More to unlearn on the road to real feminism

Image: 123RF/arloo

Do you remember the first time you heard the word, or of the concept of, feminism? I don't. I know my feelings around that time, but not exactly when that was.

What I remember is that my first perception of what the movement is, was that it was for women who didn't enjoy consuming with their eyes, or otherwise, the distinguishing appendage of the male anatomy. While I had no understanding of why that would be, I knew for certain it wasn't for me.

Years later, I would find it again, this time receiving it for what it truly is, a movement whose mission is rooted in achieving equal rights for women.

Rights are many and varied, but urgent on the list for me is the equal right for women to walk in the street freely; economic freedom and freedom to choose what happens to their bodies.

Today, I am proud to call myself a feminist, one that still has a lot of learning and unlearning to do, but proud and eager nonetheless. The fall of patriarchy may not be a thing that we get to witness in this lifetime, but our daughters will have less of a fight because of what we started. A few years ago in a conversation about this, my stepmother said to me, "we are the generation that let you down". So our fight isn't just for our daughters; it is for our mothers.

The learning element of this journey isn't all together that hard, it's the unlearning that is problematic. Fighting for equality means working against everything about the patriarchal system.

Allow me to illustrate my point.

I went to a friend's house for a braai last week, where my boyfriend later came to drop off some things for me. As he was leaving, he came face to face with my friend's dog. I had no idea until that moment that he was scared of dogs; I had thought the opposite.

The dog let out a little bark which I would not have paid attention to had it not been for the scene that unfolded after. In a spilt second following that growl, my boyfriend jumped and tucked himself behind me so swiftly that he, and not the dog, gave me a fright.

At first I was a upset. Why would he want me to be in harm's way? Later, when we spoke about it, I had to confront myself and my reaction against my feminism. And this is where unlearning comes in, to unlearn that men are supposed to be stronger and fearless is a fallacy.

It is as much nonsense as to expect the man in a relationship to be taller, or to have more money, and placing the responsibility in the man's hands. If we are to be equal, we ought to complement each other, and be strong where the other is weak.

So while I can't gift my boyfriend a dog for our anniversary, I vow to protect him from dogs for as long as we are together.

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