“Becoming a feminist is the best thing that ever happened to me,” 16-year-old me would say.
I grew up conflicted just like any other woman. The moment we can think for ourselves, society has already put in place narratives we must embrace. Some of us never questioned any of our beliefs. Those who did challenge their very own identities ended up being lost in the sauce. I am talking about my mother, a feminist I grew up admiring. I mean instead of taking her husband’s last name, she took her father’s, even after marrying my father. She clearly stood up against the narrative “umukobwa ntagira iwabo,” which means, “A woman doesn’t belong to her dad’s home.” Many women in Burundi after being married have no access to their father’s heritage. My mother being the first-born took her dad’s last name and took care of her father’s assets. However, this is the same woman I saw endorsing a lot of patriarchal narratives, very toxic to her womanhood. We all know women who are very passionate about women’s rights and emancipation but are not brave enough to detach themselves from patriarchy. I was there; I am sometimes still there. I tried to find the balance between being a woman according to patriarchal expectations and letting my soul breathe. I did honestly try, when I was still into being a church girl. I wanted to live on my own terms and quietly make patriarchy happy, the reason of my conflicted state of mind.
The very hard thing about patriarchy is how its military base is in our minds. We are the system and the system lives in us. Regardless that it is a system linked to many other trash systems that need to be abolished such as capitalism, racism, imperialism, and neoliberalism… we sustain and reinforce Patriarchy.
My first step to freedom was when I realized I kept myself a slave and I won’t live happy and free unless I challenge my thoughts, my beliefs, briefly, everything about my womanhood. I realized I was going to always try to find happiness and fullness into having a perfect relationship with everyone, but not myself. As women, we are told to care about everyone first, but not ourselves. The way we move into the world as women matter, since a charming prince must choose us. I concluded that I never owned my identity nor defined the terms of my own womanhood. I questioned everything from my favorite color to why I apply makeup every day.
Unlearning is very crucial to every woman. It should not only occur in the lives of feminists. Every woman should open her soul and mind to challenging the system by thought-provoking herself. It is not easy to get to that stage, because patriarchy makes us develop coping mechanisms towards its oppression. For example, instead of questioning why we teach girls to aspire to marriage and not boys, we justified it indirectly by insinuating our worth as women depend on men. Our mothers and aunties, therefore, remind us daily where patriarchy needs us.
It takes courage but also feeling tired of being oppressed to truly stand against patriarchy. I believe until a problem bothers human beings on a personal level, they tend to live with it. I ran to feminism because I was exhausted. I wanted to name my experiences. I wanted a safe space where I can allow my broken soul to heal. I grew up challenging the status quo a lot but also wanting patriarchy to accept me. I was unaware of women like me, ungovernable and with a loud freedom, which will never get accepted by a system they threaten. Their feminism found me and is healing me.
Unlearning is going through a healing phase. Patriarchy wounded us and it still does every day. The very great way to heal is to detach us from its strings. This is a journey where you put your mind in a place where it has to learn everything from the beginning. Sometimes I feel like a baby learning how to eat again but this time swallowing my favorite meal. Other days, my skin is glowing simply because I now know where patriarchy has hurt me and wounded me but mostly, I am healing.
Unlearning is very hard. I must be honest. Not being like patriarchal queens is not easy. Especially when you can escape dealing with men romantically, but one must confront capitalist patriarchy, academia patriarchy, ableist patriarchy, and racial patriarchy… Still, as Eartha Kitt said, “the price we pay for being ourselves is worth it.”
Beyoncé sang, “if we are going to heal, let it be glorious”; I felt this in my soul. If we, as women who have been oppressed, are now unlearning and healing, let it be magnificent. Let’s not chitchat with patriarchy gatekeepers for they can mess up with our breakthrough. Typically, let us not cheat on ourselves by not allowing our minds to truly unlearn because freedom is expensive.