We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As I mentioned when I shared the Baileys Women’s Prize longlist yesterday, it was International Women’s Day. I decided to mark the occasion by reading a book that felt appropriate for the occasion which was We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who I am a huge fan of. As someone who believes in equal rights for everyone regardless of gender, race, sexuality, disability etc, I believe that I am a feminist. Yet, as Chimamanda points out in this work, the word feminist really divides people. I have been told I cannot be a feminist because I am a man, though once I was told begrudgingly that I could be one because I was a gay man, interesting. I disagree. In fact some people may say I shouldn’t even be commenting on this book, or say I am ‘mansplaining’; well I’m not and I want to talk about it so I will…

9780008115272

4th Estate, paperback, 2014, non-fiction, 62 pages, bought by myself for myself

In her essay We Should All Be Feminists, based on a TEDx talk that she gave, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie looks at her experiences and relationships with being a feminist and the reaction her feminism that people have had. Chimamanda was first called a feminist when she was young and having debates with one of her best friends, Okoloma who was tragically killed in a plane crash some years later. The thing was that when he said it, it wasn’t a flattering statement. This experience continued in her education as she reminisces about a moment she competed to be a school monitor, only to win and find out only boys could be school monitors – a small matter no one bothered to mention or question. It has carried on into her career as a novelist.

In 2003, I wrote a novel called Purple Hibiscus, about a man who, among other things, beats his wife, and whose story doesn’t end too well. While I was promoting the novel in Nigeria, a journalist, a nice, well meaning man, told me he wanted to advise me. (Nigerians, as you might know, are very quick to give unsolicited advice.)
He told me that people were saying my novel was feminist, and his advice to me – he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke – was that I should never call myself a feminist, since feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.
So I decided to call myself a Happy Feminist.

As she writes on Chimamanda looks at how the term ‘feminist’ has made people see her. From people thinking she doesn’t like men, to thinking she flaunts her feminism by wearing high heels, or trying to conform to the stereotype of what men find attracted. All wrong, all leading her to call herself a ‘Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not Men’. Blimey, that is quite some title. Which leads to the question which many have asked, and will sadly continue to ask, which is ‘why then call yourself a feminist?’

Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender.  It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem is not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided humans into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.

This I found really interesting. Firstly it is a perfectly correct and justifiable response which I hadn’t personally thought about. As I said earlier I see myself as someone who believes in equal rights which I thought automatically made me a feminist, but maybe it makes me a feminist by proxy instead, or not. It is the openness and/or interpretation of the word which differs so much that seems to cause much, not all, of the hoo-ha around it. Secondly, I wondered what Chimamanda’s thoughts on equal rights might be, as equal rights and human rights themselves can differ, dependent on the view. I think. Maybe. More food for thought. Thirdly I started to think about cultural backgrounds or beliefs and how they differ and was just pondering all this and what Chimamanda’s thoughts were on this (reading this became an interesting conversation in my head with Chimamanda that she wasn’t technically a part of but very much the catalyst of, if that doesn’t sound psychotic) when she second guessed me and brought it up.

Culture does not make people. People make culture. Chimamanda then goes on to look at how culture, informed by societies, makes the rules and sometimes those rules become outdated or simply become wrong. An example she uses is with her twin nieces who she and all her family see as a wonderful gift, however a while back in certain cultures this would not have been the case. The example she gives is that Igbo people used to kill twins 100 people, now the idea is abhorrent. This can be applied elsewhere in our more freethinking and modern world. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations.

My next thought, see I did a lot of thinking about this, was if culture changes surely the term of feminism does too. Is feminism becoming more fluid as gender does? I am thinking in particular in relation to transgender and non-binary feminism, as I said I have been told I can’t be a feminist because I am a man, so what then in those instances. I would love, love, love some essays on this from transgender and non-binary writers please, I think that could create some really interesting debate. If you read this Chimamanda (I can dream, right?) I would love your thoughts on this. That said Chimamanda does look at the roles of each gender and how it is not just down to daughters of the present and future but importantly sons too.

Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we should begin to plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our suns differently.

As the son of a woman who brought me up by herself whilst going to university, passing her degree and becoming a successful teacher, I like to think my mother has brought up such a son. So I found it all the more interesting that considering (if I do say so myself) I am very much open to all views and being a big believer in equality for everyone, this essay made me think all the more about it, question it and myself subsequently giving me a real brain work out. Hence why I think everyone should read it and why, as Chimamanda so eloquently argues, We Should All Be Feminists. We should.

9 Comments

Filed under Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Fourth Estate Books, Harper Collins, Non Fiction, Review

9 responses to “We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. Jen

    I can’t believe that people have told you that you can’t be a feminist as you’re a man! Ridiculous. Of course you can!

    I’m not sure about feminism becoming more fluid. I think it is definitely becoming more inclusive, as I have seen a lot more feminists talking about how gender stereotypes affect men in damaging ways just as much as they affect women, and focusing on minorities. I have definitely had my eyes opened to how there is so much inequality that needs to be tackled worldwide in recent years, whereas until a few years ago the main things I read about it focused on how it affected white middle class women (which is what I am, so it might be more the case that I identified with the issues they talked about more). I think that the more viewpoints and the more diverse viewpoints we can get on feminism the better.

  2. Of course men can be feminists too, whether gay or not. I think the more perspectives we can get on feminism, the better, just like Jen says in her comment above. It’s not about divisiveness. Although I do find it sad that as soon as I express a feminist viewpoint (not even an extreme one, just a moderate statement backed by statistics and facts), I get an outburst of indignation and vitriol. And I’m not even famous!

  3. Hello from a new fellower! I saw Adichie speak at a public library event in the States a couple years ago and was so impressed by her poise and eloquence. She had such wise things to say about race and gender. Regrettably, I haven’t yet read any of her books, though I have Half of a Yellow Sun on the shelf — and this one on my Kindle. Now that you’ve given it such a passionate review, I have no excuse!

  4. I don’t usually read things like this but I have to read a feminist work for a challenge I’m doing so picked Adichie’s essay. It’ll be thought-provoking I’m sure.

  5. Great review. Of course you can be a feminist – it’s about wanting equality between men and women and why wouldn’t men want that? It reminds me of the days I worked in the Silver Moon Bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. Sometimes men would come into the shop not knowing it was a women’s bookshop. When they did they would often panic and rush out but the bookshop was for them as well even if we stocked only women authors and I always used to tell them they were welcome. Incidentally Mike Leigh and Tom Baker used to come in fairly frequently which I thought brought them out in a very good light!

  6. I have not read this one, but I enjoyed Americanah and thing Half of a Yellow Sun is fantastic. But, I really hate TED talks, so I’ve been reluctant to read this essay. Is it a collection. I should just bite the bullet and read it. I think she’s one of the best authors we have writing right now.

  7. All this. You win “Andi’s Internet Award from a Few Days Ago”.

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