aka ‘ONE FOR THE GIRLS’
I am a child of the feminist revolution.
I was taught that I was a strong, intelligent, capable member of the human race and that my worth on this earth was as much as that of the next person. I was told that the sky was the limit if I just applied myself and used my God-given abilities to make the most of my world and the world of others around me. I knew that my gender would not, could not, hold me back and if anything, it was what spurred me on to success.
My 20s were a time of gung-ho feminism. Of celebration of my womanhood and of a constant drive to share this freedom with females everywhere. However just a few years later I am being told that everything I taught was a lie. That feminism is against the very root of what makes me a woman. That I must choose between the two.
This alternative ideology is very subtle and yet it is everywhere. It is the line of thought that feminism and feminity are opposing factors. That it is impossible for me to have the spirit of Mary, the mind of Maathai and the body of Monroe. It’s a throw back to the early 20th century when women were told not to be bold and ambitious and even if they were in positions of ‘power’ the needed to be meek and sober and to stay in the background.
I was appalled when I first heard this teaching at a women’s church meeting recently. Using a lesson from the anti-feminist Christian writer Michelle Stace, were told that to be a feminist is to be rude, sarcastic and selfish.
Stace teaches that ‘the godly woman will teach her own children at home … She will not cast off her God-given responsibility to others – no matter how well intentioned they might be. The feminist leaves her babies in childcare, enrolls them in preschool, sends them to public school and plugs them into endless after-school activities. Baby-sitters, teachers, youth leaders and social workers are raising these poor children.’
Stace adds that a godly woman is chaste and sober and doesn’t mind staying in the background. On the other hand the feminist loves to be the center of attention and uses flattery to achieve her ends.
It is not only in the church that this teaching is being propagated.
I have had the misfortune of attending a bridal shower with one of the sengas-for hire who spent several hours laboring on the argument that a woman’s first duty is to please her man and to be available to him at all times for sex and for pleasure. If he wants food, cook it immediately. If he wants a bath, go run the water. When he returns from work take his bag, kneel at his feet and remove his dusty shoes. If he’s feeling horny, lie on your back and open the crack. Never show your anger to him, do not contradict what he says and never ever fart in his presence.
The media is not to be left behind in this regard. The Style Network, one of the newer channels available in Uganda on cable TV, is full of programs that advocate the return of the submissive, almost docile woman, who is also expected to be sexy, savvy and really, really good in bed.
“The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life” is one of the programs that are a subtle attack on feminism. Jane Buckingham, the host, introduces the program by saying that she is a busy executive, a mom and a loving wife. She says although it appears that she has it all in control, she doesn’t because of several things she doesn’t know.
The first time I heard this introduction, I thought, “Oh goody! Finally a TV program on how to balance my budget, get ahead in the real estate market and make the most of my stock earnings.” But the reality of Buckingham’s program had nothing to do with my expectations.
“The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life” has numerous ‘useful’ tips like The Art of High Tea; Getting Dressed Up for Dinner; How to Buy Jewelry; How to be Hip in the Old Fashioned Way. Buckingham has a plethora of information on basic home repair, beauty, finding a bra that fits, and hemming a pair of pants. According to one reviewer, she has “loads of savvy counsel to help us feel more refined, in charge, and together as we navigate the rocky terrain that is twenty-first-century womanhood.”
Whereas I may find Ms Buckingham and her ilk slightly offensive, she does have a large following and it is growing. At my office, her program is very, very popular both among my female and male colleagues. Just the other day I was forced to chase them out of the office when they were glued to a segment on ‘getting in and out of your car gracefully.’
Maybe this is a sign. A sign that I was misled into believing feminist ideologies of emancipation, equal rights and naked ambition. Maybe Stace, Buckingham and the numerous sengas in Central Uganda are right in alluding to the disconnect between feminism and femininity.
For my 30th birthday a few years ago, I received a book on etiquette from a well-intentioned friend. I never opened it, finding it slightly insulting that she thought I was bad mannered and unrefined. She didn’t give up her quest to make me a ‘better woman’ and recently directed me to Fearlessly Feminine, a blog she said could be of great use to me.
According to Fearlessly Feminine, I should not
• Contradict parents, friends or strangers
• Laugh loudly
• Make noise with hands or feet
• Swing arms or make awkward gestures in company or in the street
• Loll on a chair.
• Look earnestly in someone’s face without any apparent cause
• Dress in a bright and loud manner that attracts attention
And the list goes on. It’s so aggravating, it’s enough to make me want to be a man.
Perhaps the teachers of my youth had it wrong, but I think not. Feminism, in my opinion, is not at odds with femininity. Rather it is an expression and empowerment of who I am. I don’t think there is anything wrong with women who chose to knit, cook and clean all day instead of battling it out in the boardroom. Instead of fighting that which unites us, why not accept that this is a dynamic world in which goals change, people change and the progression of women is not alien.
That’s my long way of saying I am a feminine feminist and I am proud of it. I will wear the F word with pride.