Awakening African Feminism w/ Amanda Marufu

Updated: May 23

In the ingrained patriarchal societies of Africa, where does feminism begin? It begins when women look around and say, “This is wrong,” and decide to stand up and make change happen. Today we are joined by one of those brave, badass women, African feminist Amanda Marufu, sharing her story of awakening, healing, bravery, and helping others create an equitable world.

Highlight Reel:

1:00 Putting African women in control of their story

2:30 Living as ‘Lesser-Than’

6:40 Abuse and oppression goes deep

9:30 Women are the resource

11:30 Unpacking and healing

16:00 Taking a stand

18:40 How men benefit from feminism

22:10 Shame does not define us

24:30 Educating parents, girls, AND boys

27:20 Five truths

29:30 The blue bird flies

Adrienne MacIain 0:01

Hey everyone, welcome to the That's Aloud podcast. I'm your hostess, Dr. Adrienne MacIain, and today we have Amanda Marufu. Welcome, Amanda.

Amanda Marufu 0:11

Welcome! Thank you so much for having me.

Adrienne MacIain 0:14

Please introduce yourself to the audience and let them know a little bit about who you are and what you're up to.

Amanda 0:19

So my name is Amanda. I'm from Zimbabwe, and I'm a feminist, producer as well as writer, and a tech entrepreneur. So I do business in the tech world, and my emphasis is really on education and women empowerment. So right now I run an ed tech called SMBLO (Save Money By Learning Online) and a media campaign for Visual Sensations.

Adrienne MacIain 0:44

Excellent. So I suspect we'll sort of get into the story of how you got into that. But let's go ahead, and I'll just ask my first question and see where that takes us.

Amanda 0:53

All right.

Adrienne MacIain 0:54

What story is the world not getting, Amanda?

Amanda 0:59

I think the world's not getting stories from African women, especially African women on the African continent, like, not in the diaspora, especially. And we sort of get our stories told by other people, which is why I think media is so important, and writing so important, so that we can be in charge more of our story. And sometimes even when it's being told by other Africans, African men. And so that's one story I think we need more versions of, we need more representation, we need more diversity, because there's so many different ways of being an African woman. And Africa is so diverse, there's so many countries, and languages, and cultures, and traditions, that we need more stories that truly represent that.

Adrienne MacIain 1:56

Absolutely. I just want to reiterate that for anyone who has not visited Africa. Like, I just went to a few countries in one region, and even within each of those countries, within each of those cities, there are so many different ethnic groups, and there are so many different traditions, and they are so diverse. It is a little bit mind-blowing, I think, for Western people. So I just want you to really understand when you hear one person's story, that's one person's story. But today, we have Amanda and so we'd love to hear your story. Why don't you tell us a little bit more about how you got into feminism.

Amanda 2:36

So I'm very passionate about feminism, because of my life story actually. It started when I was young, it's seeing the women in my family because, you see, the women in my family are not, like, docile, they're really hard-working females. You will have doctors, one of them actually became the first female and black president of a company, she's actually in the States as well, and they're so strong. But at the same time, within marriages, you hear still stories of abuse, where she's told you can't leave your husband. Or when my other cousin was getting married, being told that you can't marry that man and be as successful as you are because that will diminish his ego. And it's sort of like encouraging that you need to be lower-than in order to be married. And you'll see some of the men cheat. Some of them actually will be, like, I had an aunt who was literally beat up to the point of he was pulling out her braids from her hair, and she was a woman, and they asked her, What did you do? What did you do to cause this to happen? And then she was still told, No, you can't get divorced, it's against our beliefs and just Christianity, it's against society. So it was really growing up and witnessing the acts, that at one end you can be so powerful and so successful in your career, but then what's the home-life balance of that, what's the traditional cultural representation of that? And I think sometimes we hide behind, whether it's our traditional culture, or even religion, to excuse some of the behavior, but I think patriarchy really, really wants to use women's bodies as a way to diminish our worth. So they try to control our bodies, try to control us so much so that they can control every single other aspect of society. And it really starts with that. And then in myself, I was sexually abused as a child. And when I eventually grew up, because at that point I didn't know the word rape or consent or what that meant, and I only learned about it much later, even though it had happened already. And when I grew up, that's when I realized they need some better education, there needs to be more talking about these things, and understanding of these topics, so that when you experience it, you need to know it's not your fault, you need to know that this is not okay as well. Because we sort of... there's so much shame around it that you might not even know that it's not okay, and you kind-of ignore it, kind-of just sweep it under the rug, and don't talk about it, and don't feel it as well because we put so much pressure to be strong. Especially as black women, we're told, 'You're strong, you're a survivor.' Almost like our strength is dependent on how much stuff we go through. And I don't think that's right, you know, that's really messed up. It should not be based on that. So that's really how I got into feminism and why I'm so passionate about it.

Adrienne MacIain 6:20

So what would you say was the kind-of, there's usually a moment, or several moments, which is kind of rock-bottom or that turning point where you start to realize, I can't put up with this anymore, I need to change something. What would you say was that for you?

Amanda 6:38

I think it was, like, as I mentioned, going through what I went through as a child, right, I was always interested in awareness and talking about these issues. But more so entering the work-space, especially working in media, and in very male-dominated industries. Right? Where you go into a meeting, and automatically they're talking to your male counterparts, like he's the one in charge, and he's the one who knows what he's talking about. And so, being ignored, and these little things that you sort-of don't notice unless you are going through it, you know? And your opinion is seen as less-than, or someone will take literally your idea and thought and reiterate it and they'll say, oh my gosh, that's so smart! And they're like, I just have the exact same thing. And I think when I really started entering the work-space, that's when I was like, oh my, like it extends so far beyond the home. Because I used to think that it started in the home, and it does, and that's where we needed to put so much emphasis. But then I saw that it seeps into every system and every part of our everyday life, like it really just.... Yeah, it's so much. So I think really going through those experiences that are making me ask questions, and talk to young girls and young women. And another moment was this conversation I had with my friend, where we were talking about rape and abuse. And we started realizing that there's so many young girls that have been through it, that we're at a point where it might actually be more surprising to find someone who hasn't been than it is to find someone who has been. Yeah. And that's when we really said, This is bad, this is horrifying, it's terrible and something needs to be done. Something needs to change. And I think we are only just starting to just scratch the surface and how deep it goes.

Adrienne MacIain 8:52

I would completely agree. I think the Me Too movement really showed a lot of people that this is so widespread, and it is really difficult to find a woman who has not been harassed or assaulted or violated in some way. And that's horrific. That's horrific. It is an absolute epidemic.

Amanda 9:18

Yeah. Something needs to change.

Adrienne MacIain 9:21

So, when you started going through this realization that something needed to change, what were the resources that you went to? Who did you learn from? What did you learn?

Amanda 9:34

My favorite resource is this group of women, it's called Feminizing While African, and it's brought together different people, like as I mention, from very diverse cultures and backgrounds and traditions, from all of Africa and even in the Western world. And I was talking to women and realizing that we are the same. That was the most important resource, just talking to women, just talking to all of these different people who tell you, like, this is my story, this is what I've gone through, and I've started ABC organization in my country to try and help women in my country. And it's always these everyday women who sat and said: enough is enough. And they started a campaign like the Me Too movement, like you mentioned, you know, and that was the most important resource for me, just a circle of women who I could talk to and call and connect with, as well as YouTube. And I think YouTube is very powerful in that way, and it's a way of disseminating information. And books as well. There's 'African Feminism,' 'Destroying Patriarchy' as well. Mona Eltahawy, I hope I'm not pronouncing her name wrong, I think she's a powerful woman, her books have just, they opened up my mind to things that I hadn't thought of before. And difficult ones as well. And those two people are really what inspired me with speaking out about my own story and telling my own story. And eventually actually just writing a book about my own life and what I went through and I'm starting to share.

Adrienne MacIain 11:30

What's the name of the book?

Amanda 11:33

The book is called 'At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me?'

Adrienne MacIain 11:39

Wow, just that title is so powerful.

Amanda 11:44

That's what I worked on, that's been the most important thing to me in 2020. And I'm going to be releasing on January 28, 2021. But it forced me to go on a journey of healing. It forced me to go on a journey of unpacking just the amount of stuff that had been, you know, going on. And there's little things like sexuality, like learning to figure out self-pleasure, about how to start finding pleasure and sex and enjoying sex after going through sexual abuse. And being proud of my own sexuality and no longer hiding it or being shameful. Especially being from where I'm from, where we don't really talk about it, and it's still hush-hush, and was put-upon. So yeah, the book also talks about my mental health while being put in a psych ward, and my experience in there, which is, I think, really, really traumatizing, which is not something I think people who've been through those types of situations need. And how much work we just need to do when it comes to rehabilitating people, and helping people, and mental health, and understanding mental health. And my experience with suicide and coming back from that. And I always say that the hardest decision I ever had to make my life was choosing to live. And it's a decision that I have had to make every single day ever since that day. But it's also been healing and amazing to me. People who understand people who say, Me too, like, This has happened to me too, and I get it, and your story and you sharing your story also helps me out.

Adrienne MacIain 13:51

Absolutely. So it sounds like just sharing your story has been a very healing thing to do. What else have you found has been really healing along your journey?

Amanda 14:04

Um, spirituality. But I think not in the way that I thought, I always thought spirituality was. So it's finding spirituality, and self-love, and self-care. Finding spirituality in silence, and in meditation, and in yoga, and getting to relax. I think reading books, learning about loving my body, learning about loving my mind, learning about peace and Zen and harmony. And just being at peace with it all, which is not something I ever thought I would be. You know? But reaching that point has been so powerful, where now I can actually talk about it and it doesn't make me want to crumble and go into a corner, you know? And then the most healing thing as well is love from friends. I think friends are the most important thing in the world. And especially for me, like my best friend has been there with me through so much of it, and been so understanding, and I know it's not an easy thing to do, to help someone when they're in the darkest spaces, and just be there. So I appreciate all of the people who have been there just along the journey, to listen, and to talk to me, and to give advice, or to laugh. And sometimes just sit on the floor in the dark, because you don't have electricity, and enjoy the little moments that we have in there.

Adrienne MacIain 15:49

Absolutely. So how did you reintegrate this new knowledge and understanding into your life, to help the people around you who weren't necessarily going on that same journey?

Amanda 16:05

It was hard. I think with that one, I would say I still am trying to figure it out. Because there's so much pushback, especially when identifying as a feminist is still something that, you know, Oh my gosh, you're a feminist, you hate men, and this and that, and that and that. And I'll hold on to that word, because it's so powerful and it's so political, in the sense that it's about so much more than just saying, I'm a feminist, it's about the policies that affect women. It's about all the laws, it's about everything we go through in a day to day basis. And a big part of it has been surrounding myself with people with similar beliefs, people with you're going through, especially online, because sometimes you're abused and attacked for saying your story and speaking your truth. So people who understand that, people who will pick you up, and cheer you on, and really show you that they're there for you. And I think I'm really still trying to integrate that with even my family, with some of the people I grew up with, trying to say that this is who I am and I can no longer stand for sexism. I can no longer just sit by and watch it happen. And sometimes, it's actually choosing to say, If you don't, if you can't respect this, and you can't respect women, and you can't be in my life. And it's cutting people off when you say, I cannot allow me to sit by and watch this, because it's not right and it's not okay. And it's about time we stop letting it be the normal thing, and we stop letting people get away with it. So I think a big part of that is just being brave enough to let go of people, and not talk to people, and just tell them that the reason I'm doing this is because this is not okay, and you need to know that, you need to know that you need to change.

Adrienne MacIain 18:19

Absolutely. That can be so hard, but it's, it's really important. It's really important to take a stand. Yeah. So what would you say to the people... you get a lot of pushback you said about feminism and calling yourself a feminist. So what would you say to the people who tell you, Oh, you're you're a man hater. If you if you're a feminist, then you hate men. What would you say to those people?

Amanda 18:45

I stole this quote, and it's the perfect thing, the perfect answer. It actually says that I know that men are intelligent enough and smart enough to know that feminism is good for them. To know that having a gender-equal world is good for them, because we can talk about the fact that suicide rates are up for men. And a big part of that is that our patriarchal society says that men can't cry, or feel emotion, and talk about, you know, certain things when they go and do it. And having a feminist world will help fight against things like that as well. It's knowing that a lot of kids and young boys also get abused but they can't talk about it. And I know like in Zimbabwean law, rape is only considered rape when it's penetration, which means that when a young boy is abused more so it's not considered rape. And that makes it hard to actually be able to do anything about it. And I think feminism fights for both ends of that spectrum. And I think men can understand that. And I believe that we're reaching a point where that's no longer the debate, of whether it is indeed good for both sexes. And I am surrounded by men who are also feminists, and I respect them because of that. And it's so much stronger when we can work together, we can be understanding of each other. And I believe people who still believe that feminism hates men are fighting more with ingrained beliefs and misogyny that they're going through, and that they're putting on us. Because we are strongly saying that these issues of these acts are wrong. We don't hate all men, we hate rapists. We hate the people that pay us less than we deserve, that gives us less opportunities just because of our gender, the people that are discriminating against us because of our agenda. That is what we hate. So as long as you're not perpetuating that behavior, or defending that behavior, or being a part of that behavior, you're fine. And I think that's the most important thing to understand that that's what we're fighting against, and not any gender, per se.