March is women’s history month. It is a time to both commemorate the contributions of women in American society while also recognizing the bleak history of women who adopted feminist beliefs to liberate themselves from patriarchy. Feminism in practice today is interpreted in many ways. Some believe it to teach women to chase a career before all else. Other individuals have interpreted feminism to mean that men have become obsolete and that women should reject every aspect of femininity. As I reflect on my own upbringing as a Nigerian woman in this country, I face a continuous internal battle of two identities.
I grew up with a Nigerian mother who I watched serve my father throughout my entire childhood. She would cook him these elaborate dinners every night and would even bring a bucket of water to the table for him to wash his hands before and after he ate, that way my father would never have to get up. She washed his laundry, cared for the children, and cleaned the house. Mom would never have defined her place as oppressive.
Growing up in America has taught me to be career focused. I support women’s rights to have abortions. I demand equal pay. I can logically identify the gaps in society’s gender inequality. But I cannot deny that my traditional values are core to who I am. I find joy in taking care of my partner in many of the ways in which I watched my mother do for my father. The similarities between my mother and I have become more evident as I grow. However, I hide this natural part of who I am from others for fear of judgment. I fear that others might feel that I have been poorly conditioned and am a disgrace to women everywhere. But I don’t feel any of that. Service to others is core to who I am, so why then is it wrong for me to share that nature with my partner who is deserving?
In my opinion, feminism is about choices. Oppression is the opposite of choice. If we choose to be this way, what is the problem? I can believe that women are equal to men in society while personally wanting to uphold my traditional values. The beauty is that I can do so, while appreciating the other feminist women in the room who don’t adhere to the same ideals. Both types of women should be able to thrive today without there being a power struggle. The many interpretations of feminism have caused the movement to lose much of its support from women like me who question if there is still room for the “traditional” woman.
We must remove the notion that there is a superior way to be a feminist. Regardless of how you project yourself as a feminist, the movement has one overarching meaning expressed eloquently by my Nigerian sister, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her speech “We should all be feminist:” “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, economic equality of the sexes.” The sooner we realize that feminism isn’t reserved for just one type of individual, the greater momentum the movement will take on. It doesn’t matter if you are a CEO, stay at home mother, trophy wife, prolife or prochoice – you too can be a feminist.