I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that distinguish me from a doormat – Rebecca Wes
I recently saw a clip of the movie Wreck it Ralph 2 where one of the main characters, Venellope, enters a room full of Disney princesses. Trying to figure out if Vanellope is also a princess too, she is asked a number of questions. Finally, Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty asks her, ‘…do people assume that all your problems got solved because a big strong man showed up?’
I’ve thought about this scene a lot since I watched it, reflecting on all the fairytales I read growing up. All of them tell the story of a damsel in distress who always needs a strong man to bail them out of misery. Now I’m not disputing that the fairytales make for very good entertainment. But it also made me wonder, what are we teaching young girls? Are we teaching them that they are worth nothing unless a man comes to their rescue? That they can’t do it themselves and need only wait to be bailed out? The question then becomes: what then would I have liked to see in stories as a young girl? What would I like to see in stories now?
I think one of the reasons why the world embraces and obsesses over stories like Black Panther (which I shamelessly always find a reason to talk about) among other things, is because they show strong female characters. Women who are not always in constant need of saving. Women who can stand up for their countries, women who can fight if needed, innovate, lead, be different, and still be completely acceptable and not shunned or called names for it. Even outside fiction, the world has gone crazy about the lives of female figures such as Michelle Obama, Lady Diana,Venus and Serena Williams, Cleopatra, Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai; or commercials like Always’ 2014 advert which reclaimed the saying ‘fight like a girl’ and made it cool.
And why is the world fascinated with such things you ask? Well, because though it is often disputed, there is something completely beautiful and refreshing about a strong confident woman who can not be put down. That is why it’s absolutely necessary that we promote and make more accessible books that show us worlds where women are strong and exemplary. Books that show young audiences that there is nothing wrong with those kind of pictures.
But what’s even more important (in my opinion of course) is that we not only promote stories that focus only on strong female characters, but more so, stories that show male characters who are not intimidated by strong female characters. Because isn’t that what the challenge really is? The world is hungry for these kind of stories. For example, I remember the noise Drake’s song ‘nice for what’ made because it was a song by a prominent male celebrity, which from production to optics just celebrated strong women. We need more of this.
It’s quite unhelpful I think to pretend that we don’t need each other in this world. Women need men just as much as men need women, because we were created that way. And so to build societies where we not simply coexist but live united and complement each other, what if we started telling young girls that there is nothing shameful and rebellious about being strong and capable? That there is nothing wrong or weak about being a woman at all! And what if we show and tell young boys that there is nothing intimidating and unacceptable about strong and confident girls? That a woman’s place is not in the kitchen, or quietly tucked somewhere in the corner? But that girls/women can be great and amazing. In that sense, Chimamanda’s statement ‘we should all be feminists’ then becomes relevant. Because if from a young age we teach both young girls and boys to respect and appreciate female strength, we start correcting the problem. We help them visualize a world where both genders treat each other with respect; a world where female strength is acceptable and not intimidating.