A case for feminism; drawing a parallel from slavery and colonialism


By Celestine Mendy

Man has always struggled throughout history in accepting new phenomena. This is certainly the case if such phenomena are seen as an attack on his political, economic, social, and religious or anything he holds ingrained and natural. This was the case with John C Calhoun, the 7th Vice President of the United States, when challenged on the evilness of slavery he retorted without mincing his words “slavery is a positive good rather than a necessary evil.” This was how far one could travel just so that he puts “good” on a very palpable and glaring evil. But there are underlays for Mr Calhoun and his lot. It could be that since slavery is known to have existed since the vicissitude of time as recorded of a Roman statesman known to have enslaved, Cicero (106 – 43 BC).  Before Cicero, Demosthenes from Athens had already owned slaves between 384 – 322 BC. We therefore could clearly see that there was already a pattern of enslavement recorded in history.

With this in mind, I would still posit that the evilness of slavery has always visited man on one occasion of either his daytime nap or in his mid-night dream. It is possible that this visit happened on both occasions. To assume that one’s conscience would be left upbraided for such an apparent evil is far-fetched.  Now, the question is what must have motivated the enslaver to be the bane of the enslaved existence? One sore reason is the obvious economic, political, social status of the enslaver. To this end, even legal luminaries of the day such as the French lawyer Antoine Betsel could not resist the appetizing appeal of migrating to Mauritius to own slaves. This trend reared its ugly head to entrap William Aiken Jr, the 61st governor of South Carolina, state legislator and member of the U.S House of Representative. It is still within realms of the then most enterprising business for Judge and Politician Stair Agnew to build his portfolio upon. More fascinatingly shocking is the fact that this Stair took part in court cases testing the legality of slaves in the colony. What all these people who unfortunately got dishonourable mentions for falling on the wrong side of history sought to achieve at the time was to amass political acclaim which obviously comes with the rest of the goodies. They sought to protect their stomachs by stripping off humanity from their kits and kin to mere pariahs. There is no stopping for a man on a mission to build an estate of gold and silver and as such anything that would prove an obstacle will be made impotent and relegated to the abyss of doom.


Consequently, the human person has always sought to speak up against any system she considers an affront to humanity. An interesting point of departure would be for us to travel back in history, precisely in 1792 to the book written by Mary Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft in this book titled “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, argued for women’s education. From the views expressed in Mary’s authorship, a French philosopher Charles Fourier coined the now infamous, contentious, disparaged, and overly misunderstood “Feminism” terminology in 1837. This terminology had to wait long before it appeared in dictionaries around the world. Thus, there seems to be no forthright definition of what feminism is. It is merely the thoughts of Mary that Charles conscripted to what is today known as feminism. Yet, the prominent feminist scholar, Catherine Mackinnon offered a standard definition of feminism from the angle of jurisprudence. “Feminist jurisprudence is the analysis of law from the perspective of all women.” she opined. The flagship of feminism is the arduous attempt to represent women’s side of things.

Evidently, there is no shying away from the fact that women throughout history have had their affairs presided over by their male counterparts. Men have this false belief that it is their God-given mandate to speak for women. Men’s claim to have been naturally tasked with the business of representing all human beings has been one sided. The table on which affairs of human interest is discussed is found to have “left out, silenced, misrepresented, and subordinated women throughout history, relegating them to a single role and reserving the rest of life for men.” It is timely to note that there is no single perspective of all women. It is equally true that not all women are feminists. The common ground for feminism, however, is that a patriarchal world is not good for women. The belief that the world is patriarchal is an open secret, to which no honest human person would object to. The hierarchical human society as we have it has always placed women at the top bottom of the social ladder. Feminists have one cardinal observation; that is patriarchy (the subjugation of women) is not good, not ordained by nature, and not inevitable.”

Consistently, there is a general consensus that the subordination of women is caused by law and other social barriers. In Africa for instance where cultures and traditions are the primary and foremost givers of the law, such subordination can easily be classed as a function of the foregoing, which is more pervasive in respect to cultural difference of the diverse groups of people in this continent. These cultural traditions preclude women from accessing economic and political life. By some stretch, cultures have reduced women to the sole role of childbearing, and strategically kept them financially disadvantaged to depend on men for every single purchase they may make. “Culture has never favoured women” were the all conclusive and definite thoughts I saw online. Unlike this commentator, I will not work the path of this generality. But I observe with so much disdain the weight of truth in this assertion. These claims are at the backdrop of many societal ills culturally directed toward women, which are always accepted as divinely ordained, thus unquestionable. Women are usually thought of as merely childbearing machines, and so their worth is tied to how fertile one is. This cultural subordination has found its way into religion where inheritance is not a right that all women enjoy on an equal footing as the male would; for belonging to a family but as a token gesture under the whims and caprices of their male counterparts. Feminism is the only school of thought that demands unapologetically, for the rights of all women as outlined in the general moral principle that “all men are created equal.”

Unashamedly, the patriarchal society has a different lens with which he uses to see the term ‘equal’ as relative rather than fundamentally absolute. It is the belief of almost all men that women are limited in ability and capability. That they are disadvantaged by their gender and so they must be ‘protected’. This protection men envision to provide women turns out to be one which is mostly derogatory as obtained in the stereotypical adjectives they often ascribe to them. It is either they are weaklings, emotional, or anything within those lines. One will realize that it is not a case of protection when one objectively observes the space but that of limitation and deprivation. Until recently, women were considered for nothing other than as house makers. That explains the distance they now have to travel to be at par with men. A keen look at our societies will lead to one solemn truth, and that is the subservient role almost all women are reduced to. This clearly mirrors the white man’s unfavourable opinion about the black skinned person.

Interestingly enough, though, one is able to draw a parallel between the struggle women face to break out in these male-dominated societies to the strife Africans went through during slavery. This same parallel can be extended to include the colonial African societies. The epochs of slavery and colonialism were so traumatic and unjustifiably evil as records of mass killings in and out of the continent are there to prove to that effect. But somehow, there were those who felt it was necessary that some people be treated as lesser humans than others. In fact, there are instances where scriptures were quoted to justify the evil perpetuated on black people. Scriptures admonished thus, “Bondservants (slaves), obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Some relied solely on these and more to prove the acceptability of what were clearly heinous crimes against humanity. King Leopold II of Belgium, while commissioning missionaries to Africa specifically Congo wrote in a letter that says “Evangelize the savages so that they stay forever in submission to the white colonialists, so they never revolt against the restraints they are undergoing. Recite every day-“Happy are those who are weeping because the kingdom of God is for them.” This was after he had acknowledged Africans’ knowledge of God in the same letter. “They speak and submit to a Mungu, one Nzambi, one Nzakomba…” Yet he was able to conjure a way of making the subjugation of Congolese fashionable for what he termed “in the best interest of Belgium.” And so, slavery and colonialism were normalized for the gain of some while the rest became the subjects of untold misery and objectification. But the normalization and acceptance of the act does not make it morally right.

Progressively, subjects of these pernicious enterprises sought to lift themselves by their bootstraps. The agreement on the side of the enslavers and colonizers made the struggle against the duo evils unbearably daunting. The attempts to recognize the demon of colonialism and slavery were met by sustained efforts employed to maintain the narrative that it was in fact in the nature of things for some to be subservient to others, a role which was divinely befitting of the dark skinned. In the midst of such fierce resistance from the colonizer and the enslaver, who unfortunately happened to be the same person, the desire for freedom is divine and innate. Therefore, the oppressed sought this unqualified freedom by shading blood.

In the same vein, women would continue asking unapologetically to be given their pride of place on the table on which issues of their interests are discussed. Anything short of that would lead to the same vicious cycle of wives fighting tooth and nail against domestic violence, female children demanding equal share from their parents regarding inheritances. Indeed, “We should all be feminists” is a right call made by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as it underscores the scores of mishaps men willfully orchestrate for women through various avenues.