International Women's Day.

We are well past the time when Abigail Adams had to write her husband—then president of the United States—reminding him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put much unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could…”

Things have remarkably improved since then, and more women have paved the way for the rest of us coming along. In the United States for instance, there have been several amendments to the constitution in favor of women. There has been the Title IX Amendment, a portion of the United States Education Amendment, which protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance equal education for women. There has also been Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of five categories, one of which is sex.

However, we are still very far away from the destination. Women are definitely still discriminated against, sometimes ostracized, and a lot of times seen as the less of both sexes. Unfortunately, in many countries, women are practically enslaved. In some developed countries, equality has been reduced—yes, reduced—to putting a few women in important positions, and leaving it at just that. We now have a female Attorney General, they say. Or we now have a female Minister of Petroleum. While that is a welcome development, it does not reduce the impact of denying a woman a job because of fear that she might someday decide to have children. It does not reduce the havoc that is wrecked when woman is objectified and made to believe that besides the extra tissues on her chest—breasts—and her backside, she really is nothing.

Now, we can debate about the women issues from here till eternity, but if we do nothing about it, it makes no sense. The most important fight in this battle is equality; that men and women are equal members of the society. Period.

On whether or not to be a feminist, here’s my answer: In the words of the legendary Maya Angelou, “I am a feminist. I have been a female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side.” I always used to wonder whether or not I was a feminist because I had seen that concept abused time and time again. But I have since realized that to say you aren’t a feminist would be to insult great women like Betty Friedan who fought endlessly for women. It would be to insult great women like Myra Bradwell, who when she denied admission to the Illinois state bar because she was a woman—even after passing the bar exams in flying colors—fought HARD that women be allowed to become whatever they so desired. I imagine that without Bradwell, many female attorneys today would have been, well you can guess. It would be insulting more legendary women like Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, whose courage I personally admire and marvel at. It would be to undermine our powerful mothers—some of whom had to raise their children alone, without the support of any man. So, in the words of another feminist I admire, Chimamanda Adichie, “We should all be feminists.”

Feminism is advocating the rights of women and/or supporting equality of women. Feminism is NOT hatred of men. Feminism does not in anyway disprove your desire for a husband or boyfriend. As far as I am concerned, feminism is the freedom to choose. It is when women are allowed to be whatever they want to be. It is freewill. Feminism is respecting the woman whose ultimate choice is to be a homemaker. Feminism is also respecting the other woman whose goal is to be the next Sheryl Sandberg, or the next Marissa Mayer, or the next Ngozi Okonji-Iweala. None of those choices trumps the other. As far as it is the woman’s choice, it is valid.

Therefore, let us accept the brightly burning torches that these great women have passed onto us and keep passing it on. Let us teach our daughters that playing victim is for the loser. Deciding to choose victory irrespective of what the society says of you is indeed the real victory. Let us teach those coming behind us that they are more than what the see in the mirror. What they see in the mirror is fabulous; it’s just that what they have inside—that beautiful mind—is even more amazing.

Here’s to great women; may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

Happy International Women’s day to all the wonderful women you and I have ever known, and most especially to my wonderful mother. I am, because you first were.


P.S: This post (or a variant of it) was first published on Bellanaija.

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