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Ifeoma Okoye: I’m a personist, not feminist

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Ifeoma Okoye is a writer, who has won literary awards such as, African Regional Winner, Commonwealth Short Story Competition, for Waiting for a Son, Best Novelist of the Year by Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for Men Without Ears and National Festival for Arts and Culture Award for Behind the Clouds. Some of the books she has written include, The Fourth World (Shortlisted for NLNG Literature Prize, 2016), Nowhere to Hide and Chimere, Go For Gold With Your Writing, among others. She spoke to final law students at University of Nigeria Enugu Campus on feminism.

What is feminism?
Briefly stated, feminism is the theory that men and women should be equal socially, economically, and politically. Over the years, different types of feminism have emerged and one type, which might be of interest to us today, is Legal Feminism. This is a form of feminism, which argues that equality for women can be achieved through legal means and social reform. It advocates the abolition of political, legal, and other forms of discrimination of women in order to allow them the same opportunities as men. Another form of feminism is Liberal Feminism, which advocates the alteration of the structure of the society to ensure that women and men are treated equally. Other forms of feminism include, Social Feminism, Cultural Feminism, Socialist Feminism, Radical Feminism and Eco-Feminism.

My Views on Feminism
Feminism is a laudable theory. I like how it raises our awareness of the discrimination against women, and I sanction the equality of men and women, girl and boy that it advocates. I accept that it makes women think about their plight, that it makes them think about how to rise above the many odds against them, and about how to achieve self-esteem and self-actualisation.

However, there are some issues about feminism that I disapprove of:
First, I don’t support feminists, who are belligerent, and who use violent rhetoric to fight their cause.
Aggression puts people on the defensive and prevents them from listening to the voice of reason. It destroys both the aggressor and the defender. It prevents women and men from working together for their own good. And we can win battles without being aggressive. Love oftentimes disarms enemies more than aggression does.

Second, I don’t approve of feminists who antagonise all men and who feel that any woman who does not antagonise men is not a true feminist. Not all men are against women and those who are not against women are, in many cases, for women. Women should work together with progressive men to fight against the discrimination against women. This solidarity among the sexes will surely yield good results.

Third, I don’t approve of feminists who expect any literary work written by a woman to deal with feminist issues, and who judge every literary work written by a woman by the presence or absence of feminist characters or themes. There are other issues as pressing, as important, and as interesting as feminism, which women writers can explore in their literary works.

I believe that writers are better writing about what they understand, what they feel strongly about, what they enjoy writing about, and not about what is in vogue or what critics expect them to write.

What am I?
My critics have given me all sorts of name. Some have called me a womanist. Some have called me a humanist. Some have called me an accommodationist. And a few have called me a feminist.

However, I call myself a personist. I can hear you ask the question, ‘Who is a Personist?
A personist is a person who abhors discrimination against any person, woman or man, boy or girl, rich or poor, village or town dweller, Christian or non-Christian or traditionalist. A personist believes in the equality of persons and fights against the subordination of persons, women or men. A personist fights to liberate all persons, women as well as men. A personist advocates compulsory free education for all children up to a certain level, is concerned about the girl who is withdrawn from school to mind babies or to get married and a boy who is withdrawn from school because his parents cannot afford his school fees. A personist believes in laws that do not discriminate against women and men, the rich and the poor, the person occupying a high position in the society and one who occupying a low position, a person who can afford legal fees and one who cannot.

What I try to do as a writer
I believe that self-discipline, self-determination, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-actualisation are the true essence of women liberation, and all women should acquire these traits. For this reason, I use a woman as the main character in most of my works. The main character in three out of my four novels for adults and in each of my twelve adult short stories is a woman. In Behind the Clouds, the main character, Ije, succeeds in making the people around her, including her husband; begin to think that a man could be the cause of a childless marriage. In Chimere, the main character succeeds in tracing her father after a boy friend jilts her and brands her a ‘fatherless woman’. In The Fourth World, the main character, Chira, succeeds in overcoming the threat to her life goal to acquire some education, which she believes will take her out of the slum where she lives and out of poverty. In all these novels we have male characters that believe in these women and who help the women achieve their goals. All the main characters in my 12 short stories for adults are women and each, like the main character of the novels mentioned above, succeeds in achieving her goal or in overcoming her problems through her intelligence, wit, self-determination, and creativity. Not one of these main characters uses violence or aggression in pursuing her goals, and each has one man, at least, who stands by her and offers his unconditional help.

I end with a plea to the Law Faculty to do all within their power to abolish all laws that discriminate against women, the poor, the underprivileged, the aged and those who cannot fight for themselves. This will help to make our country Nigeria a great country.


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