Oni: Are you a feminist, Madam?
Safia: A feminist? That’s intense. I’m not sure.
Oni: Well, you’ve been a female for a while now. It’d be stupid not to be on your own side.
Safia: Hahahaha. Maya Angelou. She has a point there. So this is about taking sides, eh?
Oni: It’s not. It’s not. By definition, it is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and equal opportunities.
Safia: Unfortunately, we still have to protest and demand that kind of stuff!
Oni: You do. And yes, it’s unfortunate. But do you participate in that protest?
Safia: To be honest Oni, it seems like this really hostile march of angry goddesses trying to stake a claim to a higher place in society. I’m not sure I want to play a part in that crusade.
Oni: But you do think it’s necessary to insist on your rightful place in society?
Safia: I think we just need to convince ourselves of it. It doesn’t have to be exacted from another source.
Oni: Let me ask you this: do you like stories where women save themselves?
Safia: I do! I love stories where women save themselves. I just don’t see why we overplay the whole female superheroine act. Why can’t we just be? Equals.
Oni: Sure, we can. And we want to. But you need everyone to be on a level playing field first, right? You’d have to break gender stereotypes. And how else do we do that?
Safia: Definitely not by this movement. It’s up in arms, disgruntled and avoidably aggressive. And because I don’t want to be any of those things, I’m afraid I’m not a feminist.
Oni: So you’re choosing to not identify yourself as a feminist because it positions you among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating and anti-men. Unattractive, even. You do realize that you don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman? That’s not what feminism is about.
Safia: Seems to me it is. I don’t hate men. And women can be as equal as they believe themselves to be. They don’t have to go on a raging rampage as propositioned by feminism.
Oni: Pardon me Madam, but it’s clear you don’t know what feminism is.
Safia: Excuse me?!
Oni: You don’t. Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety in the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centres, women’s refuges, reforms in the law. So, if you tell me, “Oh, I’m not a feminist!”, I will ask, “Why? What’s your problem?”
Safia: Oh, I’ll tell you my problem! The philosophy rests on the idea that in order to be equal, you must first accept the idea that you are unequal. It would have never occurred to me that my gender was a limitation had feminism not suggested it.
Oni: What?! The reason you sit here today, feeling like that, is a result of the sacrifice and struggle of a lot of resilient women and men who were feminists.
Safia: So, tell me then, are you a feminist Oni?
Oni: Totally! Let equality bloom! And feminism is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.
Safia: That’s it! You get it. Not everyone does. Feminism doesn’t mean that to everyone. Women are encouraged to doubt that they are completely equal to men. By the premise of the very same ideology. It’s become an inherently self-defeating entity. Feminism cannot and should not survive as a movement if women truly believe themselves to be equal.
Oni: If you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you.
Safia: No. I’m not. Feminism today breathes by encouraging women to see themselves as victims, thereby ensuring there remains an adversary, a source of conflict to give life to the campaign. It’s anti-men. I can’t believe you’re for it.
Oni: Hang on! Feminism is not some villainous plot to take over the world and throw men into dungeons. The movement is promoting equality, and equality means that every single person in this world, regardless of age, gender, race or nationality, should be presented with the same opportunities and rights in order to realize their full potential. It thrives on the idea that no person is superior to the next.
Safia: I’m not sure it’s perceived like that in the 21st Century. Women are thriving. And a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim. If only feminism wouldn’t tell her to be one…
Oni: Ah! Throwing Maya Angelou right back at me, are you?
Safia: With good reason. This is a movement that creates victims out of its own followers, to sustain itself. To call it empowerment is a sham. If women are truly equal, feminism itself is redundant. For feminism to survive, women can never win. Feminism wins when women lose. And you only need to empower women when we continue to view them as victims.
Oni: Essentially, you’re unwilling to see yourself as a victim?
Oni: You also believe then, that women haven’t been or aren’t oppressed? Because obviously, if there’s no oppression, there’s no uprising.
Safia: I’m not saying women aren’t oppressed. Yes, a lot of us, in nearly every corner of the world are! But why’re we giving the patriarchy any weight at all? Women are indoctrinated into feminism under the belief that they have been oppressed by the patriarchy.
Oni: But they have been! Just because you can’t identify with it, doesn’t make the foes – society, patriarchy, bigots – non-existent.
Safia: Patriarchy, society, any imagined force it encourages women to cower beneath are not the enemy. Feminism itself is its own enemy. Like I said earlier, it’s self-defeating!
Oni: You’re choosing to be in the dark, reluctant for whatever incomprehensible reason, to accept the irrefutable truth that women still have it hard.
Safia: Even then, feminism is not the answer. We can’t let it convince us that our independence is threatened.
Oni: It is! It has been! For years and years…you’re insulting every woman who was forcibly restrained in a jail cell, subjected to atrocity for your right to vote, less than 100 years ago. You’re degrading every woman who has accessed a rape crisis center, which wouldn’t exist without the feminist movement. You’re undermining every woman who is fighting to make marital rape a crime globally. You’re tuning out the legacy of every woman who fought, for women to be allowed to own property. For the abolition of slavery and the basic human right to dignity. For the right to divorce. For women to be allowed to have access to birth control. For women to work outside of their homes. To make domestic violence a crime. To make sexual harassment at the workplace a crime. To purge the world of the million things that still make equality a distant dream!
Safia: And you’re the feminist mouthpiece?
Oni: Be that as it may, you sure know not what you speak of. And it’s upsetting. Although you reap the rewards of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life, you say you’re not a feminist! You’re spitting on the sacred struggle of over 200 hundred years. And you’re biting the very hand that has fed you freedom, safety and a voice.
Safia: Could it be then, that we live in a post-feminist society?
Oni: We do not!
Safia: We don’t need it anymore!
Oni: Why? Are we really all good?
Safia: We are now.
Oni: Again, it’s awfully disconcerting that you think that way. Because when young women move into the world, they may realize: Oh! Why am I not being paid the same? Why am I being treated differently? And they start to blame themselves because they don’t understand that they’re part of a historic pattern, they’re part of a much larger system, which is kind of working a little bit or largely, against them.
(An extended pause. And then, Oni starts again…)
Oni: I’m not the feminist mouthpiece but yes, I did want to burst your little bubble. Because this is what I thought you should know. Not all women have received the same rights as you have. In fact, statistically, very few have. And for the record, these are human rights.
Safia: They are, yes.
Oni: Whether you accept it or otherwise, we live in a patriarchal world. And the tragedy of that is what has convinced you that feminism is a bad word. It’s the reason you don’t want to be associated with it.
A feminist is a person who believes in the power of women just as much as they believe in the power of anyone else. As Zendaya said. It’s equality, it’s fairness, and I think it’s a great thing to be a part of.
That’s why I am one myself.
Safia: What makes a man want to be a feminist?
Oni: Gender equality is our issue too. And anyone who believes in equality is an inadvertent feminist.
Oni: And, you can’t effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcomed to participate in the conversation. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.
Safia: What do you mean?
Oni: Well, for instance a father’s role as a parent is valued less in society. People still raise eyebrows at the mention of a stay-at-home dad. Men suffer from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. Men are made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success.
Safia: Hmm. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes.
Oni: But I can see that they are. And when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.
Safia: Right. If we perceive gender on one plane, instead of two opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer.
Oni: When all’s said and done, this is about freedom, yes! Both women and men should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.
Safia: Right. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.
Oni: Now now, a man should be a feminist, don’t you think? It’s to our mutual advantage.
Safia: It does break one’s heart to think men can’t express sorrow. Or are considered weak when they do. Or…
Safia: (hesitant but yielding)
Or that I ever considered women belligerent for asking for what’s rightfully theirs.
Oni: (Nodding graciously)
Which is why men need to take up the mantle so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned, and in doing so, be a truer and complete version of themselves.
Safia: Sure enough. Additionally Oni, if feminism is in fact the way forward and you’ve convinced me that it is, there’s one particular feature of it I’d like to underline.
Oni: That being?
Safia: Rather than fighting for every woman’s right to feel beautiful, I would like to see the return of a kind of feminism that tells women and girls everywhere that maybe it’s alright to not be pretty and perfectly well behaved. That may be women who are plain, or large, or old, or differently abled, or who simply don’t give a damn what they look like because they’re too busy saving the world or rearranging their sock drawer, have as much right to take up space as anyone else.
Oni: Oh yeah! Totally! I think if we want to take care of the next generation of girls we should reassure them that power, strength and character are more important than beauty and always will be, and that even if they aren’t thin and pretty – the stale societal definition of the word of course, they are still worthy of respect.
Safia: You know Oni, that feeling is the birth right of men everywhere. It’s about time we claimed it for ourselves.
Oni: Alright then! Let me ask you again, are you a feminist, Madam?
Safia: Yes! Yes I am a feminist. And it no longer makes me uncomfortable. Because I think it is right that I express sentiments that distinguish me from a doormat. I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.
Oni: So, I’ve won this round then?
Safia: We have!
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