I’m a feminist: now what?

I’ll be honest. I haven’t always been a feminist. Growing up, the various institutions around me convinced me that there was no such thing as sexism and that the gender order existed for a reason. I never questioned why I played with dolls, beauty supplies and toy stoves while my brother had Lego, toy cars and video games. Why, as a child, every time I stepped into a store, I insisted on buying something pink. Why, as a young teen, I didn’t feel beautiful if my hair and make up wasn’t done. I don’t know when or why but something changed in me. I guess it was my feminist awakening.

Some believe that there is no need for feminism because women have been granted so many opportunities and experience greater equality than when feminist first started. Just take a look at the “#WomenAgainstFeminism” hashtag on Twitter and it becomes pretty obvious that there are many women who do not understand what feminism is about or what feminists do. What becomes apparent from this page is that some women view feminists as angry, man-haters. Ready for a truth bomb? There is no singular way to be a feminist. Feminists do not have to look or act a certain way, nor do they have to agree on everything. In my case, I love doing my hair and makeup, and I am passionate about fashion. This, however, does not distract from my beliefs. Some more ideas on why the world needs feminism can be seen here.

People ask why South Africans need feminism. We need feminism because black lesbians are being raped for their sexuality, because young black men are losing their penises in circumcision rites of passage. We need feminism because of women still experience everyday sexism in the work place.

Being a student of Gender Studies, I’m constantly learning new stories that challenge my beliefs as a woman as well as a South African. Feminism means something different to different people. Author Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie, describes a feminist as “a person that believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”. Note that feminism is not gendered; a man can be a feminist too. Feminism and gender studies are not only about women. Both men and women are subjected to rigid concepts of masculinity and femininity: those that fall out of the definition are viewed as “the Other”. Feminism is not a battle of the sexes; it is a battle for the sexes. Gender incorporates various factors, such as race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and location to name a few. As such, my beliefs as a young, coloured, straight woman from South Africa might differ from those with other factors determining their beliefs. Thus, no feminist has the right to judge another feminist.

My blog “The Song of the Caged Bird” is inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird”. The poem, about a bird struggling to break the confines of its constricting cage, can be interpreted and applied to many issues we face today, such as racism, sexism and poverty. The process of being gendered, from the moment we are born, means that you are instinctively born into a gender hierarchy where we are held to unfair and rigid ideals of how to be masculine or feminine. We must thus dedicate our lives to breaking those boundaries. That is why I write. That is why I lament about the struggles I face, the injustices I see, but also the joy I feel. I am just a bird trying to break the cage that jails me.



  1. thebibosez · March 20, 2015

    Perhaps, in South Africa, feminism is different but in the US and other countries feminism is nothing like what you believe it to be.

    You are wrong when you claim “There is no singular way to be a feminist. Feminists do not have to look or act a certain way, nor do they have to agree on everything.” Feminist leaders like Anita Sarkeesian call this naive attitude “choice feminism” and believe the choices of feminist women must be restricted so that they do not undermine fat, ugly, hirsute warpigs.

    You are wrong when you claim men can be feminists in any sort of an equal way. Men have second class status in feminism as “allies” who are told how to act and behave – and mainly, they are to shut up and obey women in everything.

    Feminists do not support protection from rape; they exploit rape as a way to demonize men. That is why feminists view taking precautions against rape as “victim-blaming”. Feminists want more victims of rape so they can exploit them politically. This is why feminists create so many rape hoaxes in the US – as a way to attack innocent men.

    Feminists do not support lesbianism. They resist all efforts to combat violence in Lesbian relationships (which are the most violent of all pair bonds) because it damages the feminist narrative that all violence comes from men.

    Feminists actually encourage unnecessary male circumcisions as a supposed way to combat AIDS. They do not oppose circumcision; they oppose circumcision rituals that support a cultural positive male identity.

    The other things you attribute to sexism are just natural human behavior. On the first day of life, newborn girls prefer looking at human faces (dolls) and newborn boys prefer looking at trucks (things). Unless you think wombs inculcate sexism into babies, the idea that children’s toy preferences are the result of sexism in society is ludicrous.

    Gender does NOT include race: a white man and a black man have much more in common than a white man and a white woman, or a black man and a black woman.

    “Thus, no feminist has the right to judge another feminist.” Yet, they do it all the time, just as you do. Sucks to be you.


    • kirstenceleste · March 20, 2015

      Firstly, thank you for reading and responding to my blog. You’ve made some very interesting points, although I do not agree with them.
      To your first point, I would ask you to think of feminism as Christianity (I’m not comparing them, I am merely using Christianity as an example to make a point). Christianity is a religion with millions of dedicated followers all over the world. You have Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, New Apostolic’s etc, who all practice Christianity differently. That, however, does not make them any less Christian. Similarly, feminists practice it differently. So you see how there are many ways to be a Christian, likewise there are many ways to be a feminist. just because one person says something, it does not discredit others opinions.

      You say men cannot be feminists, but i disagree wholeheartedly. Feminism needs men. I see where you say it might not be equal, because many feel that women need to change the world for themselves. But, the world cannot change with only half the population making an effort. Women could be as independent as we want, but if men still treated us as second class citizens, than feminism has not fully achieved its goals. look at the HeForShe movement, that calls for men to support and join feminism to make the world a better place for men and women. Finally, feminism is not only about women’s issues. I’ve studied how the construct of hegemonic masculinity forces men to act in certain ways in order to be considered ‘real men’ just like women are held to such strict standards. We thus need men to speak about these issues, because as women we do not fully understand how it feels to be a man, and vice versa. Thus, feminism needs both men and women.

      I do not understand how you can say that feminists use rape to build an agenda against men. How could somebody support an act like rape that damaging both women and men? the majority of rapes across the world are committed by men, so I can see how you think that this means that feminists are demonising men, but I do not agree. Based on empirical research, feminists have uncovered the rape culture prevalent in many societies, especially where I am from. South Africa has been described as the rape capital of the world by many media sources. Feminists thus try to uncover why that is, and,because the majority of rapists are men, why men rape. That is not to say that all men are rapists, women can be rapists too. Victim blaming is a real issue. Why is it that women must be subjected to questions about how drunk they were or what they were wearing? My clothing does not say “Rape me”. Regardless of what a women looks like, she has not given consent unless she states it. So why should I have to restrict the way that I express myself because somebody might take it as my sexual readiness and then take me without me having agreed? I find the kind of mentality that blames a woman for what she wore or what state she was in as highly problematic because it insinuates that the woman was asking for it. Nobody asks to be raped.

      I am not sure where you got your evidence on feminists not supporting lesbianism. I do not know much on this topic so if you can provide readings and articles on it that would be great. I do not agree with you on it, but I do not want to make unqualified generalisations.

      Your comment on circumcision is confused. I have recently researched male and female circumcision for an essay and what I found is that the issue is with the actual surgery, not the rite of passage connected to it.In South Africa, young Xhosa men are losing their penises because surgeries are not being done safely, and there are feminist activists lobbying against this but it is very difficult because circumcision is a cultural practice, and culture is a topic that many South Africans believe is fixed and cannot be changed. What these activists are trying to do is to find a way in which the rite of passage remains and the surgery becomes safer and non-harmful because there is little chance that male circumcision will become illegal.

      What you call natural human behaviour, I call learnt gendered behaviour. No child is born gendered, because gender is a social construct that we have created. Essentially, your argument is that because a child was born with a vagina, it will like dolls, whereas a child born with a penis will like trucks. I do not think that wombs inculcate sexism, i think we as a society do. We make the toys, and we market them towards either girls or boys. Take a walk down a toy isle and question why the girl side is pink and filled with dolls while the boy side is blue, black, green, and red with Lego, trucks, cars, monsters. It is because we assume that this is what girls like and that is what boys like. Kids are subconsciously taught what girls do and what boys do. We don’t even realise that we are doing it either.

      Gender most certainly does include race. It is called intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, which evaluates the manners in which various discriminations, such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, social class etc change the ways in which people are treated in society. Just look at Mike Brown and the events in Ferguson, or Trayvon Martin. Young black men in America are being profiled because of the colour of their skin, their age and their economic status, because lower class young black men are believed to be more violent and resistant to the law and rules. Consider this years Oscars controversy, in which no women of colour were nominated for Best Actress of Best Supporting Actress. This brought up the issue that women of colour are not offered roles that white women are. Often, black women are awarded for their roles in race based film like The Help or 12 Years a Slave, because, generally, those are the only quality leading roles black women receive. TV is becoming more representative because of women like Shonda Rhimes, whose shows, which are dominating TV right now, are led by strong black women characters, played by Kerry Washington and Viola Davis. Look at the recent attacks on Iggy Azalea, who has come under fire by many black rappers because rap is traditionally a black genre steeped in historical meaning that Azalea, as a white woman, cannot relate to. Thus, it is a close-minded argument to say that race is not an issue of gender. The two are closely linked.

      finally, nowhere in my post did I judge another feminist. My blog is not for judging people, it is a place where I reflect on how feminism and gender are parts of our daily lives.


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