is my mom. I’m aware how cliché this sounds, believe me. But who says cliché has to be a bad thing?
Mom grew up in a backwater village in Anambra state, the only child –until she was 13- of nobodies. Her father was a trader, her mother sold akamu. She always tells me of the ridicule she got from her neighbours in her face-me-I-face your apartment. Who did she think she was, spending all her time reading and being the best in her class? What use is a girl that doesn’t know how to make fufu? While other girls in her village were settling into their “roles” and trainings as future wives, my mother decided she wanted to make something of herself. She resolved to be more than just someone’s wife. She planned to climb up the social ladder and not “marry up”. At the BIG age of 13, she decided. She worked hard, got a scholarship that put her through secondary school and university. All while her classmates were married off to one “rich” man or the other. Today, those mates with their “rich” husbands are uneducated traders with no form of independence. All their worth is attached to the number of sons they could bear.
There’s one particular story my mom told me that will forever stick in my memory. One day, while she was on “long vac(ation)” from secondary school, a man and his kinsmen came to her modest home in the village. They came in with their shoulders raised; looking down on her like she was nothing. They asked her to walk about and turn around so they could have a good look at her. One of them said, “She will do nicely” in Igbo and gave her a sizeable bundle of money. A few days later, they came back to meet her father to say they were “ready to marry” Chinyere. My grandpa called my mom to ask if she’d agreed to this. My mother said “No one came to discuss anything with me, they only came to prize me like a cow and left. Am I a cow? Moreover, I am not getting married until I become a doctor”
And my people, that was exactly what my mother did. Dr Chinyere Ilonze is my forever mood.
But do you know what is funny? As much as I love this woman, her spunk and the defiant way she approaches the world of men, there’s still something missing. She never managed to unlearn some of the self-hate the world promotes in women. Maybe self-hate is a strong word. What better term should I use to describe the belief that being sexually harassed is either normal or somehow my fault? Or that certain jobs or roles cannot be filled by me, not because I’m unqualified but because I’m disqualified as a woman? Or how about defining my existence by my marital status, when a man is always a man but we are only complete women when we bears the Mrs.? What better word than “self-hate” is there? Sure, just like my mother’s peers in the village, society suppresses women to the point where the only option they (believe they) have are to either take oppression lying down or make the most of it but allying with the “benevolent” man and master. If you ask me though, as much as society enforced this embargo on womankind, we as women also accepted it. And that, is where self-hate comes in.
You know what’s worse? The only force that exists to free us from this figurative and literal imprisonment is taking more hits that the women themselves. My mother gets so terribly awkward and uncomfortable around the term “feminist”. So did I, once. Unfortunately, It took working in an organization that caters to women and girls going through all kinds of hardship, solely because of their gender. That’s what it took for me to realize that to be feminist is to be human, or at least to be rational. I’m ashamed that I needed that much convincing but now that my eyes are open, I can’t unsee it; the inequality, the discrimination, it’s alive, touching everything, leaving a distinct dirty aftertaste. Feminism is the only step in the right direction to fixing it. And we’re doing to it what we have done to every beacon of hope; trying to quench it.
In the bid to discredit us, the women who truly see, they mislabel us. Man haters, lesbians, ugly women, lonely women, women who have been hurt by men, rejected, gone unnoticed. Call us all sorts of things. I can’t help but notice that all these insults only prove our point. They think that the universe of a woman has to start and end with a man. But you know what? I could be all of these things that you think a feminist is, or I could be none of them, it still doesn’t change the facts; I am human and I am no less human than anyone else, I shouldn’t be treated like I am otherwise. I am not out here trying to take from what you have, I only want to get what I merit.
Feminism has been criticized by thinkers and non-thinkers, and even by myself at one point, as a movement with no clear definition, no clear goal. We squabble amongst ourselves; who is a better feminist than the other; whose brand of feminism is best, more achievable, more realistic, more please-men-able. But here’s the truth, feminist can not mean one thing, because we’re not all the same and our lives are not all the same. Each feminist’s attainable milestones can not be the same. We’re a very unique movement, we cut across cultures, races, religions, ethnicities and realities Can you think of any one human movement as big and diverse as us? Any one social problem that touches the lives of nearly 4 billion people? We’re allowed to have different voices. What we won’t allow is misconception that our diversity delegitimizes our cause.
The truth is, the whole conversation has been so skewed. It’s not actually about being equal to a man. I mean, no two men are even equal. It’s about being as human as men, deserving of the same rights, choices and privileges. And these rights and choices and privileges look different for each one of us in all our corners of the world. And that’s totally okay.
So, to all my ladies out there, still stuck behind the curtain, veils not having been removed yet; we’ll be here to catch you, if you ever happen to walk or crawl or stumble through. To those who can see but are still afraid of being called that dirty word: FEMINIST; I say embrace it, it truly does free you, I promise. And to the other side of this, you who have decided to stand as an opposition; I only hope that one day you fall through the curtain too and join us. The world is a better place when everyone embraces the equalness of our humanity. Feminist is not a slur, it’s the most rational state of being.