I was between the ages of 13-15 when I found the language for feminism. Specifically feminism within the African Women’s context. It happened somewhere between reading Buchi Emecheta, blogs from girls my age just trying to make sense of our world, and Chimamanda’s work. I signed up to be a Feminist.
It made sense to me. That world opening up to me gave me language to begin to challenge my parents on gender norms that were becoming more apparent in my home.Mostly, discrepancies between how my brothers and I were being parented. I wanted to cut the grass, I did not want to cook…etc.
The world also opened me up to a new community. In reading these books and blogs I could share them with my friends and ask what they thought. Some of them had never even thought to question things the way questioned them.
Feeling ahead of the curve at the same time frustrated me. I was less patient with the people who did not get it. As luck would have it though, there were others like me on the internet who also got it. People who had these random blogs onBlogger. I had to become friends with them. We all migrated to Twitter eventually. We questioned things, shared book readings, understood each other when the people in our real life community thought we were strange.
These girls, now women, and I although scattered all around the world, essentially grew up in feminism together. Almost all of us church girls, bonded by a similar African cultural worldview, and a mutual rage over apostle Paul’s admonition that women should not speak in the church.
That was over a decade ago. I am still friends with some of these women. I have travelled to their countries, we’ve eaten together, watched our feminism grow, taken our URL friendships into a global real life sisterhood.
As we start the decade, these memories and reflections have filled me with nostalgia and a desire to write this love letter to baby AfriFems. I’ve been in this for over a decade now and here’s what I’ve done with my feminism and my suggestions on what you can do with yours:
Grow Your Feminism
Keep studying – expand from what Chimamanda calls “feminism lite.” Expand beyond a feminism that still centers the male gaze. Explore Womanism. Read African-American women theorizing about feminism, see how that differs from Neo-liberal feminism. Study the intersections of post-colonial studies and feminism. See what other women in the ‘Global South’ with revolutionary ideas of liberation are saying. You are coming into a rich tradition. Into a rich body of work that has already been prepared for you. Enjoy your discovery.
Take your feminism into real life:
As you continue to slowly challenge your own internalized misogyny and patriarchal conditioning, begin to take these learnings into the decisions you make in your real life. Notice when people are operating under those conditions and find ways to have critical discourse. Say No. Remove yourself from spaces that undermine your humanity.
Community is Key:
As much as an online and virtual community feels good, it won’t sustain you. You need your sisters in real life. Feminism is something we work out in real life, which means you need people that can support you in the ways feminist theory teaches us to show up for each other. It’s the only way we survive patriarchy. Start building your community. Look out for women who may share your beliefs and your questions in the spaces you are already in – church, school, markets, work, wherever you spend a significant amount of time. If you can’t find any local groups in your city, start a meet up that is a Feminist book club.
As people spend more time reading and getting into these ideas, you will grow together. Check out the Womanist Reader for some free feminist theory e- books.
Find your work:
By this I mean, what is the way your feminist theory is going to impact the world? We need feminist teachers, lawyers, business women, doctors, domestic workers,, designers, taxi drivers. What do you enjoy doing in the world, and how does your feminist lens shape your work. Personally as a feminist lawyer working in legislation and urban planning is important to me. To design cities that support the safe movement of women in their spaces, and to create the legal and policy infrastructures to create this kind of world for women. Your feminism does not have to become your paid work – I couldn’t find anyone to pay me to be a full-time feminist, maybe you’ll have better luck than me. But that’s okay because my feminism shows up in how I associate with my female colleagues, the way I take up space when I work with men and don’t allow them to shrink me, the way I mentor and support other up and coming African women in law and policy.
Have a Healthy Perspective:
There is a legacy of work before you and one that will continue after you. Be humble as you go about your work by recognizing that you don’t always have all the answers, learning is best done in community. Pay attention to the people who have been thinking critically about feminism and womanism before you. Learn from them but don’t be beholden to them. Be patient. Change doesn’t come in a day. Be gentle with your expectations for yourself.
Connect with other movements:
I now consider myself a Global Human Rights Lawyer with a post-colonial, pan-African, womanist praxis. Feminism brought me into the work of human rights advocacy, but in it I learnt to advocate for racial justice, Pan African movement, economic justice, disability justice…etc. As you fight for you own liberation, look up and link arms with others who may be fighting a different battle because our liberations are all connected.
Pursue joy and create a life you love:
In the middle of protesting and organizing and fighting systems of oppression, don’t burn out. I’ve burnt out several times, taken breaks to just be human and reconnect with the things I love and the people who love me. I’m of no use to myself or anyone when I am burnt out.So my daily reminder is that this work should not consume me. It is important, but so is living. So stay passionate, but also don’t forget other things that bring you joy. Invest in them too.
I love you, Afrifems. Happy Holidays season. We’ve had incredible wins this year all the way from South Africa to Nigeria. We are dismantling the patriarchy one day at a time.
Salem Afangideh is a West African Feminist currently working in Law and Policy. She is the co-founder of THRIVE African Girl, a pan African womanist think tank policy and philanthropic firm. You can find her on Twitter at @ObongAnwanSalem