The feminist dilemma: I am not a manifesto


This is not about one single globe trotting adventure but the trip of this year.

“You’re such a feminist,” a friend once told me. I looked at him mildly assumed, he meant it as a compliment because that is what every progressive woman wants to hear.

As a black woman I am held to different standards, I am a minority that must strive for more even harder and more fervently. There is an even higher glass ceiling that I must break through, or so I am told by successful women of my race. I am lucky, I have worked hard and very few people have tried to stand in the way of what I want. However, the glass ceiling that concerns me more is not my career it what society seems to think is acceptable to demand of me.

The more successful I get the more of a shrew I become in society, I am told that I will never find happiness because I am determined to be a feminist about life.

“You’ll never find a husband the way you are carrying on,” I was told at my sister’s wedding.
“What makes you think I want one?” I responded.
“Because you are a woman.”
“Because what’s your worth is if you are not married,” the final response that silenced me.

My worth. I should not have given it a second thought but I gave it the better part of a year (and we will come back to this).

Months later, I posted photos of brownies I made on Instagram and a friend sent me a text message as a friendly warning.

“Why do you domesticate yourself so,” the text began. “You are so smart, all that baking and homey stuff diminishes your feminism.”

Women today face a dilemma of publicly rising to their feminist status and upholding the unwritten manifesto that defines women as such. I have never stepped up on any world stage and claimed to be radical feminist but because I believe in equality then I am. I do not reject it but I must now address it because my worth is neither bound to marriage or the feminist movement.

I believe in equality. I refuse to be bound by the shackles of society and norms and ideals built on some preconceived idea of what a woman, a man and a human being ought to be. I am not a manifesto, I am not shackled by false ideas of “sisterhood” that benefits a conversation for a platform that divides us from them. I refuse to be defined by a mob mentality because as a feminist it is expected.

I believe in equality. I refuse to be in society that teaches me to shrink myself in more than expand to experience the world. I am not a manifesto. I want the same rights that everyone else have. I have always said that equality does not mean the same. Equal should not mean exact halves of a whole but two different halves that make up a whole.

In Africa feminist means western ideals. Being an empowered woman means you have read too many books, watched too many movies and listened to many speeches. It is a society that condones slut shaming, a global pandemic, where it is okay to disgrace and publicly chastise women for their sexual behaviour but the men are praised for their worldliness.

Women in today’s society have mastered the art of perfecting pretence and civility, where they accept and play their role. Women fight for things they believe in but still worked hard to diminish their shine because society teaches us to. Women get dressed in the morning and worry what the look will relay, because all this is expected.

A friend once told me that she only gets complimented when she is in dress simply because it was a dress that showed off her legs. Yes the dress does look nice and she does look lovely and the compliments may be genuine. But we live in a world that teaches us to be cautious about everything especially when you are a woman. Why does no one compliment her when she is jeans she asked. Why indeed?

Women undermine other woman who dare to be stay at home mums belittling their sacrifice because it is un-feminist to choose to stay home and take care of your family. Women are taught to compete with each other for the affections of man and not be bold enough go to after what or who they want. We are dragged on by the chains of ideas born out of ignorance and ideologies as old as time. We bare the cross of compromise because someone must relent.

Women wage emotional wars on each other or unite in the fight against men when the real issue is to drive sustainable change and build a truly equal society. We search for the whores and ice queens because there is a category that everyone must fit, the perfect cage constructed out of civility.

Being part of the feminist movement does not define my worth. Women have made me feel less empowered than men have. Women have judged me more harshly than any man I have known. I refuse to be part of a platform that decides that my worth is one or the other. We have become so focused on telling the feminist story and upholding the ideals that we forget the human stories and human beings that make up the sexes.

I do not write this because I seek validation of who I am or who I hope to be. I write this because the world seems quite determined to pontificate about me, my gender, my race and my role here and I thought it was high time I chimed in.

I am a feminist but I am not your feminist. I believe in the social and political equality of the sexes.