The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Feminism as “the belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially though organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” However, to most Malawians, feminism is just a group of man -hating women. Women whose views and ideas are perceived to be threatening and question the whole hierarchy of men in the society. These women are “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “toxic,” “aggressive” and will never find men to marry.
Most men believe that the feminism movement has been created to erase them entirely from the society or conveniently position women on top of men, an utterly false narrative. Feminism doesn’t work to replace matriarchy with patriarchy. It’s even strange when fellow women speak against feminism because they believe feminism is there to strip them of their femininity and the benefits which come with dependency. Both sexes might agree that patriarchy is toxic and damaging to both men and women, why then is it difficult for most men and some women to embrace feminism?
I have come to realize that people don’t necessarily have a problem with feminism entirely, they are fine with the parts which they find comfortable and non-threatening. They despise only the parts which they think goes personally against everything they were taught, everything they were raised on, and the parts which directly attack them. For instance, women will be openly be encouraged to exercise their voting rights, people will fully support the “send girls to school” campaign and join in applauding the good job which Chief Kachindamoto has been doing over the years(rescuing girls from early marriages and sending them back to school). However, the same people will quickly frown upon a woman who is striving for economic independence against her husband’s wishes or a woman who goes against her culture and tradition by questioning gender roles.
It has been argued that the way feminism is delivered to the world contributes to why society does not wholly embrace the movement. They say it is very hard to differentiate misandry and feminism. Many people see feminism as a tool which women use to disrespect men without consequences. The argument is that when a woman expresses unpopular opinions against men, she runs to the cover of feminism. On the other hand, when a man expresses his unpopular opinions against women, he is quickly labelled misogynistic.
The reality of our society can be seen in our traditions and norms. So how can a society which still believes that men are the head of the households embrace and support feminism? Also bearing in mind that most of those people in the society are driven by the notion of “what’s in it for me?” I think the focus should also be on stressing the importance of equality and getting both men and women to be patrons of feminism. For far too long, men have always complained on how they are victims of society rules and norms imposed by patriarchy and at the same time the same rules and norms continue to hold women back. Like women, some men confess to feeling caged by the simple but harmful statements like “a real man must be able to do this and that “or “a woman must only do this or that”. When you look around in the society, you will witness that men, along with women are negatively affected by traditions which are deeply grounded in patriarchy.
“Feminism doesn’t work for the benefit of women only, it also works for the benefit of men”
Everyone must understand that feminism is as liberating to women as it is to men. We all benefit from equality in a society. Why should you break your backs providing for your families because society says you are the head of the household, when that burden can easily be lifted off if duties and responsibilities were to be shared and if women were to be empowered? Why is seeking help or crying be a sign of weakness and not strength? Why should you fail to pursue your careers and passions just because society says it’s feminine? Feminism recognizes both men and women as human beings with feelings, choices, dreams and aspirations.
Feminism brings in equality and leads to economic development. An equal society creates a platform where the points of view of both males and females are taken into consideration during decision making. It also helps address violence against women in a society. When men start viewing women as equals, as human beings and not objects, cases of violence are lowered. Instead of husbands, brothers and fathers singlehandedly protecting their wives, daughters and sisters from sexual predators who view women as sex objects, the whole society becomes one community in protecting them.
Feminism pays attention to the silent screams which have been muffled by patriarchy. The silent voices which say human beings, men and women can coexist, not as competitors but as partners, in more than just one way. Politically, socially, as well as economically.