Nigerian author, speaker and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been an awesome global force for women whose words became even more popular when Beyonce famously sampled them on her track ***Flawless on her self-titled most recent album.
The words she sampled were from a now-famous TED Talk by Chimamanda where she talks about feminism, and why it is important to teach it to girls. More recently, we have seen some heated debates about the relevance of feminism, thanks to the tumblr ‘Women Against Feminism’ and all the negative light they are casting on the movement.
More than anything, our point of view is that people are now having honest an open conversations on a global scale, and we have an anti-feminist site to that for that. Feminism is getting more publicity than ever, in this digital age where literally anything has the potential to go viral, like their tumblr page. What it has also allowed is for the positive (read: not radical or exclusionary) feminist voices to rise up and be stronger than ever, and show cynics that all the stereotypical things about the movement that seem to be perpetuated by society, are certainly not telling the full story. The negative and radicalism has hijacked what true feminism is about: equality, and women supporting women.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has just released a book version of her TED talk called ‘We should all be feminists’, which you can buy online, or you can watch the full video here. Given the current climate of feminism, it couldn’t have been more timely.
If there is anyone out there looking for a clear, concise, short and convincing reason why feminism is still relevant, this is the speech you need to hear or read. To start off, let’s be reminded of the dictionary definition: “the theory of the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
For those that think Chimamanda spent her life reading feminist books and probably can’t identify with her, you’d be wrong.
“Much of my early reading was decidedly unfeminist: I must have read every single Mills & Boon romance published before I was sixteen. And each time I try to read those books called ‘classic feminist texts,’ I get bored, and I struggle to finish them.”
“The word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage,” she writes, and goes on to talk about how she was called a feminist by a friend she was arguing with at the age of 14, but in that moment she knew it wasn’t said as a compliment.
Since she didn’t come from a background where typical feminist prose was available, her ideologies were formed from questioning the world around her. Why wasn’t she allowed to go to a club without a man accompanying her? Why is a woman staying by herself at a hotel automatically seen as a prostitute? Why are women with money assumed to have gotten it off the men with them? Why are women seen as outcasts if they aren’t married by a certain age?
So why does she think we should all be feminists? Because despite the femininity associated with the label itself, it is something that affects both genders. There is a heavy dose of egalitarianism injected into modern day feminism, where there are conversations being had about how the negative gender roles for men are just as bad.
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, we shame them we police them,’ she says. “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 boys inside this cage.”
“In addition to being angry, I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better,” she says.
It is interesting to note that although growing up in Nigeria is a vastly different experience than growing up in America, gender bias is a universal concept that can be identified everywhere.
In an interview with Vogue about the release of her book, Chimamanda says her speech was received quite well from the men in her country.
“I was surprised that some of the young men that I’ve heard from, mostly Nigerians, who I thought of as so retrograde that they could not be saved, actually started to think about and talk about gender. We don’t really talk about gender, and I’m very much a believer in the power of discourse, in having conversations, of trying to reach out.”
She expands on how important it is to her to truly walk the talk of equality, and include men in these discussions.
“When I think about gender, I think it’s a shame that it’s thought of as women’s business. Why aren’t men interested? It concerns both. The ideas are harmful to women, but to accept them also reduces men, the ability, the intelligence, the way so many people would be so much happier if we raised boys differently. I really do believe that men and women should all be feminists.”
So for all those naysayers who blame feminists for being exclusionary, we implore you not to get hung up on labels and stigma. There are plenty of us who know the value of men in this movement.
One of her other books, ‘Americanah’ is being made into a movie by Lupita Nyong’o who she admires greatly. Most than anything Chimamanda is passionate about making her voice being heard loud and clear above all the others who are doing a disservice to feminism. While feminists in the western world have different concerns than those in Africa, the idea is the same. Chimamanda says the more we educate and equip younger generations, they will be the ones to act out what others before them were not able to.
“I do think that it might be a little too late for certain generations, so it has to start in the smallest places for future generations. I really believe in the power of narrative-it humanizes the story.. When I talk about all the bullshit ideas about gender, I also believed many of those ideas and they are things that I still struggle with.”
In a time when calling yourself a feminist can immediately categorize or isolate you in society, it is powerful to see a woman standing up unapologetically because she knows what she is creating awareness for is worth it. Thank you Chimamanda for encouraging the rest of the feminist community not to be afraid, and for doing your part to show the rest of the world that they also don’t have to fear feminism.