Often discussions on feminism will bring about debates with critics badgering feminists with accusations of hating men, reinforcing the gender binary and pursuing things that feminism does not mean. Feminism means taking a step back and realizing that hardworking women deserve a fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
An International Relations lecturer at the University of Namibia, Connie Louw says that the reason feminism is still a matter of concern has to do with societal image that still persists and that people are so engrained that certain professions and certain people in power are men. “The word has gotten bad reputation and a bad connotation,” she says
Whenever one mentions feminism a variety of imagery of women hating men who don’t shave and are generally very angry, who aren’t traditional and who don’t even know their cultures come to mind. However, feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and equal opportunities. It’s an idea of men and women being equal in politics, in economics, in the work place as well as in society.
A well-known Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Adichie summarizes that a “feminist is a woman or a man that says yes there’s a problem with gender today and we must fix it, we have to do better and all of us men and women have to do better.”
Connie says that feminists fight for gender equality, gender equity and they fight to get people politically, economically and socially stable. “Therefore, it’s not necessary any more to be afraid of the word feminism, so it’s not a bad F word it’s a good F word.”
Concepts underlying feminism
Sexism is discrimination based on someone being a woman, thinking less of someone while stereotyping them before you even get to know the person simply on the basis of gender.
Patriarchy is another concept that connotes a society or a government in which males hold the power while females are excluded.
Connie notes that there are certain words which are associated with different genders. Words such as independent, strong, leader and stable are linked to men while children, home are linked to women.
“Masculinity is usually associated with characteristics such as strong, powerful while femininity is characterised by emotion and submission. We have got these ideas of what these characteristics mean. I am a female biologically and I wear make-up and I am talkative, I am also independent and physically strong where do all of that fit into it.
The problem is that we have given evaluation to these characteristics, we as society men and women have bought into the idea that masculine characteristics are good, they have a positive connotation and feminine characteristics are bad, they have negative connotations.
The problem is that this gender creates a system of social hierarchy where masculine features are seen as better and feminine features are seen as worse off. And if women are mainly associated with these feminine characteristics and if we are socialized from birth that boys don’t cry, you have to be tough and girls you have to be pitied so it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have these beliefs that masculine features are good and feminine features are not so good which means that women end up being on societal pressure which lead to gender inequality.
“Feminists believe that we have to make unequal gender structures visible. We have to become aware of our own bias. Even if you are a feminist you can be socialized into these ideas that masculinity is a positive trait and feminine is not true necessarily. So we have to make these things visible before we can start tackling them and we have to become self-aware.”
When we become aware of the biases what happens when we put on these feminism glasses? We become aware of inequality that exists between men and women. If we are not aware that gender inequality exists, if we think that because we have the same rights and we are equal according to the law we won’t see this thing in existence.
Women are still paid less than men for the same exact work. In Namibia the gender pay gap is 16 percent meaning that for every N$1 that a man gets a woman gets 84 cents. Then there is also another part, we have now the second wave of feminism which is to fulfill women’s right to work. This means that women can now also work, earn money and become independent. But somewhere along the line women still ended up having to work the eight hour work day and also do a lot of domestic work like taking care of the children and cleaning the house.
Looking at society it becomes clear that the emphasis on men having to be strong and women having to be subordinate, are stereotypes that society has and they lead to a lot of negative social consequences. Gender based violence is something that also become more evident.
Feminism being a critical theory means that yes we look at the world, we analyse it, we are critical we see what the problems are but we can’t stop that. We have to ask how can we change it, how can we make it a better place. The whole point of being a feminist is to identify gender inequality and rectify it to bring about gender equality.”
A young feminist in a contemporary Namibian Society
Connie suggests six things that a young feminist in a contemporary Namibian society should consider doing. Firstly, she says that one has to develop a habit for critical consciousness. “Become aware that gender equality exists, read up and educate yourself,” she says.
Secondly, have important and sometime difficult conversations with people you encounter about spreading this critical consciousness. These are conversations that one needs to have with men, church leaders, elders, parents and importantly with their boyfriends or husbands.
The next thing is that people have to start raising their sons and daughters differently. “We can tell our daughters that they can be strong, they can be leaders and we can tell our sons that it’s okay to show feelings, you are allowed to have emotions, you are allowed to cry because this gender stereotypes’ emphasis on masculinity creates a lot of problems for men as well. The focus on negative characteristics on femininity creates even more problems for women,” she noted.
Connie says that young women have to be drivers of change. “Feminists must fight gender inequality and actually all inequality for that matter because if you are a feminist it means that you are really unhappy about the fact that people discriminate against you for being a woman.
Don’t keep quiet. As women we are raised to keep quiet from a very young age. So don’t keep quiet don’t allow discrimination and abuse of women. Speak out and speak up, at school at work, in your church, everywhere.”
Women also have to aim to be leaders in society and never be afraid to speak up against sexism and patriarchy. Do not be afraid to make your voice heard, and to get involved.
Connie implies that being a young contemporary feminist means that women should determine their own reality and that women have a choice in how they want their lives. That’s the point of being a feminist, you can be whatever you want, and you have power to decide that.
She further adds that being a young contemporary feminist means that one can be a man that believes that men and women are equal and that he can also join the fight for gender equality.
“We are the young generation and we have to drive the change if we want the envisioned future of this country that we are all working towards. There’s a need for radical transformation not just economically or politically but also socially.
And part of that radical transformation is society’s fight for gender equality,” she concludes.