You already know her as the best-selling author who has given one of the most incredible TED Talks on feminism. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is also the woman whose said TED Talk was featured on Beyonce’s “***Flawless” track launching her into mainstream pop culture (thanks Queen Bey) so that even more women and men around the world could hear her important thoughts on gender roles, and how they hurt everybody.
She divides her time between her native country Nigeria and the US, where she regularly gives talks about her work. In May, she was honored at the 2015 Write Girls Now Awards where she gave a speech about the importance of women raising their voices and sharing their stories, even if it makes them unpopular.
“I think that what our society teaches young girls and I think it’s also something that’s quite difficult for even older women, self-confessed feminists to shrug off is that idea that likability is an essential part of the space that you occupy in the world. That you’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes and make yourself likable, that you’re supposed to kind of hold back sometimes, pull back, don’t quite say, don’t be too pushy because you have to be likable. And I say that is bullshit,” she said.
She went on to say how being truthful can be difficult as it may not always attract positive attention. But would you rather be likable or authentic? That’s the challenging question she posed throughout her speech:
Following on from this, Chimamanda was asked to give a commencement speech at Wellesley College for the graduating class of 2015 where she spoke about one of her fave topics – feminism, and daring to speak your mind.
She gave some inspiring advice about how feminism isn’t just a movement for a certain type of person, it is a crucial movement that champions the cause of issues such as paid family leave, equal pay and the increased and equal representation of women in the media.
Throughout the speech she shares some insightful anecdotes about growing up in Nigeria and certain cultural signifiers that forced her to question gender roles and traditions that saw women as less than equal to men. She also talks about how she never thought being featured on Beyonce’s album would cause such polarizing reactions simply because of the term “feminist”.
What she has learned is that feminism needs to be more inclusive for it to be more widely adopted.
“Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms. And so, class of 2015, please go out there and make Feminism a big raucous inclusive party,” she said.
“I have said a few things that have not been so popular with a number of people. I have been told to shut up about certain things – such as my position on the equal rights of gay people on the continent of Africa, such as my deeply held belief that men and women are completely equal. I don’t speak to provoke. I speak because I think our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that is what somebody wants us to say, then we are wasting our time on earth,” she continued after mentioning that her father was recently kidnapped in Nigeria but thankfully found and returned after her family paid a ransom.
It was an incident that shook her up deeply and made her realize there is no time to waste doing things that aren’t important in life.
She listed some very practical ways that people can utilize feminism to make the world a better and more inclusive place.
“I urge you to try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way. Write television shows in which female strength is not depicted as remarkable but merely normal. Teach your students to see that vulnerability is a HUMAN rather than a FEMALE trait,” she said.
“Commission magazine articles that teach men HOW TO KEEP A WOMAN HAPPY. Because there are already too many articles that tell women how to keep a man happy. And in media interviews make sure fathers are asked how they balance family and work. In this age of ‘parenting as guilt,’ please spread the guilt equally. Make fathers feel as bad as mothers. Make fathers share in the glory of guilt,” she added about how feminism doesn’t just benefit women, but families.
“Campaign and agitate for paid paternity leave everywhere in America. Hire more women where there are few. But remember that a woman you hire doesn’t have to be exceptionally good. Like a majority of the men who get hired, she just needs to be good enough.”
It’s the speech that is essential viewing today. They are the statements that need to be much more widely spread in the media, rather than viral stories about certain female celebrities who say they don’t need feminism and go on to share the wrong definition.
The less we vilify women for their choices and the more we share diverse definitions of how feminism benefits all people, perhaps gender equality won’t be such a problematic ideal in society.