Feminists give men too much credit

Dr Sylvia Tamale

Dr Sylvia Tamale holding a copy of African Sexualities: A Reader

Dr Sylvia Tamale, Dean of Law at Makerere University believes that on a continent where there are more serious issues like governance to address – we have a big problem when a state preoccupies itself with dictating how we should have sex and with whom we have it. Dr Tamale was addressing a group of women that comprised of journalists, human rights activists, gender activists and feminists in a discussion on Sex, Gender and Sexuality hosted by GALZ recently.

Dr Tamale touched on sexualities and noted that people engaged in same sex relationships are widely castigated on the African continent. Some countries go as far as effectuating morals legislation that illegalizes such ‘Western’ practices. She highlighted that society has long dictated what is or isn’t normal despite sometimes the ‘freaks of nature’ that point out otherwise. She said that for instance, while one in seven babies are born with ambiguous genitalia worldwide; society goes out of its way to re-assign a sex for them to make them fit into one of those two neat little boxes of either male or female. Ironically, society then wonders why a lot of those kids grow up feeling trapped in the wrong bodies.

If a woman is in love with another woman; what business is it of yours? What does it take away from you, she challenged. Good questions.
Dr Tamale however also believes that there is a direct link between women’s sexuality and their subordinate positions in society. Men, she said, maintain dominance through reinforcing patriarchal societies in which they own and control resources, passing them on further to other men (sons). Through the capitalist system, they maintain patriarchy by subordinating women in the home where they are expected to provide cheap & unpaid for labour. The patriarchal state then maintains this arrangement through tools like the law, religion and culture to control women’s sexuality. For instance, it is not by accident that sellers of sex are called ‘prostitutes’ and persecuted, but the buyers of sex – who are mostly men, remain untouched. Or worse, she said that women’s clitorises (sic) have about 8000 pleasurable nerve endings while men’s organs have only half of that. How do the men in some societies seek to control that? By aiming straight at the heart and power of women’s sexuality and chopping the damn things off!

While I generally agree with Dr Tamale’s offerings, I believe that feminists give men too much credit. I know a lot of men who are surprised and feel honoured to be put on undeserved pedestals where they are made out as possessing such high levels of intelligence, calculation and connivance that have enabled them to sustain such a systematic conspiracy over decades.

Trying to establish the link in this ‘super conspiracy’ is hard, and can only be grist for academic discourse where it can be better digested. However, oppression of women comes on many fronts, including from fellow women themselves. Some women limit themselves, in their mindsets, and masquerading as victims of oppression – have remained entrenched in the hysteria of readymade reasons for all their failures – “because we are women!” With the advent of the 21st century came so many opportunities for women and success is out there for the taking. Whilst we pre-occupy ourselves with trying to dismantle men’s conspiracy theories both real and imagined, the opposite sex is busy developing themselves with productive occupation.

With people like Dr Tamale, feminism has become such a fundamentalism that it is small wonder why female human rights activists strain to dissociate themselves from this predatory dogma that sees nothing but evil in the opposite sex. She reminded so much of eccentric gender activism gladiators like Thoko Matshe and her infamous “I don’t do men, except in the bedroom” line.

Over the years, women have started to slowly take over the world and more and more, powerful women like Condoleeza Rice, Hilary Clinton, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and recently, Christine Lagarde have proven that anatomy has nothing to do with it. Hell, in Zimbabwe we have a ‘new phenomenon’ of women raping men.

But then again, if Tamale was referring to the ‘oppressed’ women in conservative rural areas; I cannot imagine that the woman down in Mutorashanga can even begin to understand or care that she is being systematically subjugated in order to sustain both patriarchy and capitalism; which begs the question, which women are we talking about?


3 thoughts on “Feminists give men too much credit

  1. I once asked a human rights organization why there are women’s rights and they seemed to suggest to me that women were historically disadvantaged. I am always thinking whether the things that men do advance society or this is what women are made to believe. Yeah, sometimes we need to think back and make what women have done historically appear as an advantage to both women & society. We may get new meaning & new definitions of sex & sexuality

  2. Well said my friend! And the pleasant surprise I derive from this post is that it echoes sentiments that I myself have been pondering over the past few months and that have necessitated my withdrawal from cyber space so that I adequately evaluate what the hell it is that feminism can possibly give me now that I feel I have gotten the attention that branding myself as one has afforded me….now what? Now that I have the ears of the world and global audience what do I wish to say?
    I wrote extensively about it last night, haven’t posted it on my blog and I’m still engaging myself on what it is I wish to pursue and what price I am prepared to pay to attain it.
    The refreshing thing about growing up is that we begin to outgrow even the ideologies we once thought define us and sometimes we begin to define them.
    I think this is where I am in my journey….feminism is no longer an accurate, fitting or even satisfactory expression of who I am and I must either discard it or being to redefine it in my own terms….
    It makes for a daunting task but for some of us who live constantly staring at the mirrors of our conscience… we must always be forced to question our assumptions and to scrutinize our stances and to challenge even our own prejudices.

    Are women really as week, defenseless and blameless as we have tended to believe?

    Thought-provoking my dear! You have done justice to a topic that I myself, am wrestling with.


    • I am not femiphobic and actually think women’s rights to a certain extent still need gladiators, just like all other rights. What I think needs to happen is a re-definition and shift from that – as you say – weak, defenseless and blameless bracket that women are constantly being relegated to. I have not liked to be branded a feminist simply because of the way it has been meaninglessly dogmatised in anti-opression claptrap. But where more practical issues like maternal health and MEANINGFUL political representation are concerned, we stand together as womenfolk,

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