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GENDER EQUALITY ADVOCATE BUT NOT FEMINIST? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Let’s start with an analogy:

Say you’re an equalist. You find yourself in a hypothetical cabin. In the cabin, you find standing in the center a table, and on it are two identical glasses of water. You also notice a jug of water sitting in one corner of the room. As you move closer to the table, you discover that one of the glasses is filled to the brim while the other is only half full.

Being the equalist that you are, you take it upon yourself to make the contents in both glasses equal.

Your first action, it would seem to me, would be to pick up the jug in the corner and fill up the half-filled glass.

You could pick up the full glass, if you don’t want to break a sweat and walk to the corner, and empty its content into the half-filled glass until both glasses hold the same content. (For one who’s interested potential maximization, this option would make little sense, as increasing the content of one glass would mean diminishing the content of the other.)

You could pour some the contents of the full glass on the floor until it equals that in the half-filled glass. (Which makes the least sense of the three options, seeing as you would be wasting content)

All in all, it seems obvious that, to achieve equality and without wastage, every effort of yours would be put into filling up the glass that is half full. It would make no sense, as an equalist, to immediately after encountering the glasses, walk out of the room with the conviction that both glasses are full or to pour the contents in the half-filled glass away. It would make no sense to assume that, given enough time, the content of the full glass would somehow seep into the other one until both are equal.

The analogy is simplistic, I know, but for the purpose of this conversation, it will suffice.

We hear people affirm everyday that they are all for gender equality, but they are not feminists. We all have that one friend that wears the gender ‘equalist’ tag proudly, but God forbid they go near feminism or even associate with it. Whenever the issue of discrimination towards women is brought up in a conversation, they’re quick to say, “Hey, men are just as oppressed too.” They usually appeal to personal experiences—being brought up in an egalitarian home/society, having no contact whatsoever with discrimination against women etc—during arguments.

To those people, I ask: What exactly do you mean when you say “I support gender equality but I am not a feminist”?

People who make these affirmations can be likened to the one who walks out of the cabin immediately after encountering the glasses, saying both glasses are equal. The truth is, to say that you’re a gender equality advocate but not a feminist would be to willfully ignore the calcification, over time, of discrimination against women based on their gender. To make such a statement would be to pretend to be unaware of the disparity between men and women especially with regards to education, economic sustainability, parliamentary participation, income levels, employment and a host of other indices. One might be wont to use personal experiences to negate or dampen the prevalence of discrimination against women in the society. Experiences sometimes conform with facts. Sometimes they do not. Your personal experiences alone, however, are not facts.

So here are the facts:

Ri Liu, a data visualizer based in Melbourne, started a very interesting interactive series in 2014, showing the percentage of men and women that attended secondary school in a given country since 1990. Liu used data from the United Nations Development Program’s 2014 Human Development Report. The disparity between male and female secondary education participation is saddening (confirming a 2005 BBC report on poverty and illiteracy that “women are more at risk of illiteracy with only 88 women considered literate for every 100 men”). Ri Liu also publishes graphs highlighting gender disparity in labor force participation, income participation and parliamentary positions participation.

The UN, in 1979, adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), thought to be the international bill of rights for women. Part of the text of the convention reads: “The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life – including the right to vote and to stand for election – as well as education, health and employment. States’ parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. It affirms women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.”

The question the I-am-gender-equality-advocate-but-not-a-feminist individual should be asking is why the UN didn’t just stop after the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but went further to adopt a treaty specifically targeting women, seeking to address and eliminate every form of discrimination against them? I mean, surely, women’s rights were covered in the international bill of rights, right?

A lot of people see feminism as one bile-filled, attention-seeking, axe-wielding movement ready to take the head off the one who disagrees with it. And because of this perception, they miss the essence of the movement.

Feminists are not coming for your wives. No.

Feminism is not seeking to ruin your daughters. No.

Feminism is aiming to make both glasses equally full by filling up the half full one. It is trying to make men and women equal (have equal rights, have equal access to fundamental necessities of life; better health, education, income and economic viability etc) by throwing its weight behind women. To, therefore, say that you’re an advocate for gender equality but not a feminist is to subtly admit that you plan on doing nothing to bring about the equality you speak so proudly of.

I have no idea what on earth you mean.

Written by Godswill Vesta


About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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13 comments

  1. 👏👏👏👏 Brilliantly said.

    I’ve not seen a word/cause more distorted, manipulated or misinterpreted than feminism. And this isn’t right.

    Feminism as defined by Oxford dictionary is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. Women of substance have gone great lengths to bring forth the waves of feminism. And people have also gone great lengths to subdue it.

    As much as I believe that an ideology cannot be imposed on someone, I am taken aback when people confess that they are not feminists. Because every time someone says they are not associated with it, they imply that women are undeserving of the same rights as men.

    And those who claim the title of gender equalists tacitly or overtly imply that feminism is selfish. Another fallacy. Feminism is inclusive. Anyone who advocates otherwise is getting it wrong. Feminism is inclusive of the needs and rights of every individual irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation and any other criteria used for discrimination. And comments like ‘If you want the equality of the sexes, why don’t you call yourself a humanist or gender equalist, why feminist?’ make it seem like feminism is something tainted when it is actually noble.

    G👌👌d work here once again, Godswill. Keep up the spirit.

    • “Because every time someone says they are not associated with it, they imply that women are undeserving of the same rights as men.”

      I say it and I don’t imply women are undeserving of same rights. That’s a blanket statement and part of the reason feminism seems to have a wrong connotation.

  2. I’m all for gender equity but have never identified as a feminist. Feminism may be all the good you outlined up there but at its core, it focuses mainly on feminine issues (nothing bad there) and willfully ignores or glosses over masculine issues.

    • This is because it was borne out of a need to get women up to an equal level with m in a chiefly patriarchal world. But it doesn’t ignore men. It may focus on the empowerment of women but feminism in its true essence doesn’t ignore men. I don’t understand women who go about excluding men as a tenet of feminism. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Ms. Adichie)

  3. I’m a gender equality advocate but not a feminist sounds exactly like all lives matter and not just black lives. NO ONE is saying the male lives don’t matter but can we for a second just focus of the most oppressed of the sexes? To achieve your gender equality fight faster, you’ll need to back feminism up with all your might. Ain’t no way equality can be achieved, if the female is still not being treated equally like the male. Unless your idea of equality is that where the woman is less.

  4. Sim, I agree with you. Mandy, you lost me on the Adichie ish.@yugo I agree that patriarchy affects both sexes. But we all know which sex is affected more. If you are talking about what I think you’re talking about, then let me just say that feminism seeks to destroy patriarchy not just for females but males too.I do not want to have sons growing up to believe they are not allowed to cry, or be vulnerable or to like pink or any other crappy box patriarchy forces then into.
    I hope that my sons are not threatened by the mere existence of a woman. That they don’t consider themselves failures for being second to a woman. That they do not grow up with an awful superiority complex which usually is a convenient way of masking inferiority. there is a lot of things I hope. And the knowledge and indeed peace of a female being no different than a male is one thing that can help my hope come alive.

    • Kay, I’m not denying the fact that females are more affected by patriarchy but should that mean we turn a deaf ears to the male issues? All I’m saying is fill up the half-filled cup but don’t let it spill over in order to overcompensate for being half full all this while.

  5. In a world where people are constantly bashed for taking a stand, I can’t be surprised that people are not eager to identify with feminism. In a world where being liked is paramount to people, i cant be surprised either. In a world where people only go to work because they must earn their pay instead of their passion for the job, I can’t be surprised if people dont want to identify with feminism. Becuase it takes some for you to identify with a movement. And many would rather take the easy way of maintaining status quo. Because we have patriarchy so ingrained in us that change seems difficult. Change is a hard process. But the lovely thing with change is that whether or not you identify with it, like death it goes right ahead and it happens.

  6. I understand both Kay and Yugo. I am a supporter of equality of the sexes. Feminism is fine. My problem is its logic. To my mind, the logic of a woman-centred, movement for equality is illogical, defeatist, and self-destructive. It, to me, amounts to only a little different from Patriarchy. It is not equality to me. It is subversion and reversion of the status quo, not an equalisation of it. If you have been a ‘small’ man in the midst of some well-known feminist, you’ll understand what I am saying. After examining both feminism and patriarchy, I simply concluded: power is no respecter of gender. In trying to ensure a future of equality, most feminist organisations are simply wittingly or unwittingly engendering a future where women (most of whom are young girls now) will be more powerful than men. How? One example: I won’t mention names here, but I recently watched on TV, an NGO commenting on the effort they have made to train girls and prepare them for the ICT world (the future). Did it occur to them that the males in those same public schools do not have such ICT skills? And that most of them (if not all) come from so poor a background that they are most likely to end up not acquiring such skills without the help of provisions such as the one provided for the girls? A male-female centred approach to gender equality is likely not to overlook that fact. But a female-centred approach to equality (which is what the logic of feminism is to most women who promote it) is likely to ignore, and in extreme cases, relish on the possibilities of giving girls (the female sex) the upper hand in the nearest future. As it is, men are least concerned about empowering younger men while women are hyperactively interested in female empowerment at all levels! I don’t need to have any crystal ball in front of me to predict the future as one in which rather than equality, we would have men of the younger generation starting up their own movement for equality of the sexes while most women would, like most men are now, become less interested in the question of equality. It might seem down-beat, but I do not see any future of real equality between the sexes. It will simply be a new kind of inequality–milder, perhaps more humane, yet one in which a particular sex (in this case, women) must have reversed the present status quo. Equality, to my mind, is a facade: the history of mankind has proven just this: we (sometimes men-only, sometimes women-only, other times both men-and-women) have (and will continue to dominate) themselves to our own injury. It’s about power dynamics: Rich white dominate poor white. Rich white man dominate poor white woman. Rich man dominates poor man. White dominates black. Black man dominate black woman. Rich black man dominates poor black man. Black rulers dominate black ruled. Rulers dominate ruled. Employer dominate employee. Master dominate slave. Teacher dominates students. Principal/Vice Chancellor dominates teachers/lecturers. God dominates man (you could come up with further matrices). And in all these, the dominated ever struggles to become either equal (a tough call) or more powerful (most likely), which only repeats the vicious circle of domination. And domination comes in different textures—both mild and harsh, or something in-between. This is the price mankind, I guess, has to pay, has been paying, and will most likely continue to pay till, for those who believe in God, “thy kingdom come and thy will is done on earth, as it is in heaven”, or till mankind successfully annihilate all humans. Sad. It’s a really bleak situation that we face.

  7. Some blotches tho. These parts should read thus:

    “I recently watched on TV, an NGO commenting on the effort they have made to train girls in selected public schools and prepare them for the ICT world (the future).”

    “we (sometimes men-only, sometimes women-only, other times both men-and-women) have (and will continue to dominate) ourselves to our own injury.”

    “till mankind successfully annihilates mankind from earth’s surface.”

    Some additions:

    Also, come to think of it, has Feminism always been inclusive? Read about its history and you’ll agree that it’s a big NO! Feminism is only relatively recently becoming inclusive, after certain realisations that an equal society is impossible without re-educating and re-engineering the men (and, sometimes, I doubt if that is not simply a foil to cover its main objective: equality with women at the centre. I once participated in a feminist conference essentially designed for women and girls. With all the speakers and majority of the attendees being women (I think the ratio was 94 women to 6 men), it came to their realisation that they needed more men to join the discourse since. apparently, it is the male majority’s Patriarchal mindset that need the more upsetting, unsettling, un-setting, and resetting.

    The difficulty is in our ways of seeing. Essentially, a woman sees things with a woman’s eyes and man sees things with a man’s eyes. This happens before we struggle to see things with human eye. In so far as feminism implies, at least by nomenclature, if not by definition, a view of the world that is woman-centred, I’ll find it difficult to accept its tenets hook line and sinker. By taking women as the focal point of discourse on equality, it becomes, however necessary at the moment, essentially imbalanced. Read this definition of feminism by Patricia Lengermann and Jill Nebrugge and you’ll see where my issue stems from:

    “Feminist theory [or movement] is a generalized, wide-ranging system of ideas about social life and human experience developed from a woman-centered perspective. Feminist theory is woman-centered–or women-centered–in three ways. First, it major “object” for investigation, the starting point of all its investigation, is the situation (or the situations) and experiences of women in society. Second, it treats women as the central “subjects” in the investigative process; that is, it seeks to see the world from the distinctive vantage points of women in the social world. Third, feminist theory [or movement] is critical and activist on behalf of women–and thus, it argues for human kind.”

    Now, as you can see, the situation is not so easy. I am a man. Being a man surely affects the way I perceive things as much as a woman’s world-view is affected by her make-up (this has nothing to do with eye lashes tho and lenses tho, lol). But I also think we can be reasonable and understanding–bringing about a sense of balance in our ways of thinking and seeing things. This is not made easy under the influence of ideologies that are either male-centred or female centred. Personally, I try not to align myself with ideologies that, at least in theory (if not reality) limits my ways of seeing and understanding things. I guide myself by what’s most sensible and balanced. I choose to, and try to, see and judge things from an unbiased perspective. I choose to see things on the whole, and not (just) FROM A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE.

    I really do not have the time to air all my arguments here. Perhaps a full essay will do that later.

    I support any initiative that seeks for a fairer and more just human society–and women are a major lot that suffer injustice in a system that seemingly favours men (seemingly, cause, in reality, it does not). If that passes me as a feminist, well, fine. But I don’t necessarily have to be confined to an ideological mould to stand for what is right.

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