We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published: Anchor Books
Other Works By this Author: Americanah, The Thing Around Your Neck, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Purple Hibiscus
This short, powerful read is a modified version of a talk that Adichie presented at TEDxEuston in the UK in 2012 which is a conference focused on Africa. I was skeptical when I bought the book that something so short (48 pages) could provide substantive insight on a movement shrouded by so much controversy and so rich in history. I can say with confidence after reading it, that this book that it is by far the most accessible I have ever read on the topic and serves as an inspiring introduction to the importance of feminism in today’s society.
I have been working my way through many of the “classical” feminist texts after being inspired in my first semester of law school by the subject matter and my peers. Even as a law student, I find some of the books that are touted as being essential to my understanding of the material to be difficult to get through. They provide interesting insight and each one deepens my understanding and brings new perspective. However, none of them lit exactly the same fire under my ass that this book did. I started tabbing all of the pages with quotes I wanted to use until I realized that I was tabbing every page. I began excitedly telling my friends they needed to pick up a copy because it is simply so accessible. It highlights in colorful stories the ways that people have tried to lessen the impact of feminism through stereotyping.
One of the stereotypes that stuck out to me was the story of the man from Nigeria.
“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.”
I immediately was interested to know why this man thought that a woman’s happiness depended upon her finding a husband.
Another stereotype was that of Adichie’s friend.
“…a dear friend told me that calling myself a feminist meant that I hated men.”
Why does advocating for women’s rights have to mean that I hate men? The two don’t appear mutually exclusive to me, and I would love to hear why she thought that they were.
Adichie then goes on to summarize many of the stereotypes in a sentence to illustrate how the word feminist carries so much heavy baggage with this explanation:
“… you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don’t wear make-up, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humor, you don’t use deodorant.”
People mistake the idea that feminists don’t think women should do these things. In my opinion, the movement is more interested in the why behind women doing these things. If the women are wearing bras and make-up and deodorant and shaving because it is required of them by society then I think we have a problem. I do not think we have a problem with girls that enjoy these activities for themselves. We cannot shame women who enjoy wearing lipstick and heels when they do it for their own enjoyment and self-care. It is not fair to tell women that they must look like the bra-burners of the 1960’s because that is just what feminists “do.” That seems to me to be the equivalent of the patriarchy telling women that they must wear make-up and bras. They seem equally suspicious in a quest towards gender equality. The idea of gender equality to me means that women should have the right to think and dress and act how they want to without being told to modify their behavior to assimilate into the patriarchy OR the feminist movement. I also know that personally I hate wearing bras and putting on make-up (just ask my fiance) but that doesn’t mean it is my place to tell other women what to do with their bodies.
Adichie then proceeds to a discussion about women in the workplace and the problems that they face. She traces the root of the problem back to how we raise our young children.
“We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently. We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put the boys inside this cage.”
What powerful imagery. I let this passage soak in for a while. This passage is exactly the problem with the education of our young boys. What if we were to re-imagine this and reform how we teach our boys. To allow them to not only have emotions, but to express them. To allow them to not only have diverse interests, but to pursue them even if they are not traditionally “male.” To allow them to see that their self-worth is not contingent on the suppression of females, but to instead show them that gender equality is beneficial for everyone including themselves.
I could continue on and on about the wonderful insights this book provided me with, however I will leave the rest of the gems for you to discover when you pick up your own copy. Please leave me feedback about how you felt about both the book, and my personal interpretations of some of the passages! I love to hear both supportive and critical views because my own views are ever-changing.