I have loved my older brother since I can remember and he was a magnificent boy and an even greater brother. He was strong, smart, and swift. I followed him around and was sure I was going to be just like him.
It was cute, until I was 10 and the world told me I could not be like my brother in subtle but important ways. You talk too much, why do you think you will be president of the world… they will ask.
I was outraged and decided they were wrong and that I was and could be all that my brother was and would be. That was the beginning of my feminism and I imagine that there are millions of little girls who come to feminism much the same way. A male figure whom they loved and wanted to be like and the world who insisted they were less because of their vaginas and ability to bear children.
I believe this sense of injustice is natural during the innocence of childhood but on the road to womanhood, many of us are taught out of it. We learn to exchange this sense of injustice for an acceptance of patriarchy and a womanhood and motherhood that diminishes all we are and could have been. Many even learn to become the defender of patriarchy, essentially voting against their own interest, in exchange for useless accolades as perfect wives and best mothers.
As a 10 year old, I did not have a name for outrage about how my world was ordered until a decade later, in a women’s study class in a little state university in Minnesota. I learnt about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her organizing and a little bit of her racism, I learnt of Sojourner Truth and Sister Soulja and black feminism. I met bell hooks’s militancy and tried to accept it all and find a way to tailor all these feminisms into who I was and who I wanted to become. Also I was preoccupied with how Beyonce (the one I was truly enthralled with) would fit in all of this. I read and I learnt but it wasn’t enough so I came home.
I have written about what feminism means to me HERE so I will not rehash it but to state that feminism as it’s core argues for the equality of the sexes, as eloquently stated by Chimanmanda Adichie. I must mention that it doesn’t argue for equality in the outcome but a true equality in the opportunities presented to all of our children. Feminists, according to Sheryl Sandberg, will be happy when 50 percent of young women run our countries, businesses and religious institutions and 50% of our boys rear their children and run their homes. Which naturally means that 50% of our men will run our public sphere while the other 50% of women will still run their homes. Thus feminism isn’t about reducing men’s influence or hating men but it argues for an egalitarian system truly based on merit and helping all of our children, boys and girls, fulfill their potential.
The world is worse off when a deeply religious and fundamentally called to service girl is kept from leading a flock simply because she is in possession of a vagina. Likewise, when a boy who wants to nurture his children and dedicate his life to their wellbeing is told that he is weak or somehow less of a great man because of his penis. As a mother of a little boy and as one who was a little girl once, I want a world that is just and that allows myself and my son to be all that we want and could be without judgment.
The patriarchy has managed to build a deeply structural system that prevents a truly egalitarian world. There are so many systems that keep women from work or forces them into diminished roles that it will take quite a long time to unpack all of them.
Sexual assaults, female genital mutilations, real discrimination in the work place, unequal pay for equal work, are all some of the real world factors that keep girls back. The thing that I am most committed to, notwithstanding the importance of all the other factors, is reproductive justice, which in my understanding includes maternal care and yes, access to health care that allows women to control their reproduction and choose.
Millions of women get pregnant every year; many of them are giddy and ecstatic over this blessing, many of them give birth to beautiful children and launch lives filled with the most intense love and a deep sense of accomplishment. I am one of them and my little boy is an incredible blessing, one that I am deeply grateful for. However, millions of women carry children they do not want to bear and are severely worse off physically, financially, and emotionally because of their pregnancies. Many more, who might want these children, or not, lose their lives through this process, leaving behind little children without mothers and full lives of their own. This injustice, this senseless loss of life and self-determination, should be unacceptable to us all.
Here are the facts: Each year about 34,000 to 54,000 able-bodied women die because of our horrible health system. I give you those numbers because we actually do not know why these women die. Yes, Nigeria, a middle-income oil rich nation, does not know how many mothers she buries each year. And if she does not know how many, how will she know why and if she does not know why, how can she stop this horror.
This I find incredibly outrageous and unacceptable. So from a deeply personal outrage when I was 10 years old, I find that my feminism is now rooted in the defense of female lives. It seems to be that before we must argue for equality, we at least must ensure survival of those who will be equal.