Is Feminism actually feasible?
From the moment I decided that it was time to get married and I said yes to the marriage proposal from the man who is now my adorable husband, I started to think critically about where I stood as a woman. I guess the issue here would not be so complicated were it not for the fact that I am not just any woman; I am an African woman…a married Christian African woman. There are so many dynamics to all these adjectives that every time I think about it, I can literally feel myself losing a couple of pounds.
I have always believed in the power of a woman, independence of a woman, and all those nice things that make us all women feel good about ourselves. But then something happened that made me stop and critically evaluate myself. I consider myself to be a young wife mostly because it has only been less than a year since I got married. I am experiencing all sorts of things that I never imagined I would find myself going through. And hell no, I am not complaining! I am absolutely happy in my marriage. I guess you are wondering where I am going with all of this.
It was on a Thursday morning. I had woken up early to prepare breakfast for my husband who was still lying in bed. As I was serving him…in the normal Zambian way (where a wife has to kneel down before her husband if she is addressing him or serving him food)… so there I was on my knees with a tray of breakfast in my hands, wearing a solemn and pleading look on my face. I served him the food and as he started to eat, I went in for my mark. I was still on my knees by the way. “Honey, can you help me out with lunch today…I already boiled the meat and all that’s remaining is to make gravy. I really need to study for the exam I am writing this evening.” I am a part time student which means class for me starts at 5p.m to 7p.m. Like I mentioned earlier, I am a young wife. I have a first degree already but I am in the process of acquiring my second degree. The first degree was a little easier because I was not married then. But it’s rough this time around because I have other commitments that are actually more important than acquiring this degree; marriage. I digressed.
I was there on the floor, waiting for my husband’s reply which came in a nonchalant form of, “let me enjoy being a husband, won’t you?” He then went back to his breakfast and whatever TV show he was watching. As I mulled over his response, still on my knees, it struck me. I was by all accounts a woman.
There were a lot of questions going through my mind but one thing was clear; I was hurt. I wondered, why was I feeling so hurt? Even if his intention was not to help me out, shouldn’t he have found a better way of responding instead of using those words? What exactly was it about his words that I found so offensive? Looking at his whole demeanor, I realized that he completely had no idea what effect his words had on me…and that made me even more upset. With my pride beaten to a pulp, I got up from the floor and went back into the kitchen. I did the rest of my chores that day running to and from the stove to the kitchen table where my books were laying. Suffice to say, it was a very tough day.
Now let me revisit my husband’s response… Let me enjoy being a husband, won’t you?
What exactly did he mean by that?
Did he mean; you are the wife, cooking is your job so do it even if it means you failing your exams?
Or perhaps; cooking is not part of my duties as a husband?
Maybe; I just want to relax like a normal husband should?
I have tried to look at that response from different angles but all the conclusions just make me feel like hitting something. They have a raw bitter yet familiar taste to them But here is the thing, as I kept thinking over that response, I realized that I was not hurt by the fact that my husband thought that it was not his duty to help out his wife when she was very busy or that he had just implied that my place was in the kitchen. What I found very upsetting was the fact that he had refused to help me out when I desperately needed his help. I was looking at it the same way I would had it been my own sister who had refused to help me. And this is where the real problem lies. Why did I find my husband’s attitude towards cooking so acceptable?
I was brought up in a Christian home you see. On top of that, I am an African woman. Mix these two and you come up with this conclusion; a woman’s place is the kitchen. The work of the husband is to provide the food and the woman’s to cook and serve the food. However, I am not just a Christian African woman. I am also educated and I live in the 21st century. I have read about feminism and in my line of work I have advocated for it on numerous occasions. And this is what gives me a headache. Is it even possible to believe in feminism or the power of women empowerment and still be a married, Christian African woman? For me that is like asking Nelson Mandela, Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi to eat from the same plate. One might try, but he/she might not like the results. I understand that generally feminism has to do with the advocacy for equal opportunities for both men and women. There are times when I have been tempted to believe that such a reality is feasible. Unfortunately, the real reality does not seem to support this fact. Consider this with me firstly.
I was once part of a sensitization group on Gender Based Violence and the Empowerment of women. Men and women were put into two separate groups and each was asked to write down what they liked about being either male or female, what they did not like and what they liked about the opposite sex. Suffice to say, the very things the sexes liked about each other were the very things that seemed to perpetuate gender inequality. I took this opportunity to scrutinize myself. I love that I have the power to know exactly who the father of the child in my womb is and that the man will have (for some time until he feels otherwise or there comes a need for a DNA test) to trust me. I hate going through the menstrual drama, I love the feeling of being loved and protected by my spouse. If we were taking a walk together and dogs appeared out of nowhere, I would love it if my partner would jump in to try and protect me instead of him running off and not worrying about my safety. I love being pampered and taken care of (financially) by my spouse. But are all these reasons enough? For instance, just because I enjoy being taken care of by my spouse does not mean that I cannot take care of myself or that I cannot take care of him (financially that is).
In my home, I naturally expect my husband to be able to change the bulbs, fix things around the house and what not. How many of us women have felt a little disappointed when our men neglect the things that need fixing around the house, or they feel lazy to replace the bulbs? Is it that we can’t do these things on our own? I am a strong believer of equal opportunities for all yet there is still that part of me that gets disappointed when my husband fails to fix things around the house. If we go out shopping together and the groceries are heavy, I expect my spouse to carry the heavier load to the car without me having to ask him to. It is because he is a man that I expect him to do these things for me.
So then I ask myself, is gender equality really possible in this world? Why should it apply to certain things and not to others? Yes I want to be given an equal opportunity at that nice good as much as that equally qualified man…but I will feel disappointed if my spouse lets me carry a heavy bag of groceries. Yes, I love the fact that I am educated, I have a good job and also have a great husband (and possibly kids in the near future), but I also get frustrated that even though both my husband and I had busy days at work and we both got home at the same time, I am the one who has to rush to the kitchen to prepare food for us while he plops himself down in the couch. There are days when I find this very upsetting…absolutely frustrating.
However, there are people who have candidly made it known to me, willy-nilly that I have options here. I know that if I quit my job and left husband to take care of things financially then perhaps, maybe…just maybe I can get rid of some of these frustrations? Others have even told me that the Good Book says a few things about this, and boy don’t I know it too! But you see, and I am speaking for myself here, a job for me isn’t just about covering financials, it really means a big deal to me that I cannot even go into all those details right now. But still no matter how much I try to explain myself, my fellow women, the older ones especially will tell me that the frustrations I feel are a result of my own doing; that by forcing myself into a man’s world, I am facing the repercussions. Had I just stayed at home like a good woman should and concentrated on taking care of my family, then I wouldn’t have to suffer through all this and I wouldn’t be out fighting about equality between men and women.
Because I am a Christian, it is very tough to challenge people that are busy throwing down scriptures in your face about what it is you are doing wrong. There is always that feeling I get whenever I try to challenge the way something in the Good Book has been intepreted…like something will strike me down or I might get into an accident on my way to or from work. I know it’s ridiculous, but that doesn’t stop my brain from processing such ridiculousness. Does it mean then that if I have to fight for equality, I should forsake religion and tradition? You have to remember that there are many good things about tradition and even many other great things about religion. Then what should I do about these conflicting issues? By the way, how does one even go about creating equal opportunities for women culturally when the very act of doing so could have fatal consequences? I have read about such cases almost every day in international papers.
Even as I ask myself all these questions, I automatically know that I am the one responsible for making the bed when we both wake up in the morning and if it ever happens that he does it, I will be so happy about it that I will run to give him a kiss. Worse, I will start wondering if he is having an affair or if he has done something bad behind my back when he brings breakfast in bed for me. One time my husband was doing all sorts of things for me around the house that I went into the bathroom, knelt down and said a little prayer to God, begging him to spare his life. I thought the man was dying! Sadly, I also know that I am the one who has to clean up the mess after him when he comes out of the bathroom.
The natural response for us (women) mostly when our spouses do something ‘out of the norm’ is to get surprised, get suspicious or offer praise. But what would happen if we reacted to these actions the same way they do when the roles are reversed? For example, he messes up the bathroom floor after a shower, cleans it up before leaving the bathroom and when I discover this development, I should neither praise, get suspicious nor say a simple ‘thanks’. What do you think he’s reaction will be? Believe me, he will find some way to make it known that he did something for me and I should recognize it. It might not always be the case of course.
I sincerely think that there are some areas in which equality would work and some that it just wouldn’t. In a society that has been patriarchal since the beginning of time, and where women themselves are responsible for perpetuating contrary behavior knowingly and unknowingly…feminism will continue to be nothing but propaganda. I have never believed in Marxism or all that talk about a classless society, but I do believe in some of those theories. Likewise, as long as we remain men and women biologically, the scale of opportunities will never be at equilibrium. However, and most importantly, I desperately hope that I am wrong.