“African woman, you are on your own”: thoughts on twitter intellectualism, feminism and the capitalism that binds

Its been over a month since allegations about a Nairobi-based pastor , Ken Gomeri, as a sexual predator came out. It’s also been over a month since Khaligraph Jones was accused of domestic violence. In both of these cases, there has been a uniform response: silence. In other social media news, cheating is apparently a justification for physical violence. But all this is part of the so-called ‘social suicide’ where gendered violence is eloquently explained as collateral damage of a greater social rot. Dear reader, when will women stop being collateral damage? After all, it’s 2019!

I have tried to follow gender conversations online. I have stalked people’s comment sections and responded to some of the comments. In fact, I have gone as far as downloading twitter (not quite the techie I’m afraid) because apparently that is where all the conversations are happening. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I do not think I am well equipped to handle the speed at which conversations are had in a digital world where opinions, not citations, are the running currency. But alas! At least conversations are happening, right? And whether as active or passive participants, we are all participating, right?

Quite frankly as I write this, I still have no answer. Most of what I have are feelings and these feelings, I believe, are valid. Gender equality for me is as obvious as the fact that the sky is blue so you can only imagine my confusion to see that even this fact is up for debate. Don’t get me wrong, I am not naive enough to think that everyone supports gender equality, but at least such people don’t hide under the guise of critiquing the type of equality that should exist. Wole Soyinka in a recent conversation with Henry Gates Jr said “Either there is one humanity, or there isn’t.” This was in criticism of former President Barack Obama’s stances on the place of women in North Africa. So allow me to extend that argument here, “Either there is one form of gender equality or there is none.”

And perhaps, that is why I struggle with the idea of context for majority of them are ahistorical. For instance in Africa the term “Unafrican” or other aspects of African culture have been conveniently used to maintain a social order that systemically has women at the bottom and men at the top. This your Uncle will tell you is ‘how things are done’. This your Auntie will say “is how to not bring shame to your family.” Right here in these statements lies the assumption that there is an essence to African culture or what we assume to be “African-ness”. As if the term Africa as we now use it existed before the Berlin Conference of 1884. As if Africans went to formal schools 100 years ago. As if they spoke English or French or any other colonial language we now consider to be part of our hybrid culture. I could go on but I think you get the gist of it. Do we consider any of these aspects any less African in the contemporary age? If not, do tell who gets to decide what parts of our culture evolve and those that remain unchanging because I have a bone to pick with the Big Man!

This however is not to say that we (African) feminists are without fault. Neither is it to say that no constructive criticism should be pointed in our direction. We are not fragile dames as patriarchy (yes I used the buzzword) will have you believe. I am however skeptical about how this conversation can be fruitful online. The limits of having a feminist discourse limited to 144 characters even in the context of threads are increasingly worrisome. Online posts are simply not enough to have this complex conversation for a lot is lost in translation. This is especially relevant in light of all the controversy surrounding algorithms and the widening rift in ideology that extends outside the US and Europe. Of particular worry to me is our understanding of intersectionality within a concept termed as ‘interconnected systems of domination.” Within this system, some of the institutions that continue to perpetuate violence against us include: white supremacy, Christendom, heteronormativity, imperial capitalism and patriarchy. And while we as feminists are quite aware of some or all of these systems, it is difficult to chose what war to take up and at which cost. 

Case in point, Dr. Wandia Njoya in a recent Facebook post, termed the go-getter-contemporary-African-feminists as “lean-in feminists”. I speak for my self when I admit that this is for the most part true. I think in many ways the feminism we speak of is very much geared towards the market. We are caged in a system and we are keen to get ahead within it. For us, equality is about equal pay, having the ability to work, breaking glass ceilings and all that good stuff. And quite frankly there is nothing wrong with that. If you can’t beat them, join them (some wise person said). And is it not true that women in leadership do much better jobs at the same level than men. If you don’t believe me just look at New Zealand and yes Theresa May may prove an anti-thesis to this claim but oh well there is a reason statistics leave margins for error! But I derail. The point is that a lot of online feminist discourse is limited within the realms of progressive moves within capitalism, a system that has been maintained at the cost of black lives and a culture of accumulation by dispossession. If you don’t believe me, just look at how CEOs and other heads of multinational corporations are eager to show their support for the feminist agenda. They don’t care who does the work as long as the job gets done. So, if the enemy of your friend is your friend, what does that make you?

All in all, this is not to say that we should be pessisimists. Nor is it to silence our voices for what would the world be without contradications. Lucky for all of us, there is a space for more expansive visions of freedom. A freedom beyond the gender roles we agree to live within and those we choose to drop. A freedom for both men and women and all spectrums in between.  Feminism is not the end all be all agenda for humanity but it is a crucial part of it so rather than seeing criticism as proof for its irrelevance, it should be welcomed as a way to make contemporary feminism better, more radical and inclusive globally. Unfortunately given the current climate, this work will mostly be done by half of the world’s population and with western consumerist feminism taking up so much space, I as an African woman contend with the fact that I am largely in this alone. But take heart for we shall overcome, one tweet at a time… maybe.


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