I wasn’t going to write a blog post for Women’s Day. There is enough out there to read, see, listen to et cetera, I honestly was going to limit my contribution today to posting funny or thought-provoking memes on my Facebook page. But a conversation I have had with three different friends this week , got me thinking about something you definitely will eventually hear both men and women (especially if they are Cameroonian/African) say, if you ever were to participate in a conversation about gender roles, women’s empowerment and feminism.
“Some women take this [feminism] thing too far”
First, let me come right out and say it is all I can do not to scream when I hear these words uttered. Even worse, when they come out of the mouth of a woman. I literally want to jump up and down in frustration and don’t even dare come at me with that everyone has a right to their opinion nonsense, because in this case this opinion is organic, grass-fed, free range bullshit.
I’ll tell you why.
Often the people who say these words and their supporters, cite as the reason for their statement on the matter the “extreme feminists” – those women who for whatever reason have decided their feminism will not include men, or who have drawn some line that they will not cross. Granted there are extremists in the Feminist Movement, as there are in all other movements, but if you observe closely, however, the circumstances under which the “taking it too far” accusation gets thrown out, especially among Cameroonian women, tend not to involve these so-called extreme, bra burning, man hating feminists. They more often than not involve a situation where someone is demanding more from feminism, or trying to take women’s empowerment in a direction that the women saying those words are not comfortable with. In other words, someone is trying to extend feminism and empowerment beyond their comfortable little circle or idea of what feminism is or should be. What this translates to is that pretty much everything outside of education to a certain degree and employment, is “taking it too far.” Even more so when you consider the extent to which patriarchy and its cronies – tradition and religion – are ingrained in the everyday experience of most Cameroonians.
And for that, one is taking it too far. Not making it happen. Taking it too far. Make it happen is only a catchy phrase deployed to imbue Women’s Day with the sleek coating of vision and accomplishment. In everyday life, with everyday matters, if one tried to push boundaries and run with the idea of the woman, whatever her age, tribe, culture, location or religion, as a fully empowered, realized and actualized human being, if one tried to break those barriers that hold women back from being all they can be (and note that not all barriers are the same), that is taking it too far. The simple fact that the issue under consideration is not something the person saying “that is taking it too far” has to deal with personally, or something that they have considered before, makes it a no go area for them.
Woman eh! Right?
Education was once taking it too far for women. I mean what did a women need education for? The kitchen and the bedroom were the only areas she needed to be seen or heard.
Then some people who were not afraid of being the kind of feminists who take it too far, pushed and pushed and women were allowed to learn ABC’s and 123’s. But just enough they could count the number of fish they had drying in the mbanda and write their name if necessary. No need to go overboard. That is taking it too far. Let them get some primary school education and that is fine.
Then some people who were not afraid of being the kind of feminists who take it too far, pushed and pushed and women were allowed to go beyond primary school to secondary and high school. But you know, so they can speak intelligently in public and not embarrass their husbands, maybe write a short letter and calculate change when they sell in the market. Nothing too complicated.University? Professional schools? Why? There are husbands to marry, children to bear, home and hearth to cater too. All that education for what? That is taking it too far….
Then some people who were not afraid of being the kind of feminists who take it too far, pushed and pushed and women were allowed access to universities, professional schools, But you know, let them be teachers and nurses and all those jobs “appropriate for a woman”. Never mind that this insults the men who have these jobs and are excellent at them, or that it cheapens what are very difficult jobs, to insinuate that they are so easy they should be left to the less able women. Advanced degrees? Doctors? Lawyers? Engineers? Those are a man’s job. And so it goes.
Same for women moving from secretaries to positions of leadership.
Same for women being able to own property.
Same for women being able to function as independent entities without the validation of fathers, brothers, husbands or male relatives.
Someone had to take it too far. Some one had to push the boundaries of what was known, accepted and comfortable for women. Someone had to disrupt the gender roles we so desperately cling to as if they add anything particularly valuable to our lives. What is even more maddening is the fact that a lot of the people you will see talking about “taking it too far” are people who today benefit from the efforts of those who were not afraid to take it as far as it could go at their time. Those women made it happen for themselves and the women to come after them and they made it happen by “taking it too far”.
So the next time you feel inclined to say a woman is taking things too far, stop and think about what it is exactly you are saying. Consider the fact that there are women very different from you, for whom what you consider “taking too far” may be baby steps in the struggle they have to face to achieve self actualization. Think about that and then for goodness sake, make it happen for them.