Join us for a series of semi-formal candid conversations on all things ‘feminist.’ In the run up to the annual literature and book festival, Africa Writes 2016, The Royal African Society have invited Henry Brefo and Yovanka Perdigao to discuss one of the festival’s main themes; African feminism. What is African feminism and what does it mean to be a feminist in today’s world? Everything from Intersectionality to the controversial hashtag #killallmen will be explored and dissected by two individuals well versed in the ideas and the issues that connote the F word.
Henry Brefo is the co-founder and editor of Afrikult; an online platform that discusses explores and celebrates African literature. He is also an English tutor for Equal Education Ltd, mentoring and providing literary support for secondary students. Henry was a freelance journalist at African Voice and a graduate researcher for Network for Black Professionals. He did his BA degree in British Contemporary History and his MA in African Studies. Henry believes that as long as there is patriarchy to dismantle, there will always be a need for feminism in society.
Yovanka Paquete Perdigao is a Bissau-Guinean writer, who has lived between Senegal, Ivory Coast and Portugal and is currently based in London. She has an Msc in Violence, Conflict and Development and is interested by all things gruesome but more importantly how violence transcends generations. She is an African feminist and political pen activist and is currently working for Africa Research. Yovanka loves African art and is an enthusiastic cultural producer. She recently wrote a piece entitled Do a Little More: A Black Woman Reflects on Global Crisis. Yovanka works to “promote the versatility of black women –their spirit and their experiences – particularly in the UK and, hopefully, Europe as a whole.”
Some of the topic we will be covering in this week by week series are:
Intersectionality and White Feminism
Feminism and Religion
Body Positivity and the Media
Harressment and the hastag #killallmen
We started our exciting conversation with three simple (or so they seem) questions:
- Do you identify as a feminist?
- If so, did you have to unlearn any old ways of thinking?
- And, what writers have influenced your feminist ideals?
Yovanka = Y/ Henry = H/ Kelechi (Interviewer) = K
K: Welcome Henry, welcome Yovanka.
H & Y: Thank you.
K: It’s lovely to see you. Some of the topics that I said we’re going to cover are things like intersectionality to online harassment. But I want to start with something very simple. Do you identify as a feminist, Yovanka?
Y: I do identify as a feminist. I also identify as a womanist which is Alice Walker’s definition of black feminism [Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender].
K: What about you Henry? Do you identify as a feminist? Is it a simple answer or is it a bit more complicated?
H: It’s really more complicated.
(Kelechi, Henry and Yovanka laugh.)
H: I think that as a man, I would not identify myself as a feminist. I feel that it’s difficult to identify myself as a feminist. But I can easily identify myself as an ally to the movement. Feminism centres around woman experiences; it is the experience that has developed a certain consciousness, which has resulted into woman deciding to be feminist, to express that particular consciousness in that way. In a similar vein, not all women are feminist. Therefore I feel that men have to be careful and not appropriate feminism – because we have appropriated quite a lot. On that note, Yes; I identify myself as an ally to the movement and not a feminist.
K: Okay. Second question. When you decided to become a feminist womanist or an ally to feminism, did you have to learn any old ways of thinking? It might something broad or it might be something specific that you had to unlearn.
Y: Not really, because I don’t think that I learnt or became a feminist. I think I was always a feminist. Unlike some women- and especially women of colour- I’ve never shied away from using the f word. So the only thing I had to unlearn was that I came from a family of strong feminist women. And I had to basically adjust and realise that, some of the insecurities and fears that other women had, I didn’t have because even the men in my family, they always empowered the women in the family. So I never felt that because of my gender I couldn’t do certain things. And when I started to sort of interact with other feminist I realised that it was something that some of them experienced but I never had this kind of fear. I’ve always felt that I could do anything. If anything, the only thing that was a problem was more racism than sexism.
K: Okay. Henry? There must have been a few things. Did you have to unlearn any old ways of thinking?
H: Yes. I think I’m still in a process of un-learning. Having grown up in a sexist society, there are certain attitudes, mannerisms and behaviours – unconscious and conscious ones of course; the conscious ones you can easily address. Mannerisms that in and of itself tend to be sexist. I often have to be very conscious of my behaviour. That’s not to say that some of my behaviour still does not subscribe to the patriarchal ethic – of course it does. But it’s being able to look back and analyse and reflect. So yes, I am in a process of learning and unlearning.
K: Anything in particular?
H: One thing that I’ve had to unlearn is my instinctive reaction to-
H: My instinctive reaction to Beyonce; or to certain expressions of womanhood. I’ve had this instinctive reaction to it, and I’ve had to unlearn that.
K: Okay. We’ll get to that. We’ll get to women and the media. So my final question is what writers have influenced your feminist ideals?
Y: I would say Mariama Ba. She’s a Senegalese writer. I read when I was quite young, Scarlet Song. It’s a novel that talks about an interracial couple in Senegal. The woman is white and the man is Senegalese. And it sort of talks about the pressures they face as they try to navigate their own marriage and ideas of each other. Another writer would be Chimamanda; I think more than her writing, it’s actually her speeches and her way of being outside of her own writing has what inspired me. And someone who has heavily influenced me is Junot Diaz. He’s an American male writer from a Dominican background and he’s written books like Drown, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and This is How You Lose Her.
H: One particular author that comes to mind for me is Bessie Head. I think that Bessie Head’s work really analyses patriarchy, breaks it down and helps you to understand. So Bessie Head has been quite influential to helping me think and re-think on feminism, on the woman’s experience and its particular impact on mental health. And that’s one of the strong themes of Bessie Head’s work.
Stay tuned for more meaty discussions from The F Word duo in the coming weeks!
African feminism in literature will be a topic explored by our headline guest writer Nawal El Saadawi this year at Africa Writes, the UK’s biggest annual African literature and book festival at The British Library, 1-3 July 2016.
And also check out the other ticketed and free workshops and events taking place at the festival.