Ideas, Stories, and Profiles

After we published an anonymous article on submissive traditions last week, one reader reached out with a commentary. Our zeal to encourage provocative opinion compels us to share it with you, with hope to continue to engage several parties in understanding the complexity of this subject. The writer also asked to remain anonymous and, of course, we respect that. We read this rebuttal with keen interest, and we hope you too find it to be an important addition to this ongoing conversation.

I have just read The Ugly Monsters Silencing Women and want to thank the author for writing a piece about women’s issues as they pertain to culture, religion, and perceptions. As a feminist, I’ve thought about many of the issues the anonymous author raises, and have a different take on a few points.

There are indeed a few indisputable truths in the article. Extended singlehood among Rwandan women, particularly millennials, is undeniably prevalent, with women marrying relatively late today compared to, say, a decade or two ago. However, there are many salient factors contributing to this phenomenon other than ‘ugly monsters silencing women.’

It’s important to note that prolonged singlehood does not apply broadly to all women in Rwanda. Though the average age of marriage for all Rwandan women has increased over the years, it is the university-educated woman who is most affected. Figures from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) show that, in 2012, the average Rwandan woman without education wed at twenty-three, while her university-educated counterpart married at twenty-eight. Today, six years later, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar  — or wider —  gap between the two statistics.

Also, it has often been reported that there is an uneven gender ratio in our population, with the number of women surpassing that of men. The extent to which these proportions affect marriage remains to be explicated, but is certainly not inconsequential.

Similarly, increased life expectancy and scientific or technological advancement (such as IVF, birth control pills, etc.) have made it possible for career-driven women to delay motherhood without incurring a hefty health price on their offspring. Put simply, where there are no tangible medical complications of pregnancy, the risks of childbirth in older women today are no greater than in younger women.

Finally, the article implies that the author was educated abroad. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest that having spent extended periods of time abroad undoubtedly shrinks a returnee’s social circles and limits the number of interactions that might result in potential relationships.

Therefore, one might make an excellent case for the modern woman’s heightened desire for career advancement as the reason for delayed marriage and motherhood. I’d argue that societal pressure to get married has subsided over the years, not exacerbated; it is certainly not unusual today to be over twenty-five and unmarried in Rwanda. If anything, progress — not culture, religion or ‘ugly monsters’ is the real “culprit” for delayed marriage around the world, not just in Rwanda.

The author also posits that Gusaba is “the most demeaning thing to be done to women in Rwanda” and promises a future elaborate explanation. If this rather surprising, hopefully illuminating assertion proves right — that gusaba is truly the absolute most condescending treatment that Rwandan women have endured — dare I say, we are a very fortunate people.

As a general suggestion to social activists, it’s prudent, sensible, and honest, to assess the validity of some of the radical-feminist views we readily espouse before we passionately advocate for them or try to impose them as irrefutable truths. Many good-intentioned activists regurgitate slogans, catchphrases, and hashtags that are not only misleading, but factually incorrect.

For instance, there have been many suggestions from radical feminists, both online and offline, that sex education is the remedy to curb out high teen pregnancy rates in Rwanda. However, no one ever mentions that after the introduction of sex education programmes in the U.S. or U.K. curricula during the 1960s, venereal diseases (mainly gonorrhoea and syphilis) and unwanted teen pregnancies skyrocketed. Unfortunately, we rarely ever consider the possibility that our uninformed solutions might produce unexpected adverse effects. Besides, when did we determine, with certainty, that lack of sex education is what led to high records of unwanted teen pregnancies in the first place? For all we know, poverty could be the underlying issue. And it’d be rather futile to teach rural adolescent girls about all the precautionary measures to take when propositioned to, if they lack the necessary means to afford the preventive birth pills or condoms that the facts-free feminists are so eager to recommend.

Similarly, a select group of feminists complain at length that men’s promiscuous behaviour is tolerated in our society, while women get chastised for the same behaviour. This double standard is real, exasperating, and undeniably unfair. Nevertheless, in encouraging young girls and women to do as they please with their bodies, radical feminists conveniently fail to mention that the biological and financial consequences of said behaviour are far more damaging and long-lasting for women than there are for men. Unwanted pregnancy, abortion, school desertion, diminished future earning power, to name but a few, are some of the terribly strenuous and hardly reversible consequences that only befall women.

If a certain radical feminist has had multiple partners, and remain — in all honesty — emotionally unscathed, good for them. But we must do well to consider that many impressionable girls and young women have neither the mental fortitude nor the easy access to women’s health services to walk a similar path and come out “victorious.” And if, for numerous reasons and without judgement, a woman expresses no desire to follow that route, allow them the dignity to voice their preferences. Let’s refrain from labelling them with demeaning epithets like patriarch princess, pick me, etc.

There is no shortage of problems around us to fix, let’s not go around purposefully looking for ‘ugly monsters’ where there are none. For the sake of all that is good and genuine, please, let’s stop selling pre-packaged half-truths that masquerade as radical feminism. It is insincere, shallow, and wholly harmful.

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