You Might Be Called \’Angry\’ but You Should be a Feminist Anyway.

A few days ago, I had one of those encounters that \’blow you away\’,  that make you take a good look at yourself  in the metaphorical mirror and question your previously-held self-image.

In the middle of an argument that was civil but nevertheless tension-laden, a relative commented that as a feminist, or as a \’ye\’set mebt tekerakari\’ as she put it, her friends have questioned the kind of of wife I must be. Apparently, women like me are \’angry\’ at men and must make difficult marriage partners.

I have always had a good image of myself and while I obviously have my faults, I had assumed that I was a good \’catch\’. I\’m well-educated, polite and respectful. My friends say I\’m warm and funny. I\’m also caring and generous.  I am a good mother. Having assumed that my personal traits would make me an attractive partner even by the standards of our judgmental society, imagine my surprise at learning that what I do for a living, my passion and purpose are deemed liabilities, at least by some people – some women, I should specify.

Mind you, these people haven\’t even seen me in action. Let\’s face it, we are hardly in the middle of a feminist (or any kind of) revolution here in infrastructure-crazy Ethiopia. My detractors haven\’t seen me participate in demonstrations for reproductive rights which were a favorite, cheap pastime in my student days in a more engaged society. They have probably never heard of the Vagina Monologues.

I have always been careful to not offend sensibilities, and in fact, it\’s only recently and with the example set by MY women of excellence such as Billene Seyoum that I have come out as the feminist I\’ve always been.

Therefore, it would appear that it\’s the relatively mild and as a leading feminist academic from the US recently put it to me, the technocratic work of gender equality work that I do that is deemed \’angry.\’ The research into violence against women and girls I conduct for academic purposes and as paid work, the trainings for professional groups, the occasional article and blog, and I\’m hazarding a guess here, but even my involvement within an inclusive organization such as AWIB that are regarded as the subversive engagements of a man-hating activist.

I obviously don\’t hate men and I\’m blessed to have in my life wonderful men who know that women and men are equal or that they should be. I have a good, strong marriage full of compromise and respect. For the last three years, I have taken on the  undecidedly – un-feminist role of a full-time mom, a decision that hasn\’t been popular among my feminist MALE friends who have argued that my decision contradicts my feminist purpose of advancing women\’s contributions.

I would present these defenses to the women who questioned my qualities as a wife if I were told them in person, and to her credit, my relative said them on my behalf, but that is hardly the point. The characterization of feminists as \’angry\’ is not a personal attack but it is a common misperception that bothers me. Few things sadden me more than women who are afraid of the activism to advance their own cause. While I understand and have encountered plenty of hesitancy by men who after all stand to lose out on supremacy (in exchange for the win-win solution of equality), I cannot excuse women who are against the activism that is necessary if we are ever to bring about equality.

Now I realize the fine distinction between labeling a feminist as \’angry\’ and \’man-hating\’, which happens all over the world, and being opposed to gender-equality. However, it is highly unlikely that those women who label us are in the trenches with us.

I want to reach out to those women. If you\’re a woman reading this and you\’re under the false impression that gender equality is not your question, I invite you to review the facts as they play out in YOUR life.  If you\’ve ever been passed over for a promotion over a male colleague, then this is your struggle too. If you\’ve found that women\’s \’triple work\’ of home care, paid work and social responsibilities have pulled you back, then you know what I am talking about. If you\’ve ever encountered harassment on the streets or in the work-place or wondered at the increasingly horrific reports of gender-based violence in our cities, then our activism is your activism.

I know not every woman can be as passionate about equality as I am. But in the words of my favorite singer-songwriter Ani diFranco, \’\’why can\’t all decent men and women call themselves feminists?\’\’ Meaning as feminism does, beyond a belief in equality, an actual commitment to realizing it.

Committing to advance ourselves as women doesn\’t require quitting one\’s day job to volunteer for EWLA or NEWA but it does require opening our eyes to gender bias and discrimination. It means finding the courage to call out a male boss who treats us differently from male colleagues and it means sincerity in helping other women get ahead. It consists of Serto Masayet and relying on ourselves to park in that tight corner or configure our own mobiles. It means not looking away when we encounter violence against other women and girls (and against boys) or as often happens, not assuming that they must have \’asked for it.\’

At the very least, it means refraining from labeling as \’angry\’ those of us who are trying to do something about the great injustice that is inequality.