In this essay -- adapted from her TEDx talk of the same name -- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author of Americanah, offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author's exploration of what it means to be a woman now -- and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
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It’s impossible; it’s infuriating; it’s stupid.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay, ‘We Should All Be Feminists,’ is a wonderfully-written, level-headed introduction and summary of what -- apparently not just American or Western -- modern cultures interpret as The Trouble With Feminism. I don’t know when I became a feminist. I used to not be. In high school, I held the same gross views as many men’s rights activists, and even had a pick-up artist phase (to my great embarrassment). If I were to try rationalizing a story-book history, I might say it was a combination of my higher education (and the role-models that came with it), a period of confused identity (incl. gender), and, through that difficult period, having only women as friends (many of them gay). I also grew up in Texas, where masculinity is, in particular, venerated as the ultimate tradition. But now I’m a feminist, or try to be, for whatever that’s worth.
Chimananda’s important essay has its faults, and those faults almost exclusively relate to: a) Its short length, b) its being based on a 2012 speech, and c) it might just be preaching to the choir -- her arguments may be safe and ‘obvious.’
Without question, sexism / feminism cannot be distilled down to a 45-page argument. At this length, things are kept simple, arguments are backed up using generalizations and anecdotal experiences.
Being based on a TED Talk she delivered in 2012, the unique cadence and language of a speech persist into the essay. It’s better to listen to than to read.
The last one obviously depends on the audience reading Chimamanda’s speech. Some of her arguments were obvious to me before reading -- that, e.g., men still overwhelmingly lead our society because it’s tradition; because physical strength was more important than intelligence when these foundations were set -- and others were only obvious after I read them -- that, e.g., preference for the broad term human rights is an exclusionary tactic (however unintentional) meant to diminish and deny feminist debate.
No matter how obvious they might be, however, that’s not an awareness we execute moment to moment when unconscious tradition rears its ugly, traditional head. For example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has an American friend -- she has a lot of friends in this essay -- who took over a managerial position only to be criticized by her employees for being tough and not bringing a ‘woman’s touch’ to a position that didn’t ask for one. I also have friends -- I suspect we all do -- in academia, who face similar discrimination from students and faculty. (Luckily, the discrimination tends to be correlated with age.) It’s an unconscious expectation from everyone, even feminists, because that division of masculinity and femininity, of logic and emotion (e.g., hysteria), is the normal expectation for our culture. & it’s rationalized away as a product of something like biology, thus applying the appearance of legitimacy and research.
Chimamanda also relates a story of a young woman being gang-raped at a Nigerian university. The response was quick to shift towards blaming the victim because she was a woman, and something in her behavior or attitude or personality must have called the incident down on her as punishment. (The men being men was forgivable.) It’s hard to pretend this is geographically-unique -- that it doesn’t happen in America, where Asking For It is a go-to stereotype from young men (and women) in the comment section of any relevant story or video.
Again, it’s infuriating, all the stigmas being bred by this persistent discrimination. But a feminist can’t get angry, because to get angry diminishes the rationality of your argument, or because women can’t be angry or threatening and be taken seriously. But it’s an angry issue, as Chimamanda argues -- we need to be angry at the grave injustices of the world. Being angry and being outspoken is sometimes a necessary means to facilitate a positive social change, and we need those changes to occur now, not tomorrow, not next year, and not for the next generation.
‘We Should All Be Feminists’ is an excellent introduction or refresher to necessary ideas. It may not distill it to a perfect argument for many people -- and its hopeful tone may not be particularly realistic -- but it’s a 30-minute expression of one of the most important social justice issues frustrating the world today.
’Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.’
Part of that is perhaps that it's easy to affirm basic moral principles without then also taking action. Part of it is, perhaps, a measure of virtue-signaling. Then again, freedoms and ideals are always under threat, and efforts to preserve any gains that may have been won are at least as important as the effort spent in acquiring them in the first place.
So yes, it's sad that basic texts like these are still necessary, but it's a good thing that people keep putting them out there.
This is a topic whose discussion can and does fill a small library's worth of books, but Adiche pares the whole thing down to its essentials. The things she has to say are, at heart, pretty simple, but they're simple things that need saying, and she expresses them well. Definitely worth reading, whoever you are and whatever your thoughts about feminism.
This booklet is based off of a TEDx talk Ms. Adichie gave in 2012. You may have heard her previous talk about stories; if you haven’t, check it out online. I had heard great things about this one, and finally purchased it last week. Of course, if I were a 16-year-old student in Sweden, I would have already received it.
In such a short book she manages to address issues of culture, of normalizing men in positions of power. She also points out the ways in which gender inequality harms men. It’s not just a problem for us ladies; toxic masculinity and the pressures men face to ‘be manly’ are outcomes of gender inequality as well. In my favorite passage she smacks down those annoying comments calling for feminists to instead talk about human rights instead of gender rights. “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.”
That actually got me thinking a bit about this political cycle in the U.S., and even more so when she speaks later about the need to also understand that class is an issue, but that even poor men still have privileges over women even if they do not also have wealth. I keep thinking about Bernie Sanders and what I’ve been seeing as his attempt to whittle everything down to class. There are intersections of which class is hugely important, but looking at class alone is totally insufficient to address the problems many people face. We need to look at racism. We need to look at sexism. And we need to look at class. I’m having a hard time being able to support him (in the primary) because I think he genuinely believes that if we fixed income inequality, all these other problems would disappear, and I just don’t agree.
Before I wrap this up, I do want to point out something. I know that there are many women that I would otherwise classify as feminists who hate the term because of its association with White Feminism™ and the type of privileged white women who ignore intersections of race and gender, and class and gender. And I totally get that. But I still think the premise Ms. Adichie shares holds: we should all (men and women alike) seek gender equality.
I will say it feels like cheating to add this to my list of read books, since it only took ten minutes to read.
Notable quote from the book:
"Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the
While I absolutely agree with her main idea and issue (gender equality, etc.), and I find myself agreeing with many of her points, there are
While much of her points are very good, and I agree with them. Things like that are a bit skewed and bias driven. Also, the one anecdote of the two colleagues who are married; they have the same degree, same job, and are married to each other. But that when they get home, the woman is assumed to do all of the house work, (ie. cleaning/cooking/etc.). Now, this anecdote is brought up to point out how they both work and have the same job and money, but the woman is made to do the extra work of the cleaning/house work. No talk of how much work the man does as well. Which presumably is, yard work, car maintenance, general "fix-this" around the house stuff. Which she might even take, to her point of how women are brought up to do house work and men are not, which if thats the case, and the two are obviously educated colleagues/spouses working together, isn't it just as much on that wife to not assume she has to do the housework and he has to do the fix-this masculine tasks of the house? Whose to say maybe he wouldn't bestow her the housework if she didn't assume it? Or isn't it presumptuous to assume he should do the yard-work, fix-this chores? Again, who knows, for all I know, the guy could come home from work, veg out in front of the TV and drink. But we're not told anything other than 1) they both work together at the same job, with the same degree, and everything is the same, 2) they come home, she has to do housework. That's all we're told, and then we're told why this is wrong. Nothing else, and all very vague and generalizations. (Obviously so this fits in with her theme, and the biasness there-in).
But like I said (and not to nitpick or over-critique minor things) much of her points are definitely things I agree with (especially as a husband and father of three daughters), but just reading this, it comes across as overly anecdotal and that is a bit off-putting. It seems well presented outside of the anecdotal-ness to it, and I will definitely have to search YouTube for the actual talk clip to watch, to see if there's more she let out (or visual presentations as well).
Still definitely worth the read, and makes me even intrigued to read her fiction works.