Mattress: The cries of captured women in their enslaver’s house
"Bokùnrin réjo bobìnrin pa á, kéjo má sa ti lo" (If a man sees a snake and a woman kills it, what matters is the death of the snake). -Yoruba proverb
"Tokotobo lo n sise oko Ido." (Both the vagina and the penis should work together for success on Idos farm) -Yoruba proverb
"Nwa-agbogho Ugwuta si nne ya na otu nwoke ka ya na-agara onwe ya, o wee tuburu ya raa. Nne ya wee si ya gaa rakwuru. O gaa, a rachie ya ozo." (An Ugwuta (Oguta) girl told her mother that as she was going on her way,a man came and thew her down and sexed her. Her mother told her to go and retaliate. She went, and was sexed again.) -Igbo proverb
"Anaghi atu ikpu ukwu egwu maka na o bughi ya gaara ownwe ya." (One cannot be afraid of the wide vagina because it cannot sex itself). -Igbo Proverb
“The African woman seems to have achieved that economic independence for which our women are clamoring”. -Mary French-Sheldon
Feminism and its short comings have already been explored by people such as Esther Vilar and Jack Kammer. This paper will not continue on that journey because beating on a dead horse is not our interest; however this paper will explore the oxymoron known as “black feminism”. This paper will highlight some myopic tendencies of the “black feminist” movement. It will also shed light on black heroines of the past who had no need for any sort of feminism and it will hopefully give black women the tools needed to create a true movement based on their history.
Many African women especially those in America (where the headquarters of black feminism seems to be located) are under the false oppression that they are oppressed by all of society and at the head of this oppression gang are black men. Let us not forget that in America more African women attend college and university than African men do. (link here), the fact still remains that African men die on average much earlier than African women. (link here), and African women not only earn more income compared to African men, (link here). They are more likely to be employed than African men (even in this “recession”) (link here). So it is very confusing that African women would identify with such a movement.
To label one a Black “feminist” is detrimental towards history. Because by calling themselves feminists legitimate concerns especially those regarding “race” get usurped by gender issues that black women cant possibly face from their economically powerless African men. When Fela Kuti called his music “Afrobeat” he was following the ancient African custom of placing importance on names. He could have simply called his music “Afrofunkjazz” but by doing such he would have ended up as a footnote in jazz’s or Funk’s history. Such is the fate of black feminists who will inevitably become footnotes in the history of the feminist movement.
African women do however need a movement to educate their black men and sons of their historical importance and power that they wielded before all the isms of Europe. Take for example the issue of sexism within the black panthers movement, most of the women were only allowed cooking and clerical roles. Many of the men were probably ignorant of the fact that African women historically shared the burden of the battle field with their men, the Candace’s of Ethiopia, the aba women of 1912 and the Amazons of dahomey are fine examples of black women wanting to be more than baby pushers and meal makers unlike their European counterparts whose only example of battlefield prowess (Joan of arc) was burned.
Historically speaking African women had no need for “ feminism” women such as Queen Nanny of Jamaica, and Queen Nzingha of Angola would more than likely laugh at modern day African women who are hell bent on copying the supposed “patriarchy”, (Chinweizu has already shown the matriarchy that it truly is in his book titled “ The anatomy of female power) how is it that black women who historically controlled the marketplace( they still do in America if one is to look at the fact that more African women work than African men) ever faced gender oppression from black men. Bell Hooks in many of her analyses has shown us that capitalism and “patriarchy” go hand in hand. My question is how can African men can be patriarchal when they have no capital to accumulate and they are more likely to be in jail than in school, (watch here) .Many black feminists should realize that the oppression they do face is not because of their gender but because of their race. The book “White Women’s Rights” by Louise Michelle Newman goes to great lengths in proving this point. Below is a discourse between Ida B Wells and white feminist Frances Willard found in her book.
The confrontation between Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells began with an interview
given in October 1890, in which Willard expressed her belief that white Southerners
were mostly “kindly intentioned towards the coloured man” and sympathized
with them over their “immeasurable” problem. She went on to portray black men as
illiterate alcoholics who multiplied like the “locusts of Egypt,” concurring that in the
South, black men represented a physical threat to white women, who were in constant
need of white men’s surveillance and protection: “the safety of [the white]
woman, of childhood, of the home,” Willard proclaimed, “is menaced in a thousand
localities at this moment, so that the [white] men dare not go beyond the sight of their
These pronouncements outraged Wells, and she exposed these depictions as racist
myths in her pamphlet Southern Horrors. Wells argued that accusations concerning black
men’s lack of sexual control were used to cover up the fact that interracial sexual liaisons
between black men and white women were voluntarily engaged in by white
“The miscegenation laws of the South . . . leave the white man free to seduce all
the colored girls he can, but it is death to the colored man who yields to the force and
advances of a similar attraction in white women. White men lynch the offending Afro-
American, not because he is a despoiler of virtue, but because he succumbs to the
smiles of white women.”50
Willard took great offense at this representation of the moral character of white
women, and attacked Wells for casting doubt on the racial-sexual purity of white
women. “It is my firm belief,” Willard wrote, “that in the statements made by Miss
Wells concerning white women having taken the initiative in nameless acts between
the races, she has put an imputation upon [the female] half of the white race . . .
that is unjust.” Wells, in turn, objected to this misrepresentation of her position, and
pointed out that she never put such an imputation on white women. All she had said
was that “colored men have been lynched for assault upon [white] women, when the
facts were plain that the relationship between the victim lynched and the alleged victim
of his assault was voluntary, clandestine, and illicit.”(1999, p.68-69) [from the book- White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States by Louise Michele Newman]
Why did Mrs. Wells not instantly jump on the bandwagon of gender? Why are more African women not taking her example even though in America your black sons are more likely to be in jail than white men, your black babies die more than white babies (here) such inadequacies will never be looked at because by joining the gender binaries of Europeans your pressing issues take a back seat.
The more black women copy the colonial economic system of the Europeans the more they will need feminism, the more they will see cultural practices such as polygamy as oppressive, because most African cultural customs are only oppressive when practiced under colonial and capitalist domination. Mary French-Sheldon an early feminist and traveler had this to say of African polygamy:
“A man accumulates more land or more cattle than his first wife can attend; he purchases
another wife, and so on. The wives are far from being jealous of each other; in
truth are delighted to welcome a new wife, and make great preparations for her. Each
wife has her own hut. . . . She has control of her own plantations, and has the
supreme right to her children. Her moral standard is exactly the same as her husband’s.”
The fact that a “feminist” could see it as a system that helped to alleviate housework and increase female autonomy and power is a testament to the myopia affecting black feminists. This same well traveled feminist even went ahead to state that she was never treated with more chivalry anywhere in the world than by the “oppressive sexist African man”
In summation the ancient Africans understood there is significance in a name and the fact that my African women have decided to name themselves after their oppressor’s movement is a problem. I hope they can use this paper to distance themselves from a movement that is nothing more than colonialism by feminine means and be motivated to create a new female movement based on African history and reality. We African men are not supposed to speak for women but we speak of them (as an elder reminded me) however as their son and brother I cannot help to see my mothers and sisters being misled into adopting a misguided system and not speaking up on it or as Fela speaks to African women in this song (here).
"Emphasizing paradigms of domination that call attention to woman;s capacity to dominate is one way to deconstruct and challenge the simplistic notion that man is the enemy, woman the victim; the notion that men have always been the oppressors. such thinking enables us to examine our role as women in the perpetuation and maintenance of systems of domination. to understand domination, we must understand that our capacity as women and men to be either dominated or dominating is a point of connection, of commonality. ...i understand that in many places of the world oppressed and oppressor share the same color. i understand that right here in this room, oppressed and oppressor share the same gender. ...it is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist-the potential victim within that we must rescue-otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation."i would agree or at least respect the stance my friend has for wanting to get back to our traditional societies. i think looking towards African, Native American, Indian, Aboriginal, and Asian traditions concerning gender could be a positive force in the movement (or at least examining the relationships from a feminist perspective).
also, this whole idea that feminists are somehow choosing gender over race is a farce and just another example of mis-education concerning black feminism. we are not and have never aimed to choose gender over race or race over gender. i think one of the most important discourses in colored feminist circles is understanding that these two dichotomies intersect at our being; we live at the intersections of these two struggles. i am who i am and have experienced the things i have experiences because i am a black woman; i am a woman that is black. there is no separation of that. my relation to white women is different to the black man's relation to them; my relation and history with white men has been different than that experienced by black men; my ideals of womanhood, historically and currently, have been in relation to black men-my life has been a perspective and the experience of the intersection of those two dichotomies; the combination of the two. not one or the other. so questions concerning why i'm aligning myself with white women comes only from people who have not truly examined the intersections of various struggles. the same applies to gay black males who experience different kinds of oppression based on their sexuality AND their race. or Muslim women who experience oppression based on their gender AND their religion (in the US). these are all unique points of view whose respective struggles cannot be distinguished.
in any case, i think that feminism is a strong force that has the power to change our society for the better. no other movement is aiming to tackle all forms of oppression and domination at the same time. and i think people in colored communities should look to open more dialogues with each other concerning how our men and women interact; how women interact with each other; how men communicate with other males; how our stereotypes, preferences, and beliefs concerning sexuality, domination, and love have affected our communities and how it can repair them.
comment. think. criticize.