What it means to be a feminist…to me.

** I am speaking from MY point of view. I do not speak for all feminists as that would be impossible. I would love to hear what feminism means to you, woman, or man. Let’s discuss. **

Being a feminist in Senegalese society can sometimes be the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter. The term is so tainted and honestly, there’s not even much room to explain what you mean by “I’m a feminist.” People automatically write you off as one or all the following:

  • A man hater
  • Someone who wants to be free to do whatever they want and can.
  • A sexually liberated person who just wants to taxawaalu (roam free)
  • You want to stray from your culture’s “traditional values.”

One statement I find myself saying often is: “giving women equal rights does not mean revoking any rights from men.” I said this to justify being a feminist and almost to ease the minds of the many men (and women) who have a problem with feminism in Senegalese society. I was apologizing for the very thing I stand for. The statement should really read: giving women equal rights … or better yet women having equal rights. Period. Not having it given to us as that implies it can be taken back at any point.

When I started the blog Elle parle, enfin, I started with short stories about fictional (but very much realistic) Senegalese women. I wanted to show women in a more empowered light, with a voice, even when some of the stories showed the too-often-seen scenario of women being marginalized in our society. Today, I want to get to the crux of this blog by just flat out writing about feminism in Senegalese society and my view on the topic. I will do so by starting to unpack the statements above.

A Man Hater

Feminists do not hate men (at least not that I know of). Now, certain feminists may also hate men based on personal experiences but the two are mutually exclusive. There is no rule in any Feminist 101 Guidelines that states that hating men is a prerequisite to being a feminist. Simply put, feminists fight for the rights of women, for the protection of women against abuse, for the right and privilege to live a wholesome life. They are not set out to crucify men worldwide.

Someone who wants to be free to do whatever they want and can.

Contrary to popular belief, feminists have boundaries, limits, and realities they face. They are not loose cannons trying to prove to the world just how free they are. A feminist is not someone who just wants to be “disobedient” for the sake of – with no thought behind their actions. And quite often, feminists are not JUST feminists. That is just one piece of their identity – intersectionality is the culprit here. They are much more than just a feminist that those other personas play a factor in the choices the person makes.

A sexually liberated person who just wants to taxawaalu (roam free)

For some reason, in Senegalese culture, when you say you’re a feminist, it’s assumed you have no regard for the “virginity culture.” You are associated with promiscuity. This is simply not the case. The sexually liberated woman can be a feminist. The young woman saving herself for marriage can be a feminist. The happy housewife can be a feminist. The woman with a busy job handling business can be a feminist. There’s no template for what a feminist is, should look like, should behave as such, etc.

You want to stray from your culture’s “traditional values.”

I would pay a million dollars to go back in time and see how women were treated in Senegalese society because this association with feminism baffles me. I refuse to believe that my culture and tradition are rooted in oppressing women, mistreating women, and minimizing women. In the Senegalese context, feminism is not even asking for CEO positions or starting companies from the ground up; we’re talking about letting women have a voice in their conjugal life; we’re talking about not beating on your wife because she is “disobedient”; we’re truly talking about not treating women like second class citizens. That is a basic human right and when Senegalese feminists talk about it, they are quieted with assertions of losing their values. But what about Aline Sitoe Diatta and Yacine Boubou? If we pull it back to more recent time, women like Yassine Fall and Anta Babacar Ngom? Were they told they should sit quiet and not fight for what they believed in? Are these women any less Senegalese because they defy the norms? Can they not be Senegalese and feminists at the same time? And I don’t know that any of them self-identify as feminists – just that they are often brought up in feminist discourse and I beg to differ that they are not true, Senegalese woman because they dare to break the mold.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the topic of feminism in Senegalese culture/society. Factually, Merriam-Webster defines feminism as: belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. I implore you, as a consumer of my posts, to give this definition some thought. Wouldn’t you agree that it doesn’t take being a woman to simply believe in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes? And given that women have for a long time been deprived of these rights, that the fight for this equality should be focused on women? Wouldn’t you then agree with me that every one of us should be feminists? 

I started with a list so let’s close with one.

  • You can be a feminist… and cater to your man.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a stay-at-home mom…or dad.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a second, or third, or fourth wife.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a muslim.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a man.

Feminism is about choice, not force. It’s about men and women having the choice to live the life they desire, deserve, and work for, without coercion, oppression, and abuse being an interference.

To end, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought via a quote.

[Begin quote] “Being pro-feminist means being aware of women’s experiences and to bring them to the center of analysis, not to displace men, but to broaden the perspective.” [End Quote]- University of Massachusetts Amherst Men and Masculinities Center

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