Friday, March 7, 2008

Interview Blog: Different Background, Different Mindset

While in this women studies introductory course, I have noticed that it seems to be that feminism is a topic among Americans, the British and what seems to be western society. Even though recently, with the third wave of feminism and through internet resources such as blogs, feminism ideas have spread to many countries that it might not have reached, feminism is still centralized through western society. When other countries are brought up outside of the western hemisphere, in such places like Iraq, it appears that they have received their support from American feminists. For example, when Bush was speaking to congress about the problem in the Middle East he made sure to add in that women’s rights were an essential part of the United States’ foreign policy with his statement “America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance”. Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey also stated that “we reaffirm our dedication to working towards a world in which women have full opportunity to achieve political, economic and social equality in societies where human rights and fundamental freedoms are ensured. We welcome the progress that women are making in these areas and we are proud of the role the United States has in supporting their accomplishments” (Respect for Women: A U.S. Foreign Policy Imperative). Their statements show that places like the U.S. seem to be the main advocators for equalities for women outside our borders. It is clear that the U.S. has had a very large impact on feminism worldwide; so is it only Americans and people born here that agree with feminism thoughts and ideas? My goal in my interview was to get an understanding of feminism outside the borders of the U.S. and understand how the American ideals on feminism have influenced non-Americans.

When deciding who to interview I took a look at who I thought would not give me the typical American story on feminism. I chose my mother. I thought it would be interesting to do an interview with my mother, not because only because she is outside of my age bracket, but because even though we are the same race, ethnicity, and social class, we both have had very different backgrounds growing up and we differ on my political and social beliefs. I believed she would give me interesting insight as to what she thinks on feminism, the differences between her ideas and ideas of other Americans, and how America has shaped her ideas of women and their rights.

My mother, Victoria Itebe, grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and lived there for the first 23 years of her life before moving to the U.S. to attend the University of Georgia on an international scholarship. When first attending the university she vaguely remembers “feminist activities” as she so nicely put it going on at the university. Growing up in Africa, a place where many see as one of the places known for oppressing women, she didn’t hear about women’s rights. She recalls, “Back home, it never seemed as though women’s rights were an issue, until I got here”. Many countries outside the Western hemisphere have been closed off and not accepting of feminist ideas. A movement that looks as to have began in the 1800’s for the rights of women are just budding in places like Nigeria and other parts of Africa; But is it bad that these places don’t have legislation demanding equality. Victoria, born in the 50’ and leaving Nigeria in the 70’s hates that people look down on places like Africa for not having laws that require people to treat women and men equally. She denounces what many people think about where she is from. “Many people don’t think so, but though I wouldn’t say women were equal to men, it was more like a separation of duties. Women had their place and men had their place, and neither place was exactly higher than the other. We both needed each other to do their job in order for the household to function. Women weren’t lower than men they were on two totally different scales”. With this statement, Victoria gave me much insight in the way she viewed women in her society. I realized that when comparing the rights of women in the U.S. to women in other countries, Americans many times use what they believe to be equality as a base to judge women’s rights all over the world, but in reality there are different standards of equality in different people eyes.

Women working outside of the home has been one of the biggest feminist issues in the mainstream U.S. feminist movements. Thinking that Victoria has grown up in an African country I figured that her mother would have had the stereotypical roles of cooking and cleaning the house, taking care of the kids and such things of that nature. Victoria quickly cleared this myth up saying, “My mother did work outside of the house, in the marketplace, like many women worked. She brought in the money that fed and clothed the family and it was like that inmost households in Lagos”. After listening to Victoria answer the question, it reminded me of the Chicana women whose fight in the U.S. was different from the white upper class women because of things liked the Chicana women did not have the “luxury” of being housewives, so they had to work just as hard as the men, yet the men still had greater privilege in society because they were men (Definitions of Chican Feminists). I began to think, that maybe these Nigerian women are being depressed and they just don’t know similar to what the first wave feminist were saying; maybe they just need someone, like an American feminist, to point it out and then they will realize it. So I asked my mother, “After coming to the U.S. and seeing how many rights women have obtained do you feel as though the women back in Nigeria are being oppressed?” She thought for a minute and responded, “No, women in Lagos get just as much respect as men; which, where I’m from is the highest value you can get. Things are just different back home. Men are expected to do just as much as men and the other way around. I just don’t see how they could be oppressed”.

Though I wouldn’t believe so by the answers Victoria was giving to me, I do believe women in Nigeria as well as other African countries are oppressed. Though most of them do work outside of the home, they still “have to” take on traditional female roles both in the household and in the workplace. But although they are oppressed from the definition of oppression given by Marilyn Frye, I believe they don’t see it due to what they see themselves as: strong women. When asked about how her mother influenced how she saw herself as a woman, she described her mother as a strong, independent women, and by our standards I do believe her mother to be a strong women, but I believe that they are blinded by the slight bit of independence and strength that many of them are “allowed” to have, and in result do not see what they could have.

After the interview with my mother, I see how much her upbringing and culture has had an influence on her outlook on women in general. Just like the rest of the women in the world that have just begun to fight for their rights with much help form the United States, they did not even know they were being “oppressed” until it was placed right in front of their face, even if they didn’t like the way they were being treated. After moving here, my mother experienced written legislation that was guaranteed to her, and though she says she does not believe women back in Nigeria are oppressed, I do believe she would have a hard time moving back and living as a woman in the traditional setting of Lagos.

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