The Second Choice Feminist
It was during my externship period at the Nigerian Law School that I met Andrew and Irene.* All three of us had attended lectures at the same campus but never met until we got posted to the same law firm in Lagos Island. We easily became fast friends, making the stress of the period easier to bear. Conversations were fun, we had the same views on many issues. Or so I thought.
On a very normal Tuesday, a few hours to close time, Irene mentioned that she would start driving to work to ease the stress of facing traffic. As she put it, “Lagos traffic is the last place you want to be without air conditioning”. I was going to readily agree with her. Most times, it’s easier to just wait until the rush hour is over, as long as you have your own car. But Andrew saw it differently. He said: “I can never allow a woman drive me. It is improper and unimaginable. Only a weak man will allow a woman drive him in a car.”
Oh-kay. There was a silence, heavy with the effect of Andrew’s words. I guess Irene and l were trying to process the shock. This was someone who was educated, learned. someone who had studied the law for nearly six years; it was almost impossible to believe. I looked to Irene for a reaction but I only got a feigned smile. But I waited for her to speak. This girl has to say something. Please. But she remained quiet. I wished I could read her mind. I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath and sighed understanding fully well that the conversation I was about to (or supposed to) start with Andrew was going to be a long and tiring one. I now had two options: to remain silent like Irene and act like Andrew”s words meant nothing, or educate Andrew on the absurdity of what he said. Unfortunately, considering we had few minutes to meet the infamous Lagos traffic, I chose the former. I started packing up amidst the silence.
While stuck in heavy traffic, I pondered on the consequence of my inaction. That was a clear opportunity to educate and possibly change the patriarchal views of one person but I didn’t take it. I rather looked to the person whom I believed (as it particularly affected her) was in a better position to do so. If she has spoken up, I would have readily backed her up where she needed it. But as she couldn’t or just wouldn’t, I also didn’t. And that’s where I was wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, a person can be male and strongly align with feminist views. Feminism isn’t a “women rights propaganda” that should be pursued only by women. It is about acknowledging that women should have the same status, rights and privileges as men unlike what patriarchal cultures have promoted. It challenges, to a large extent, societal norms that give men more powerful roles and influential voices. So it can and should be subscribed to by any person irrespective of their sex. And I think a woman is not compelled to be a feminist just because she is a woman. There are male feminists and they sure do not need women to support or start a conversation before they speak up for what they believe in. Especially if these women are patriarchal.
In this clime, male feminists are few and they feel more pressured to educate fellow men on their misconceptions about gender equality/roles because everybody (including fellow feminists) believes men hear it better coming from a man and that more people would pay attention to it. This is not a very valid belief and it’s also cliché.
One major problem faced by male feminists who identify with the movement is that they feel the need to take cues from the women around them who subscribe to the same ideals, yield first in disputes and toe the line very carefully as they cannot relate on a personal level to feminist agitations. And they also don’t want to be seen as the “woke misogynist” that Nona Willis Aronowitz wrote about. Eventually, the self-proclaimed male feminist is an ally and nothing more. He exempts himself from taking proactive steps to help solve situations that promote women’s suppression. Except those that are ‘left’ to him, such as talking sense to the bros. So it’s like female feminists believe some things are better done or not to be done by men. An advanced form of gender roles?
When male feminist allies attempt to distance themselves from the culture of male supremacy, they fail to acknowledge the structural privileges at work and how they benefit from it. The goal of all feminists, male or female, is the welfare, socio-cultural, economic and political emancipation of all women and not personal propaganda. It’s not enough to acknowledge the belief but how are you working, actively, to help? How are you calling out yourself in the areas you benefit from a culture that suppresses others? Male feminists should not be Second Choice Feminists.
A Second Choice Feminist is someone who, although not ashamed of being a feminist publicly or the backlash that comes with being one, would rather be feminist at the most convenient times only. at times that call for defending a wrong or calling a mate out, the Second Choice Feminist would rather look the other way. Basically he/she is only a feminist when the odds are in his/her favour, otherwise they keep mum.
Here is what I should have done that not-so-normal Tuesday. I should have spoken up. I should have enlightened Andrew on how ridiculous and sexist his comment was. I should have defended women, and humanity. But I chose what was easier and sought validation and cues from the woman whom I thought should champion the discuss. This makes me a second choice feminist.
I should be a feminist at every opportunity I get and not when it is convenient or when I have back-up. For the sake of humanity.
*Those are not their real names.
This article was written for CA by one who wishes to remain anonymous. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you!