You know her as the author of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and ‘Americanah’, the woman behind the profoundly important TED Talk on feminism, which was sampled in Beyonce’s ‘Flawless’ track, and the badass who shot down a commentator who claimed Donald Trump wasn’t a racist in a recent UK TV appearance talking about the US Presidential election. Yep, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of our all-time feminist heroes, whose TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” has been turned into a book that is being distributed at schools across Sweden.
And her bold, powerful message about feminism ain’t slowing down any time soon. In fact, ever since she had a daughter, she has been speaking even more so about this, now that she has the opportunity to personally impact the life of a young girl in a very profound and meaningful way. Chimamanda has also signed a beauty deal with Boots, for their No.7 skincare and makeup range.
Part of her message, and the brand’s message at large, is that femininity and liking makeup and fashion does not have to be entirely separate from feminism. In a series of promo videos and round table sessions for Boots with other celebrity brand ambassadors, what comes across clearly in her expressing why she likes taking care of her appearance, is that beauty should not be the first and most important aspect of a woman, nor should it have to be shunned for a woman to be taken seriously. We really like this subtle shift in messaging and how it is allowing fashion and beauty to be a core part of feminism and femininity.
“I grew up in Nigeria; if you’re a serious, intelligent woman and you wear make-up and dress up, people don’t judge you, because culturally there is an expectation that you care about your appearance,’ she said. ‘When I moved to the US to go to college, […] that’s when I thought – these people are not going to take me seriously if I whip out my bright red lipstick at the writers’ conference […] So I stopped…Being female, being young-ish and being black were all things I had to overcome in my bid for seriousness,” she said.
In an interview with The New York Times, she elaborated on her new partnership and why she believes there is an unspoken general agreement that makeup is a signal women shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
“It’s about a culture that diminishes women. The things we traditionally think of as masculine are not things our culture dismisses as frivolous. Sports, for example, we think of as masculine. It’s something that our culture takes quite seriously. I think it’s part of a larger picture of a world that simply doesn’t give women the same status that it gives men,” she said.
At the same time, she believes women need to be allowed “multiplicity” where they can make choices about their appearance for themselves, rather than an industry or society dictating it to them. She champions the likes of Alicia Keys and her “no makeup” movement.
“What I would love to see changed is the baggage we bring to those judgments. When we see a man who’s well dressed, we don’t assume that he must be shallow or he must not be a serious person. Talking about men is helpful because we can then say, “If this woman who we are judging were male, and everything else stayed the same, would we judge her the same way?” I think that would be a fair way to think of it,” she said.
No doubt this will be one of the important lessons she shares with her daughter. In fact, she published an essay on her Facebook Page titled “DEAR IJEAWELE, OR A FEMINIST MANIFESTO IN FIFTEEN SUGGESTIONS” which was a letter to a friend who also recently had a baby daughter. Chimamanda lists the feminists values she is raising her own daughter with, and no doubt shared this publicly for even more people to adopt as well.
There are some universal truths in her piece such as working together, learning to love books, questioning language (especially commonly accepted sexist language), celebrating differences, and placing emphasis on the importance of developing our own identity.
But there are also specific lessons that we hope a generation of feminists and feminist parents will teach their young sons and daughters, the kind of messages many of us didn’t necessarily have the privilege of growing up with. These include teaching girls that motherhood is beautiful but should not be the sole aspect of how you define yourself, that “gender roles” are absolute nonsense because who you are shouldn’t limit your opportunities in life, marriage is not an “achievement” (this is a key component of her TED Talk where she says girls are socially conditioned to “aspire to marriage” whereas boys are not), that biology shouldn’t be used as an excuse for creating “social norms”, being “likeable” should not be your main focus, and talk about sex at an early age.
Here are some of our favorite quotes from the essay:
“I have no interest in the debate about women ‘doing it all’ because it is a debate that assumes that care-giving and domestic work are exclusively female domains, an idea that I strongly reject.”
“If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential…Do not measure her on a scale of what a girl should be. Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself.”
“Our world is full of men and women who do not like powerful women. We have been so conditioned to think of power as male, that a powerful woman is an aberration. And so she is policed. We ask of powerful women – is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? We judge powerful women more harshly than we judge powerful men.”
“Teach her to question men who can have empathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than as individual equal humans. Men who, when discussing rape, will always say something like ‘if it were my daughter or wife or sister.’ Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of crime ‘as a brother or son’ in order to feel empathy.”
“Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people…instead…teach her to be honest. And kind. And brave. Encourage her to speak her mind, to say what she really thinks, to speak truthfully.”
“If she likes makeup let her wear it. If she likes fashion let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.”
“Never ever link her appearance with morality. Never tell her that a short skirt is ‘immoral.’ Make dressing a question of taste and attractiveness instead of a question of morality.”
“The shame we attach to female sexuality is about control. Many cultures and religions control women’s bodies in one way or the other…Women must be ‘covered up’ to protect men. I find this deeply dehumanizing because it reduces women to mere props used to manage the appetites of men…Never ever link sexuality and shame. Or nakedness and shame. Do not ever make ‘virginity’ a focus. Every conversation about virginity becomes a conversation about shame. Teach her to reject the linking of shame and female biology.”
“Teach her that to love is not only to give but also to take. This is important because we give girls subtle cues about their lives – we teach girls that a large component of their ability to love is their ability to self-sacrifice. We do not teach this to boys. Teach her that to love she must give of herself emotionally but she must also expect to be given.”
“Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.”