Recently, my cousin caused shame to our family. (I always thought I would be the first to do that.) She went into a war of words with the village Mother’s Union group which had decided to sit her down and give unsolicited marriage advice a few hours to her Gusaba.
She picked them apart using words like “uneducated” and “unexposed.” She told them that their advice was impractical.
The women were livid. They threatened to leave. My cousin’s mother had to plead with them to stay. “Don’t do it for her. Do it for me. I am one of you.” So they stayed but spent the day glaring at the bride and speaking to each other in hushed tones. It was easy to see that they were declaring her marriage doomed on the onset on account of her poor behaviour.
My cousin is a non-conformist and a radical feminist and I respect that. I also respect the fact that she stands up for herself and doesn’t let anyone bully her into doing anything that’s contrary to her values. In fact, I respect all non-conformists for their ability to break away from the norm.
Still, I believe that there is a time when you must check your radicalism at the door. There is always a time when it isn’t necessary to speak out, to teach or to disagree.
For instance, it wouldn’t have cost my cousin anything to just sit there and smile and let the women speak, impractical as their advice might have been. It’s not like they were going to follow her to her marital home and demand that she follow through.
It’s important to know when your radicalism doesn’t do anything more than cause anger, disorganisation or make things worse for everyone involved.
Like the time when a female lawyer decided that she was going to teach men and women in her village about equality in order to curb gender-based violence.
And so she called a meeting, during which she sat on a chair. In her village, chairs were reserved for male leaders.
Such a seemingly trivial act and yet significant enough to cause most men to think that she had come to teach women to be insolent towards their husbands. Some of the men beat their wives after their meeting just to reassert their authority.
Now I’m not advocating for conformity. Sometimes radicalism is absolutely necessary. Afterall, it’s thanks to radicalism that we have most of the societal advancements. And I know that progress can’t be done without stepping on toes, breaking rules and hurting egos.
But the fact is that no matter how strongly you believe in justice, equality, and all the good things, sometimes you just have to sit down and go slow.
So before you get into an argument with a misogynistic stranger, before you wear tight clothing to a meeting dominated by conservatives, before you talk back at elderly women, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it for the greater good or are you only trying to assert your superiority?