You are on page 1of 10

AFFIRMATION OF WOMANHOOD: A CHALLENGE TO FEMINISM By Isaiah Negedu, Moses Ogbadu & Michael Agba, Affirmation of Womanhood: A Challenge to Feminism

in Nnamdi Azikiwe Journal of Philosophy, vol. 3, J. Obi Oguejiofor (Ed. In Chief), (Awka: Nnamdi Azikiwe University, 2011), pp. 89-98. Abstract We live in a world that is in state of progression. Being in this state, things are also in the process of change; hence it is only in a dynamic world that our reason can be wellpatterned to meet the challenging issues we face. One of these issues posed by the dynamism of our age is the question of womanhood in search of affirmation. The issue of an affirmation of the female status suggests that they are customarily but unfortunately relegated to the second order position; in the first place they are humans, and one wonders then, what might warrant the apparent opposition of status with the male counterpart. One may be tempted to ask if the woman has attained a position of high standing in the society, much less to speak of a resounding affirmation of their place in the human family. The idea of a female or woman often times evokes what appears to be an antithesis of the male sex or manhood. Thus, the problem lies in the fact that there is a misguided knowledge that springs from the erosiveness of an unenlightened mind. It is our submission in this piece that the problems associated with the emotive characteristic that accompany the reactionary attitude of a particular group lie within the mental phase of a particular agent in question. Neither the entire male folk nor female folk is responsible for this plight. OUR PLIGHT It is no news any longer that the society in which we live does not favour the woman. The cry for the dignity of womanhood, the quest for regarding the woman in the society is an external manifestation of the trauma they have faced for ages. Most African societies and the Nigerian nation in particular have been of disfavour to this group. Many societies in Africa have treated the women folk as second-class citizens, subject to the domination of men.1 Thus, in some cultures, women are not to be seen, and where it is possible for them to be seen, they are not to be heard. Because they are often relegated to the second order position, they are always important only in terms of the function they serve. As such, a woman becomes a means to an end and never an end in itself. The woman in this sense does not only loose her dignity as a woman, but she becomes sub-human. It is this very nature of her loss of sense of womanhood that spurs reaction from that sex. What therefore was rightly theirs and was taken away by force is therefore to be regained by law and by force. It therefore impinges on the woman who is always the minority in most African traditional societies to seek for relevance before the law. Of course, this current situation of the decry of the dominance of the male over the female sex could not have been backed by our traditional, cultures, but by a law which affirms our humanity and

prices the human person over and above any other thing. We could say that they have suffered from the ravages of both neglect and hatred. What makes one human becomes a pertinent question at this stage. When looked at critically, we would discover that the value of the human agent is measured by his/her ability to reason or think. The faculty of thought therefore becomes the number one criteria to determine who/what the human person is. While on the other hand, female is a derivative of a Latin word femella, meaning woman, which is not actually related to the word male. It is therefore the sex of an organism which produces mobile ova. 2 When stressed further, this goes a long way to note that being a human person and a female or male are two distinct characteristics. While the former has to do with the sex of a person, the latter has to do with rationality. The question of sexism is therefore only contingent on the human nature. An impotent man cannot be described as sub-human, just as it is the case with a barren woman. One therefore ponders on the grounds for the denigration of the female folk. However, sexism is not without history. In the 19 th century, women were thought to be inferior because they had smaller brains. 3 This was considered as an impediment on their nature as human beings. Thus, their low level thinking relegated them to the second order position. But in some quarters of human endeavours, the reverse is the case today. Has the brain of the female folk suddenly developed or was there a scientific error in the past? If we assert that in some quarters of the economy, where women are positioned, they rise above their male counterpart in terms of intellectual capacity and commonsensical knowledge; then what will be the fate of the male folks? A denial of the fact that when given the same opportunity, the female folk could perform better in some aspects of lifes challenges, is either an escapist position or a feeling of inferiority complex accompanied by an attitude to always dominate others so as to hide ones weaknesses. On the other hand, if we affirm that the female has a smaller brain accompanied by their low level of knowledge acquisition, while also at the same time affirming that the male folk do not perform any better in some respect, would be a contradiction in terms. Gender conflict is man made because it is socially engineered. Thus, it has no inherent justification. It is a product of human senses arising out of the ego, fear of the unknown, like loss of self-esteem, love of power and prestige, and perpetual domination of the opposite sex by the male gender.4 In the midst of some existential involvement, we cannot run away from some basic truths amidst the dynamism of man. Thus, that the man is superior or that the woman is inferior or sub-human, or weak makes little or no meaning and is not a necessity for determining some core issues of concern. In any case, when we listen to the minds of people who cry out against gender inequality, we would note that there is a psychological undertone that is backed by reaction. The problem springs from the fact that there is also an attitude of inferiority complex that has its consequence on the basis that the female fold is less human. The decision to always react rashly to the question of gender inequality is ironically an affirmative action of inferiority complex. Thus, the more the reactions from the female folk, the more the affirmation of a mental inferiority state. On another hand, should we always rely on the idea that the woman is not regarded in the society at the detriment of the fact that they are

also regarded in other quarters of the society? Even in societies where it is said that they are not recognized, one would also think whether this plight of theirs is in all ramifications. Surely, the answer will not always be in the affirmative. We could always listen to a group beclouded by emotion, which is normal in many human agents when faced with such circumstance of disdain. A desire for objectivity would make a critical minded individual to induce from various cases and circumstances, that there is first an erosive knowledge of what the female quest entails with regards to the understanding of gender inequality and feminism. Feminism, like other concepts that are preoccupied with the isms of life is always detrimental to a people and its outcome is always one that ends in conflict instead of resolving a problematic situation. Thus, all isms always crash in error by excess as they struggle to establish exclusive relevance in any sector. Such is the case with intellectualism, psychologism, escapism, philosophism, economism,5 feminism and others. What underlies the quest of a feminist is that which seeks to justify the means with little or no regard for the end. This is evidenced in the fact that beneath the understanding of the concept of feminism is a reactionary attitude. This model, though with benefits to a particular group of people, could on the long run shatter a home, breed violence and hatred and it comes with many more evils. Feminists are mostly concerned with the fallouts of the law as it affects the woman, forgetting that she is imbued with some advantages over the man. As such when we hear views of people both in writing and speeches that the legal system does not tackle women related issues properly, we could at times excuse such thoughts based on the fact that beneath such ideas is an element of ignorance. One therefore is left to wonder if a farmer has all it takes to question the competence of a surgeon, that does not go a long way to always justify the deeds of all surgeons. The law for instance should be evaluated within the confines of the law itself and not outside it. The question of always wanting to prove that women could do better then men (and or course, this has been proved in practical existential involvements that some women could do better) is a wrong conception. In the first place, our lives as human beings should be lived wholly and actively. One who lives to prove a point is in the first place not existing, because to live is to exist. One who is therefore placed in the position of authority with the aim of proving to a people that he /she is capable, lacks professionalism and is in dare need of a genuine profession. We are persons; this is the starting point of any other agendum. The more the quest of feminism to prove a people that they are indeed better or could do better than the male folk, as some do, the less human they become. Thus, like the Cartesian circle, the very foundation on which lies feminism would be in need of revision as it returns in a vicious circle towards what it seeks freedom. The personhood of an individual is affirmed on the basis of a persons unconditional value as a unique, unrepeatable and sacred mystery of humanity. 6 The very meaning of sex is from the Latin verb secare, (to cut). It means that God, having made human nature, cut it in half, into male and female.7 Neither half can therefore be whole without co-union. Being persons come first, then being other-regarding follows. There is a male and a female component in every human personality. To be fully alive or individuated human beings both components must be brought into conscious harmony.8

As established in previous paragraphs, the fact that women often suffer violence and discrimination is undeniable; also, that many Nigerian cultures are promoters of this ill is evident. What may not be commonplace is the idea that we ought to emphasize common humanity of man, woman rather than the current impetus to demand excessively in the guise to secure a fair share; it can only destroy ultimately the very core of humanity. However, that many women who suffer discrimination accept it as part of their culture is also worth-noting. Hook though acknowledged that women are the group most victimized by sexist oppression, she also notes that all forms of group oppression, violence against women, is perpetuated both by institution, social structures, as well as by the victims themselves who are socialized to behave in ways that make them act in compliance with the status quo.9 SUGGESTIONS An issue of importance is; where lies the solution to this felt-difficulty? From popular opinions, one would come to the conclusion that women tend to seek for solution in antimasculine tendencies. Some would think that the inequality against women in the society do not originate in men but underneath the surface where social structure dwells. Also, some would want to trace the meaning of feminism to mean that it is a movement that blames man. It may be incorrect. It may be incorrect, but it is the most popular opinion. But if we may ask: where lies the thought of women fold in terms of this? Though it has not been called by its proper name, there is no doubt following antecedents and from probable premises, that feminism means anti-men. Though it ought not to be the ideal description ascribed to the concept, it is the evident situation in our day. As such, many women seek freedom from the clutches of mens egoistic quest to treat them as properties instead of persons. The domino effect is that even in established traditions where the position of women has been properly placed, there is always the tendency to react against an imagined discrimination. Thus, what a culture or tradition may uphold as security for the women, my be interpreted as men craft. Should we turn away from our cultural practices entirely because of the quest for identity? Discarding our cultures wholly would not be in accordance with custom which has moral basis. Thus, it becomes unethical. To the level where it is therefore not ethical, there is an element of injustice perpetrated against custom. As such, we replace an injustice (discrimination against women) with another form of injustice. The end in this case therefore justifies the means. But traditions are not meant to be ignored, but to be revised. For civilization through enlightenment does not come from the extinction of our traditional practices but from adequate understanding of them. This understanding emanates from the agent in question and should not be sought after in other external manifestations. For as long as women look outside of themselves to be empowered, that will never come to pass. For it is not in the very nature of power to empower the powerless. The powerless should struggle to acquire power. 10 And the question still prevails: in what ways should they struggle to acquire power? Should it be in the action of seizing power instead of waiting to be empowered as suggested by

Nnamani?11 Noting the popular clich; an eye for an eye will make everybody go blind. A return to this draconian measure would be irrelevant to the situation. For many women still, they would advocate a situation where instead of he women suffering the ills that are being meted to them, men who are guilty of the same offence should also receive the same treatment. Thus, an Igala woman who is being referred to as ajok (prostitute) or akunakuna (in Igbo perspective), would suggest that men should have a title that is at parallel with that of women. Even where such titles exist, it troubles their spirit as such concepts in the light of the male folk lacks relevance or prominence. When we go in this direction, we tend to miss the whole track of what women enlightenment/empowerment entails. For feminism is about equality, not anger. To involve oneself in the feminist movement is to search for a higher quality of life for all people. The misconceptions that commonly arise out of the lack of understanding of feminism can be and must be easily cleared away in order for the truth about feminism to surface. 12 An end in view that leaves one in perpetual bondage and rancor is not emancipation in the first place. The purpose of freedom is to liberate all peoples concern; this also becomes the quest for justice; that all may gain relief. A woman who is referred to as a thief by a man and solves the problem by attributing the same quality to the man has not soled the problem in the first place. It is only a product of lack of awareness. The directed resolution should always be geared towards relieving them of such attribute so that such persons should obtain their peace of mind. Women emancipation has to do with liberation from social, legal and political restriction with a view to uplifting those concerned. This also stands as the true definition of feminism; political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights.13 Viewed from another direction, being an off-shoot of a peoples tradition the issue of women domination and the low regard bestowed on them has cultural backing. But culture is dynamic and not static, it is learned and it is shared. Static traditions arising from the culture of a people is another contradiction in terms. Elements of culture are always under revision and no aspect of our cultures that does not need revision. That culture is being revised is not a sign of disregard but a sign of putting into action what the concept stands for. As such, the more dynamic a peoples culture is, the more prestigious it also ought to be. From the understanding of what male and female entails, we would conclude that the two are really one. No man can live entirely in a mans world and no woman can live wholly in a womans world; for such worlds in the prima facie do not exist. This is a utopian ideal that is only imagined but unrealizable in a material universe. Although, being a woman is a difficult task because it has to do with dealing with men, also being a man is not an easy task either as it has to do with women, the best woman is described despite this, as one who has somewhat of a mans strength and the noblest man of a womans gentleness.14 Both genders have been created to live together, work together, share thoughts and responsibilities together and to complement each others effort in all endeavours.15 What is the source of conflict knowing fully well that both parties need each other for the purpose of procreation? Sexual differences on the long run offer no yardstick for measuring gender superiority or inferiority. It is instead a sign that points to the mutual partnership between men and women at equal level since both equally need

each other for self propagation.16 What is of prime importance is the fact that they are human beings before they become women. When viewed from this perspective, one would come to the realization that all other qualities are contingent upon the nature of the human person. What therefore qualifies one to be a person is the attribute of the possession of rational soul. Among all physical agents, it is only the human being, be they male or female, that are imbued with such feature. It is also pertinent that this struggle against violence of women in any form is not just the task of women, men should and indeed do engage in it. Thus, feminist may not necessarily be women alone but men who stand against the injustices perpetrated against women.17 On the political scene, we cannot dwell on the fact that they are discriminated based ion the fact that they constitute sixty percent of the nations population and therefore constitute half of the nations electorate as it is claimed by Ajayi. 18 Even if we assume that they are more in population, it should be implied upon that they should cast their votes into electoral offices for their female colleagues. There is no question of discrimination implied upon the fact that they are not being voted. Some are also of the view that women constitute forty nine percent of the Nigerian population and that more than tow thirds of the countrys 70% adult non literate population. At the same time, the national assembly has an appalling low rate of 0.05% of women in both houses.19 As in the former case, it is not as though men are to blame for this. However, it is worthy to note that the 2006 census states that out of the one hundred and forty million people, men constitute 71.1 million, while women are 68.3 million in number. 20 Even with this vast population of women, how many engage themselves in electoral positions? In the presidential and gubernatorial race in Nigeria for instance, women cannot even account for one-third of those who parade themselves to be considered for these positions, much less of being voted into such offices. If the ratio of women to men who contest for electoral positions is less then 1:3, then it is not enough proof to cry out against oppression. When we also take a look at the position of the first lady in Nigerian politics, we discover that instead of enhancing the dignity of womanhood, the irony becomes the case in some respect. This position has become so exalted that there is official backing attached to it. It therefore becomes imperative for every government under the African condition and in particularly, the Nigerian situation to make do with a first lady. This goes a long way to affecting our psyche negatively towards the women. Thus, the office of the first lady would be vacant at the installment of a woman as a president. This means that becoming a president as a woman would be inconceivable in the first place since the office of the first lady is of prime importance. One however also goes to wonder how far and well this female flu of first ladism has gone a long way to impact positively in the condition of women. With or without the existence of such, it would make little or no meaning. It is my ardent opinion that most women who are in position of leadership have been elected or selected, not because they are women in the first place, but because they are qualified and suitable for such offices. Our quest should therefore not be the installment of more women in political offices, but getting distinguished people of honour who live by the title, be they male or female.

However still, to obtain equal rights with men, women must be respected by men, not merely desired to satisfy selfish appetites. To be respected, they must be respected in their own eyes too; they must exert power and be more useful. 21 This is because they also sometimes exaggerate their helplessness as they perceive that men generally cherish weakness in others. They express phobia for abstract thinking as it is referred to as unfeminine. They must exalt their imperfections as it has been clothed with the title of advantage instead of defects.22 Barmby still goes further to say that this does not mean that we should miss the mark that they are of different variety: woman and man are two in variety and one in equality. Their physical frames are as various as are the stems of the poplar and of the oak, but yet should the sun of equal right be alike shining upon them.23 The difference between men and women should serve to attract and respect the other sex in a reciprocal self-giving, not in a slave/master relationship. 24 It is our view that true feminism lies in this: a genuine confirmation, which involves affirmation of womanliness.

References Temisanren Ebiiuwa, Rethinking Womens Empowerment in Abortion Discourse in Africa, in Current Viewpoint. A Review of Culture and Society, vol. 2 nos 1&2, Olusegun Oladipo ed. (Ibadan: Hope Publications Ltd; 2000), p.35

Google search, Female,, retrieved on 13th February, 2009 I. Horowitz & K. Bordens, Social Psychology, (California: Mayfield Publishing Co; 1995), p.210

Moses Akin Makinde, African Philosophy: The Demise of a Controversy, (Ile-Ife: Obafemi Awolowo University Press Ltd; 2007), p.284

Maurice Izunwa, Inspired by Arithmetic: Modern Pentecostalism in Eclectic and Syncretic Perspectives in The New Religious Movements: Pentecostalism in Perspective, Amuluche Greg Nnamani ed. (Benin City: Ava Publishers, 2007), p.169

John Powell, The Secret of Staying in Love, (Texas: Thomas More Publishing Co; 1974), p.48 Ibid. p.50 Loc. Cit. p.51 Bell Hook, Social Perspective, retrieved on 13th February, 2009


Ayodele Ogundipe, Power in Gender Discourse in Critical Gender Discourse in Africa, Christopher Ukhun ed. (Ibadan: Hope Publication), p.43 11 Greg Nnamani, Gender Equality in the Church and in the Society: Our Obligation Towards Change in Gender Equality from a Christian Perspective, Rose Uchem ed. (Enugu: Ifendu Publications, 2005), p.21

Google search, retrieved on 12 February, 2009 Google search, retrieved on 12th February, 2009 Ms Mulock quoted in J. Maurus, A Source Book of Inspiration, (Mumbai: Better Yourself Books, 2001), p.362 Moses Akin Makinde, Op. cit. p.285





Anthony Iffen Umoren, Theological Basis of Gender Equality in Gender Equality from a Christian Perspective, Op. cit. pp. 61-62

Google search, Topics in Feminism, retrieved on 13 th February, 2009


Kunle Ajayi, Gender Self-Endangering: The Sexist Issue in Nigerian Politics, retrieved on 13th February, 2009

Google search, Women and Politics in Nigeria: Towards Participatory Democracy in Ogun State, Southwestern Nigeria,

Google search, Population in Nigeria, retrieved on 14th February, 2009


William Thompson & Anna Wheeler, quoted in Tony Benn, Writings on the Wall. A Radical and Socialist Anthology 1215-1984, (London: Faber &Faber, 1984), p.194

Irene Thompson & Anna Wheeler, quoted in Tony Benn, Writings on the Wall. A Radical and Socialist Anthology 12151984, (London: Faber & Faber, 1984), p. 194.

Barmby quoted in Tony Benn, Ibid. p.195


Joseph Ratzinger quoted in Regina Eya, Gender and Culture: What Needs to Change in the Society and in the Church in Gender Equality from a Christian Perspective, Op. cit. p.21