Why Women Across the World Need Feminism

by Amanda Muhunde

Recently, I was speaking to a friend who works with a recruiting company for IT firms....or something close to that; she connects employers to potential employees. We were sitting at my mother's dining table and she was telling me a work story. There was a man she was trying to get hired but he was way more interested in her smile. Another asked her if she had a boyfriend. These guys were in an interview! To get a job! I was disgusted and did not conceal it in my "That's so sexist!" vociferation. At this particular moment, my brilliant and gorgeous cousin happened to be walking by. She made a comment on how militant I am and how "I'm the only one fighting." I think her point was "since no one else really feels as strongly about it as you do, why make things unpleasant?" I was incensed! "If it weren't for lone voices through the ages", I practically barked at her, "we wouldn't be wearing pants, or nail polish, or even talking about this openly!" I was screaming directly into her ear. The incident in question was an obvious example of misogyny, even she conceded to that, her issue was with how easily I scream "SEXISM!"

My mother has the same issue with my "attitude." My dormant activism (that is to say the rock-melting heat of my passion is only manifested in billowing clouds of living room rants) has led to countless ridiculous arguments about gay marriage, institutionalized racism and domestic violence. I am Ugandan; I spent my first sixteen years in an environment that did not encourage standing out or standing up for yourself (especially as a girl). I was a headache to my parents. As a child, I was determined to distinguish myself from my family and my peers. On the one hand, I wanted to make my family proud so I worked hard in school, I believed in God with full fervor and I generally agreed that my tribe and my clan were superior to all. My mother no doubt had the same attitude growing up. On the other, I insisted on sneaking novels into church inside my Bible. I had a crush on a boy and refused to deny it (It was looked upon as straight up slutty to like boys in the adults' eyes) and I talked back to my father. No one really ever argued with my father, he was the law in our house, yet when I felt like I was being treated unfairly, I spoke out. Of course there were times where I was being a total idiot in the way only children can be, but still... I. Talked. Back. I broke our familial taboo.

Moving to the US opened my eyes to so many societal evils. There were very many aspects of my life back home that were steeped in misogyny and sectarianism. I often sat at a table without a trace of grimace as my father berated a grown woman for errors that were obviously not her own. I had heard countless stories of friends' brothers and cousins taking advantage of the maids in their homes, and at the time I was not enraged. Our neighbor habitually beat his wife and every other morning we would all gather around the shops in a bid to eavesdrop on the neighborhood women almost gleefully gossiping about it. No one batted an eye lash. If you were poor or female, the law had little or no knowledge of your needs.

My relatives' irritation at my "over feminist" rants is not isolated. According to a study done by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics in the year after I moved to the US, over 70% of all rural women believed that was a legitimate reason for a man to beat his wife, over 50% of "urban" women agreed. A lot of women think "women are beautiful, delicate flowers of purity" or "they are the source of life and thus ought to be treated with something akin to worship" and they believe that this makes them not sexist. My mother does not know what benevolent sexism is. Well, she does because she was raised under the cozy yet restrictive blanket that is benevolent sexism. My father was a benevolent sexist; a good woman was an intelligent, submissive mother who believed in God first and her husband second. In the heights of his anger, he often told me how no man in his right mind would marry a woman like me because I was incapable of obeying simple commands.

This is the most difficult mask to expose. In giving women these ideals to aspire to, society allows the woman to go out and build a personality, get educated and explore herself within the confines of the "good woman" fortress. They are building themselves up for their lucky future husband, they have no intrinsic value in the eyes of the world around them.

There is a general consensus in my family that modern day feminism is a waste of energy and resources. They think that cat calling is just bad behavior displayed by men who weren't raised well. They believe that a drunken guy hitting on you incessantly and getting belligerent when turned down is a sign of how drunk that dude is, not his feeling of entitlement to any particular woman he deems worthy of his advances. They think I am tripping. I am too sensitive. When I rant about bride price and the right to affordable contraceptives, or healthy abortions in Uganda, I am being too radical. It is frustrating because I am subjected to my family's benevolent sexism all the time, that idea of a "good woman" (granted, they all but given up on me ever actually achieving this status).

I wish I could speak with the ladies who started that Women Against Feminism Tumblr. They have grown up in a world carved out for them by feminists. They live liberated lives-as they loooove to assert. They do not need feminism; the women in developing nations who are not assured protection against rape in broad daylight do. The girls in Ugandan villages who drop out of school because of the embarrassment they suffer from not having sanitary towels while menstruating need feminism. The women who had their mini-skirts pulled down to their ankles on the busy streets of Kampala need feminism. Change occurs only when the discomfort of remaining in the status quo outweighs the perceived difficulties involved with the upheaval of "tradition." I won't stop trying to make people uncomfortable.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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