Is feminism entirely about women?

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

  • It [feminism] is resisted because it challenges what some may believe is the way things were meant to be and have always been.

People are tired of many things. The fatigue demonstrated in discussing gender as opposed to other problems of society, is a symptom of the usual discomfort with feminism, the outfit that has for decades pushed for dismantling of the structures that oppress women in society. 

When you speak of gender in our context these days, people want to be sure you are not supporting homosexuality. We are tired of gender justice talk too. ‘It has brought into our lives some women we would have been happy to avoid in public life,’ I am sometimes told. So yes, people are tired. And being tired is a good thing sometimes. 

In what was supposed to be a Women’s Day message, singer Cinderella Sanyu, took her being tired with feminism a notch higher, and asked women who are ‘real women’ to ‘stay away from feminism, or else they will be sad and lonely’ among other things. She was roundly reminded about the role that feminism has played in making her a successful artist, enjoying freedoms she would not be dreaming about.

It is easy, to think that the reason Cindy would make such a statement, warning her fans, and women in general, to stay away from feminism, is that it is because she does not understand it. So, she is categorised as someone without the basic knowledge and understanding of feminism. Perhaps, that may be comforting for feminists. 

But Cindy’s ‘advise’, speaks to a larger issue. For as long as feminism has been around, it has been resisted by various groups, for the most part because it challenges existing power structures, and privileges of those for whom the status quo works better. 

Any movement that purports to dismantle a system of oppression will not be supported by everyone, because inherently, there are always large numbers of people who benefit from an oppressive system. And not everyone in the group of the oppressed suffers the same level of oppression. As such, there will be women, who suffer from the patriarchal system differently, and who also benefit and thus reinforce it,  in much deeper ways than they realise. 

It is easy to reduce these things to non-issues, to even claim that they are no longer serious issues to contend with. I have heard severally that women have been so liberated that they now take the place of men in what would have been traditionally the space for men. 

Feminism is resisted, not because it is a bad idea to suggest that there is no need for the oppression of women. And indeed, that there is no need for certain dichotomies that define a place as entirely male or female. It does not serve either gender in the end. It is resisted because it challenges what some may believe is the way things were meant to be and have always been.

It does not help to dismiss Cindy and think she has no knowledge. What is helpful is to ask ourselves, why there are so many women, who support the idea of equal opportunities for women and men, equal enjoyment of rights and empowerment of women, but quickly shy away from even identifying as feminists. It only means that more work needs to be done.

We cannot balk women. Not all women are feminists. Like all causes people fight for, there will be those who relate with it and those who do not. The worse thing for any movement is for those in whose name you devote your energies to suggest that it is not for them, you fight your wars. 

Of course, to blame the problems in relationships and broken marriages on feminism is simplistic. Part of the problem is that as women were learning that things need not stay the way they have been, thus seeing things differently, men were for the most part hoping things would remain the same, even with the education and empowerment of women. So women crossed the line from what was to something new, and as things changed for women, they remained the same for most men.

It is not for women alone to change. Gender justice, for the most part, depends on wider social transformations. More than ever, it also depends on economic circumstances. It is for that reason that more people find other forms of oppression, political and economic injustices that transcend gender, as more worthy causes to speak of than the idea that one gender is more marginalised than the other.

Whether we look at feminism as a social movement or as a discourse, so much has changed even about feminism. The backlash is not new, but its rejection by a crop of young women who themselves believe they are liberated, is an important indicator, for us to reflect and ask, in whose name does our feminist scholarship and activism stand?

Ms Emilly Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.