Earlier this month, the gruesome murder of a 21 year old South African threw the digital community into a wide, club-wielding frenzy over the issue of domestic violence. There were angry posts, reposts, threads with thousands of comments and tweets and help lines circulating all over the internet.
In one tweet, a fed-up friend of the deceased showed just how upset she was with a post bearing the hash tag #MenAreTrash. It was supposed to be a venting of anger about men who turn women into punching bags and their homes into boxing rings. Like most online trend topics, this was picked up and milked for what it was worth – or not.
When the hash tag went viral especially in the South African region and later picked up by Nigerians, women who had jumped on the train were labelled ‘feminists’ and subsequently the mudslinging began.
These ‘social media feminists’ as they were called, were regarded as operating with double standards, hell-bent on usurping and turning African values and cultures on its head and in fact, fighting for female supremacy as opposed to equality between the genders like they assume they do.
It was a full blown online war of the sexes amongst millennials.
If there’s one label you do not want to be easily associated with as a Nigerian female (or male), it is the ‘Feminist’ label. A ‘social media feminist’ label is an even worse fate.
The word has come to mean and be associated with a million and one colourful things but what the feminist struggle is originally said to be about.
Feminism, as a series of causes that began in the 19th and early 20th century, was mostly location, historical and culturally dependent. While all movements till date have women at the centre, the various waves of feminism centred on specific challenges that ailed women at that point in time.
While some equated women’s rights with the right to vote or be elected into public and political offices, some others referred to equal rights as the opportunity to own property or receive an education.
In the United States, women weren’t exactly able to vote in all elections in the country. In 1870, the 15th Amendment, which would grant men of colour the right to vote, was ratified and women weren’t pleased. Between 1869 and 1896, only four states had granted women the right to vote. Some texts say as much as 15 states allowed women to vote sometimes only in presidential elections.
To fight for women’s rights to vote, several women’s rights associations and movements were formed pushing for ratification of state law amendments to provide women the rights to vote. The idea was to have so many states sign this into law to the extent that it got the attention of the federal government and they followed suit.
It wasn’t until 1920 and four amendments later that the right of women to vote was ratified federally in the 19th Amendment. What followed in the U.S. in relation to feminist movements was a cry for social justice and civil rights that included issues of property ownership, domestic violence and abortion rights.
In the African context, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the mother of Afrobeat legend Fela, was regarded as a fierce feminist, challenging and forming coalitions with women on issues that were oppressive to them including the right to vote and be heard in governance of society and in issues relating to women.
There were numerous protests and women uprisings like the popular Aba Women’s Riot of 1929. Sierra-Leonean, Adelaide Smith Casely-Hayford, fought for the rights of Sierra Leonean girls to education. Margaret Ekpo fought to have women represented in political meetings and decision making in the country. And so were many others.