Kenny: Feminism & New York

SHES BEAUTIFUL

After having recently returned to London from an internship in New York, at one of the largest law firms in the world, I was left feeling empowered. I confess to being fully bitten by the American dream bug. The palpable atmosphere of passion and determination to succeed, from the streets to the suburbs was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Living and working in the Big Apple was an immense, thoroughly enriching and life changing experience.

The night before my trip, I was still looking for a book to take with me. Having re-read Christopher Stoakes best seller Know The City (a must read for would be lawyers and those seeking a career in the City of London) I was determined to find an equally stimulating read. I meandered into my sister’s room, frantically filtering through her library of books, for fear of being found. My search produced two finds: Americanah by Chimamnda Adichie and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I decided against Americanah on the grounds that I didn’t want to be transported to a new experience within a new experience. After all, I’ve found that a great fiction book can have the effect of making you to feel instantly transported to a completely different world. I figured that on this occasion under the bright lights of Times Square, I wouldn’t need the aid of my over active imagination. With that, Lean In emerged as the winner and I carefully placed Americanah back onto my sister’s shelf.

nyc

The first few pages of Lean In challenged and perplexed me in equal measure. I should begin by stating that it is perhaps counter-productive to attempt to dissect the entirety of the book within a few short paragraphs. Thus, my role will be to act as a somewhat quasi-reporter, whose job is simply to ask questions which facilitate wider debate – rather than to proffer answers.

Reading Lean In offered me an insight into Sheryl Sandberg’s world view. Early on, she points out that “We cannot change what we are unaware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change”. She then highlights the definition of a feminist as someone who believes in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.” An extremely coherent definition in any standard. The immediate question this raises is then, Why does the term ‘feminism’ auger such extreme feelings amongst many men and women?’

Sheryl suggests that the vast majority of women are indeed feminists and that refusal to accept this status stems from a fear of being tarred with the brush of being an extremist –an outsider. To remedy this, Sheryl implores for more practical conversations about gender equality. Awareness is important. When Yahoo’s CEO Mayer announced she was to take just 14 days of maternity leave, rather than squirm over the news I carefully read the facts with interest. I was also a keen observer when Laura Wade of M&S announced that she intended on taking the full 4 months available. There’s a clear disparity between 14 days and 4 months. What issue does this pose for women in work everywhere? Simply being aware of the often covert inequalities prevalent in the work place and society at large is a great start. Making a difference is the next step.

wendy-luhabe

Closer to home, reading Lean In caused me to reflect on the current state of affairs in Nigeria and indeed Africa at large. The question which sprang to my mind was; How high is gender equality on the agenda of political parties in African nations?

Upon my return from New York, an uncle from church gave me a lift home after the service and I seized the opportunity to begin my personal market research.

He asked about my family; “I heard your sis has just graduated from medical school, well done! My wife here is a medical doctor too” – his wife turned back to smile. He then asked, “Was it you or your brother who just received a graduate role at Barclays?” I answered ‘My brother’. Then, with an almost semi-disappointed look on his face he then proceeded to ask “So YOU, what are you studying?” When I responded with ‘Law’, his wide grin had returned. “Ehn?? A doctor, a banker and a lawyer…praise God!”

I then asked him more directly about his thoughts on gender equality in Nigeria at which point he belted out the loudest hysterical laugh I think I’ve ever heard. It must have lasted five minutes because I remember waiting for him to finish just so I could ask him more questions. He turned around as if to judge the seriousness of my question by my facial expression before proceeding to laugh even more, this time uncontrollably with tears streaming down his cheeks. He then began to cough, signalling his laughter was coming to an end before pronouncing a few words I will never forget: “In Nigeria, we don’t even have equality and you want to talk to me about gender equality?”

The sad truth is that I couldn’t answer his question. Rather I was left frustrated. Particularly as I was aware of the harsh truth. The continent of Africa is still crying out for basic levels of equality. However, I disagree with the sentiment that we shouldn’t begin to speak out about gender equality. Culture along with many of factors play an important role in shaping our views of both men and women. Ultimately, I agree with Sheryl’s sentiment when speaking about her relationship with her late husband, Dave Goldberg: “We are never at 50-50 at any given moment — perfect equality is hard to define or sustain — but we allow the pendulum to swing back and forth between us,”

What are your thoughts and experiences on feminism & gender equality? Let us know in the comments section below.

Kenny GB

Advertisements


Categories: BLOG, Join the Discussion

Tags: , , ,

15 replies

  1. Great read! Had me cracking up and pondering my life at points… That’s the response we get but you’re absolutely right we shouldn’t concede to that sentiment. The man has a point though, with rights and equality we do need to build from the ground up.

    In the west, we literally built from ground zero. The church previously had a big say in gender roles. Then the church got displaced during the enlightenment period and dignity/human rights became the foundation for values such as equality.

    As you know, Africa as a continent is a completely different playing field. Where do we start there? (Food for thought)

    Like

  2. Your uncles laugh reflects the level of work to be done to help our beautiful nation.
    An amazing piece, very close to my heart.

    Like

  3. Thanks for sharing Kenny. You use your words well.

    Lol at you frantically filtering through your sister’s library for fear of being found!

    14 days maternity leave? That actually made me laugh out loud who does that?👀

    Lol @ the convo you had with your uncle in the car!!! Beautiful answer!
    “In Nigeria, we don’t even have equality and you want to talk to me about gender equality?”
    But good point made that we should still talk about gender equality regardless.

    Overall a good read👍

    Like

  4. I’m not really into feminism (😐😤) but this was an interesting read… I personally feel that Africa, as a continent has a long way to go before it can reach gender equality (at 50%/50%) only because of traditions and cultures that he been passed down through generations that basically teach that ‘men’ are superior to women in every aspect of life and kind of hard to change that mentality in this day and age.

    Like

  5. This is a good read. I like how you manage to integr8 Nigeria into the topic of feminism, talk about it from a male and personal perspective and not go on too much so that anyone who doesn’t really care for the topic of feminism (✋🏽 lol) will still read to the end and think about it for a moment and for themselves rather than being told what to think. Thank you

    Like

  6. This was such a beautifully written article, thoughtful, absolutely hilarious and poignantly put from a male perspective which is so refreshing. As a woman who isn’t a feminist I would say I’m not afraid of being tarred with an extremist label. In my humble opinion the feminist movement isn’t extreme enough. Essentially feminism is: I want to get paid the same as men for doing the same as men in high heels. My thing is why cant I get paid the same as men for doing something completely different to men in part to do with the fact that I wear high heels. In my utopia Feminism would be about chasing Womanhood and we would find value in and compensate those things women could do that men couldn’t, but sadly and in actuality Feminism has become about chasing the male $$$$$$ and if you have to be a man to do it, then woman be man. Also as your article so perfectly pointed out Feminism is inherently Euro centric and totally negates non white women not only in Nigera but all over the world. When we talk about equal rates of pay amongst women note, black women are not paid the same as white women. Serena Williams would be a good example of that. In the end your ending quote is so right…its a 50/50 thing…..
    See your article just got me thinking!!!!!!!! More please!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  7. Hi! I met you today on the way to my library – with a friend (who continued to walk with you). I’m really pleased by this post – it’s interesting and reveals a basic issue that is faced within Nigeria in the face of feminism. The belief that we cannot put gender equality under the same umbrella as “basic equality” is quite baffling to me. Are we supposed to wait for men to be equal to other men before we start to address the issues women in particular face, that in particular actually increase the poverty levels in Nigeria. Start with education – particularly in northern nigeria young girls are not sent to school, leaving half the population out of the work force, reducing the nations subsequent productivity. Asides from that, they have kids who cannot benefit from their lack of education, which STILL goes on to stifle productivity. It’s a vicious cycle, and I could not disagree anymore with your uncle when he says just focus on equality as though it does not encompass everything in life itself.

    Like

  8. This is so weird I just started re-reading Lean in today, one of my favourite books. Gender equality in Africa is also another topic that I’m passionate about so this is probably a biased view, but excellent read. I liked how you were able to balance humour (story of your uncle) with the seriousness of the topic. Funnily enough my sister just graduated as a doctor so I know the feeling. I really like how you interpreted Lean In. I think the book is usually looked at from a Western perspective so it’s refreshing to see how the issues mentioned are intertwined with cultural barriers. I have quite a short attention span so usually when I see an article that has more than 2/3 paragraphs I switch off, so it’s a good sign that I read the whole thing lol. Maybe next time it would be good to have a few facts about the current state in Nigeria, that would strengthen your premise. If you have more space next time it might also be good to focus on one issue i.e. the social construction of male and female professions, but overall it’s a great introduction to the general issues and invites the readers to develop an awareness of what is going on around them.

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. International Women’s day: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality – Integr8.Africa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: