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.