A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 5: Sister Sister Outsider

I found Yemisi’s choice of title cynical. Audre Lorde’s collection of essays titled ‘Sister Outsider’ explores alienation, isolation, fear, anger, hatred and ‘the lack of acknowledgement of differences between women that has occurred within the mainstream feminist movement.’

Lorde writes about her experience of exclusion as a black gay woman within mainstream (mostly white middle class) American feminism. Yet she did not reject feminism or the label feminist as result. Instead she is ‘claiming a difficult identity’ and asks to be heard and respected, for her point of view and experience to be recognised.

Is that what Yemisi is asking for too? She is after all not attacking feminism but ‘New Nigerian Feminism’ or ‘pop culture feminism’, the shiny bright feminism of Beyonce and Adichie that has apparently attracted thousands maybe ten of thousands maybe millions of devotees in Nigeria and globally.

But pop culture feminism is neither ideologically nor politically the same with theoretical feminisms. And while the later can and should feed off the energy of the former to achieve strategic gains against the patriarchy it cannot and should not expect or hold these pop culture feminists to the highest standards of feminist principles.

At every Nigerian Feminist Forum NFF and other local feminists gatherings women have disagreed and continue to disagree over support for LGBTQ. Yet the African Feminist Charter to which the Nigerian Feminist Forum and all its members are signatories makes clear that our definitions of feminisms includes respect and support for the rights of LGBTQ.

We rigorously debated and agreed that in order to identify as a feminist our members must support the rights of all people and as well as women to sexual integrity. Many Nigeria women and women’s organisations that wanted to be called ‘feminists’ walked away rather than express covert or overt support for LGBTQ rights. And we let them go.

They are not ‘feminist’ according to our definition but feminism isn’t mainstream in Nigeria, not yet. Feminism in Nigeria is one stakeholder in a vast body of activist women that is the larger Nigeria Women’s Movement.

A lot of the leaders in the women’s movement in Nigeria are feminists – like Iheoma Obibi at Alliances for Africa and Bisi Adeleye Fayemi at the African Women’s Development Fund but many of them are not and yet work with and for women as Zoe Williams describes here.  Likewise being a woman in power doesn’t make one a feminist.

“It takes courage to face your fears, your anger and your hatred” Audre Lorde writes in the essay “The Transformation Of Silence Into Language And Action.”

Lorde wrote women ‘shared a war against the tyrannies of silence’. Shaken by a confrontation with death Audre Lorde decided to speak out and act because, she says ‘you’re going to suffer and die sooner or later anyway. You’re silence won’t save you as a matter of fact it could kill you.’

Yemisi has named that thing she fears – and it is female power. She will not be silenced.

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