Title: We Should All Be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Publication Date: October 2014
What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. With humour and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century – one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviours that marginalise women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences – in the U.S., in her native Nigeria – offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike. Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a best-selling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today – and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
This little book of 52 pages packs quite a punch. Chimamanda quite simply places questions in front of the reader, prompting us to think “well yes, why is it this way?”and made me wonder how I can break the mould that I have placed on myself and my way of thinking due to society’s preconceived restrictions on women and gender.
Chimamanda is from Nigeria and the issue of women being equal to men is more prominent there. When she went for a meal with a male friend, the waiter thanked her friend after Chimamanda paid because no woman can earn money in that country and, therefore, the money had to have come from a man. Even though in the Western world we have evolved a little more in that respect, there are some points that Chimamanda makes that struck me as being completely relevant here and now. A few sections of this book really made me think and made me feel ashamed that I took this for the norm rather than taking a step back and realising that this should be a motive for change. One of those things was:-
“We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case […] We praise girls for virginity but we don’t praise boys for virginity.”
These words sent me straight back to my secondary school where my daily teenage life was spent wondering what my crush thought of me, whether he liked me back or thought I was fat or ugly. Where did this worry come from? Why did I spend my time worrying about him when he wouldn’t have ever spent a second worrying about what I thought of him? It hit me hard that girls are trained by either family, friends or media that it is important what others think of you and yet boys are not coached the same way.
In terms of virginity, it takes two to tango as they say, so why is virginity celebrated more in women than men? From the dawn of time, women’s virginity was sacred to them and used as a bartering tool to arrange business transactions or, more affectionately known as, marriage. The definition of virginity is ‘the state of never having had sexual intercourse’ and this definition isn’t gender specific; both males and females are virgins until sexual intercourse takes place but women are taught that virginity is a something to treasure whereas, when men reach a certain age, being a virgin is seen as shameful. It is a stigma that needs to be urgently addressed.
One of the things that really annoys me is when girls and women are told “they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough […] but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reason.” Chimamanda gives a fantastic example of an aggressive stern manager who was replaced by a woman and this lady enacted the same techniques he did but her colleagues complained that she was too hard to work with. This riles me beyond belief. Even in my 29 years of being on this earth I have suffered these situations all too frequently with actions and comments being brushed aside because I ‘don’t know any better’ and when I try to fight my corner, I am told that I need to stop being so emotional. I was once told that feminism is no longer needed in the world because equality has happened between men and women, they are on equal pay. Firstly, they’re not for some job roles and, secondly, it goes much deeper than money. But that is for another time.
As a mother I felt that this book gave me a great insight in ways to raise my son: “what if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender?”. This promotes the idea that a woman’s place is not in the kitchen, it can be a place for a woman and a man. Our children need to believe they can conquer and achieve anything they want to in life and not have restrictions placed on them that society deems to be correct. If my son wants to be a make up artist or a midwife then so be it; if my friend’s little girl wants to be a mechanic or an electrician then she will have to tools to carve her career. It is so important that we shake off the preconceptions that society place on our children before they’re even born; they and we are so much more than just our genitals and archaic labels.
I am a feminist. I want equality for all and this book lit that fire within me to want to push for change. I honestly believe it is an important piece of writing that everyone should read, whether you are male or female.