Ok, as a feminist myself, I’ve been watching the gender war on Uganda’s Twitter timeline and I have to admit: we have a problem!
First of all, why are we fighting?
What is our objective when we harshly shut down and/or block anyone who disagrees with us?
How will this help us better understand each other and find solutions?
In the past few weeks, many of my friends in Uganda – especially the men – have lamented in private that they feel social media has become a toxic and dangerous place where they could easily be insulted and shamed for anything they might say that offends a feminist. The term “Feminazi” has gained ground as those with more traditional or potentially oppressive beliefs about women’s roles in society are consistently attacked by a small group of outspoken feminists whom some characterize as extremists. These are the womyn who preach that #MenAreTrash (Mother God, please forgive me for calling out your activists). I am thankful for the women who speak out against injustice, because I do believe that the efforts of social activists have made our world a better place. However, the #MenAreTrash approach has many people believing that feminists are all angry, sometimes hypocritical, and just wanting to bring down men and promote female domination, rather than deconstructing the current (unjust) system to build more equity among the sexes.
Let’s look back to the approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Both, I believe, had an important role to play, but when Malcolm X said that white people are the devil and promoted violence against them, this did not win him as much popular support at MLK’s more positive and inclusive approach. Furthermore, when Malcolm X went to mecca, he ended up changing his mind about all white people being evil. Would I be wrong to compare #MenAreTrash to The White Devil? An extreme, angry, aggressive approach does make people think and talk, but it also creates an equal and opposite reaction. You have to ask yourself: are you an activist because you want to create positive change, or are you fighting just for the love of fighting? We may need a more MLK style feminism on the TL to persuade the masses that social equity is good, reasonable and in everyone’s interest, so everybody is welcome to make a positive change.
I’ve been raising a little girl over the past few years, and it’s taught me some things about human nature. When she does something cruel and I berate her and shame her in all her wrongness, she just shuts down the ability to reason, cries and says that Auntie Anne is mean. When I show her love and empower her to consider how she is capable of doing better, she changes her behaviour. Similarly, when I present a funding proposal to grown corporates without considering their interests in the partnership, I’m brushed off like any other beggar, but when I frame the proposal in such a way that uplifts the funder just as much as the funded, then we can make a deal.
We need a fair deal that includes men (and “Patriarchy Princesses”) in gender equity, and that also means cutting out the loopholes that allow some Ugandan feminists to claim the best of both worlds. You can’t ask for financial freedom and expect the men to buy all your drinks at the same time. You can’t rail against men battering their wives while laughing it off when women batter their husbands. You can’t chant “down with The Patriarchy” and then expect him to give you his sweater. He also feels the cold. Buy your own sweater!
Dear feminists, we have a problem. You are feeling the backlash too, aren’t you? The fact is that movements for social change must be inclusive if they are to get enough support to make a difference. Whether we live in a just or unjust society is up to the beliefs and actions of all members of that society, so if men are not welcomed to be part of building justice, then feminists are working against themselves.
Our world has become increasingly divided by ideology. Try to walk the middle path in 2017, and people are bound to throw stones from both sides. I’ll probably offend both a misogynist and a feminist by saying this, but here we go: feminism is needed, it is right, but it has taken a wrong turn.
Instead of focusing on the fight, let’s focus on building what we want to come after. Feminists must persuade our oppressors that updating gendered expectations can be good for everybody, even them. We must be more patient, inclusive, interactive and encouraging to stem the backlash and nurture a popular movement. Go ahead and block whoever disagrees with you if that’s what you need to hold onto your sanity, but don’t fool yourself that separation will help the cause. It won’t. To create social justice is to be open to new ideas and choose the best for everyone, together.
[Note: I have also learned the flaws in my reasoning by engaging further with people of different points of view on social media and in person (for example: it's worth recognizing that Ugandan women have also suffered in their attempts to dialogue with men about their oppression, so they shouldn't be judged for taking another approach). May this conversation continue, with more people from all sides engaged in a way that helps us better understand and find solutions.]