Is feminism a disease?

Feminists are often depicted as angry, hairy battle axes – the usual bra-burning mantra. Yet the relevance of feminism in the 21st century cannot be overstated. Feminism is about equality. At its core, feminism is a movement based on the belief that all people – no matter their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation are equal, and deserve to live their lives free from discrimination. One does not have to be one of my favourite authors, Julie Zeilinger, to understand this. I am surprised to find, therefore, that many people, African (read Zimbabwean) men in particular, perceive it to be a disease. How could people oppose a movement that simply wants to ensure women retain their self-respect and are free from abuse?

What made me think this?

A faux post-apocalypse now pervades Harare after the ‘excitement’ surrounding the beating up of Tinopona Katsande by her boyfriend somewhat died down. Initially, it was alleged that he did it because she had refused to assist him with housework. It later emerged that he was ‘punishing’ her for behaving as though she was not taken on a night out earlier that weekend. There is no basis upon which we can prefer one version of events over the other – but that is not the focus of this rant.

I digress further – one might be forgiven for taking the view that unless one is a pretty socialite in Harare, no attention will be paid to the ordinary woman’s experience with domestic violence. The recent example of Ms Katsande was an acute, if useful, reminder of the manner in which women are often treated by their husbands and partners in Zimbabwe. Photos of her swollen face and desecrated weave went viral on the internet. No doubt, the perpetrator of the violence ensured that her usual caramel skin was left black and blue. Indeed, this episode was sad, unfortunate, unforgivable – one can’t run out of negative terms to describe what happened to her. What I grapple with, however, is that Ms Katsande’s experience was mild and unusual in the Zimbabwean context. For example, on the 29th of September, at around 3am, a 33-year-old Harare man allegedly fatally assaulted his wife with a knobkerrie over suspicions of infidelity. Sebastian Satero of plot number 16 Danbury Farm in Marlborough accused his wife, Rennie Jakarasi of having an extra marital affair and a misunderstanding arose. She sustained severe injuries and died on the spot. In a bid to cover up the offence, Satero removed Jakarasi’s blood stained clothes and burnt them together with the knobkerrie. He then fled leaving Jakarasi’s body lying on the ground.

Not many people paid attention to the plight of this woman. It may be the case that Zimbabwean society has come to accept that ill-treatment of women by their male counterparts is acceptable, in the same way that “small houses” (read mistress/illicit second wife – take your pick) have become the norm, in fact, a nigh necessity for the typical Zimbabwean man.

Even on a global level, women make up 70 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion poor and own only one percent of all land in developing countries. One out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. An estimated 50 million girls “missing” in India due to female feticide and infanticide (a practice in which parents abort their female fetus or kill their female infant based on the sole fact that she is female in a culture that prefers males). And that’s just scratching the surface.

So the question then becomes, do we still need to fight for women’s rights? Or is feminism a dirty word whose significance belongs to a different era?

As observed by writers like Zeilinger, the impression that the need for feminism was buried right alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony – the accepted creators of the original ‘girlmance’ – and that Gloria Steinem and her counterparts resolved any lingering issues in the ’70s, is simply not true. The examples of domestic violence alluded to above are clear evidence that sexism is alive and well, even if it may take a different form from issues like being denied voting rights, the absence of contractual capacity on the part of women and the existence of marital power.

I end where I perhaps should have begun – what is feminism?

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” ~ Rebecca West

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