#3: Musings on Kenyan Feminism(s)

Our third prompt comes from Winnie. She asks:

What does Kenya feminism offline & online look like now after your 10 years of being on the internet?

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Winnie,

I first identified as feminist at 15, when I was in Form 3. I always knew that the prescribed role(s) and spaces for women in society were too small for me. They were constricting; suffocating even. I was a problem girl (who has grown into a problem woman) and as soon as I learned of the word feminism, I said: aha! That is exactly what I am – a feminist. A person who holds this radical idea that women are people too, and they deserve to live out their lives in full, as they choose.

It goes without saying that finding radical feminism at age 15 does not bode well for a high school student in Kenya, so I was always in trouble. I did a lot of punishments because I just could not conform. I got online properly at 16, when I went to uni. Before that all I had was a Yahoo email address, but at 16, I joined Facebook, MySpace, Tagged, Hi5 and all other social networks that existed at the time. However, I came into online feminism in 2009 when I got on Twitter. That space was magical. I could not believe it was possible to meet so many interesting Kenyans online, and even organize tweet-ups offline (back then it was safe to do so.)

I was lucky to meet a small group of Kenyan women with whom I fought great battles on Twitter between 2010 and 2014 (shout out to you, ladies, you know yourselves), before identifying as feminist online was something one could do without daily attacks from men and patriarchal women. We wrote essays, started hashtags, and normalized the fact that women could occupy space online however they wanted. I even co-published a book of essays on Kenyan feminisms to which the sisters (and male allies) referenced above contributed. It was a grand time. At this time, my knowledge on feminism grew exponentially. I could not get enough of books, essays, hashtags and podcasts by feminists.

To me, this was the time when feminist thought in Kenya became mainstream. Resources were accessible, feminists organized meetups offline to share and discuss their thoughts on feminism, and the community of young feminists in Kenya solidified and grew. It was also a time of great tribulation. We continued to be attacked daily, and our mentions on Twitter were constantly a mess. Between 2015 and 2016, however, something beautiful happened. Many of the women who used to attack us began to see that the patriarchy they so keenly defended was harmful to them, and slowly, more of them began to espouse feminist thought. Some even began to identify as feminist.

Slowly, the feminist conversation changed from trying to convince men about feminism, to centering women. To intersectional thought that acknowledged the interconnectedness of oppression. To discussing queerness regularly. To me, however, there was a marked increase in hostility and toxicity online, which is why I decided to stop using Twitter, Facebook and other social media for my feminist and social justice work. Fighting the good fight online for 10 years took its toll, I guess, and I deleted my Twitter account and decided to focus my efforts elsewhere (I recently returned for reasons I have outlined on my page, but I will not be engaging much.)

The fight for our equality as human beings is far from over, and the hostility towards feminism remains, but I am encouraged by the young women reading and sharing their thoughts on feminism, both online and offline. My heart swells when I see women love and appreciate themselves and their different ways of being. I smile when I see women occupying spaces we would never have thought of occupying ten years ago.

Still, we must remember that this is a fight against oppression. It is not easy. The fight is long and tiresome. Our oppressor (the patriarchy) is a system that has worked in a well-oiled manner for hundreds of years. The power we seek will not be handed to us without a fight. So we continue, many times thanklessly, to tell people what we know to be true – that the sexes should be treated as equal socially, politically, and economically – and to fight a system that works hard to keep them unequal.

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This post is part of a daily writing experiment that I’m running for a year. I’d love it if you took part! 🙂

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