This post will focus on the book We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Written in 2014, it was first presented as a TED Talk in the UK in 2012. Now in slim paperback form, Adichie’s book reads as a refreshing, compassionate personal essay that asks, “What does “feminism” mean today?”
Adichie’s purpose in defining the 21st Century concept of “feminism” is at first to illuminate the deeply ingrained social behaviors that have and continue to marginalize women, particularly in her African country of Nigeria. She gives evidence for the perpetuation of these behaviors across generations and prompts her own experiences of subjugation as a testimony.
For example, she tells about an evening out in her home town of Lagos, Nigeria, where her and her male friend Louis were going to get dinner. She recalls how at the end of the evening, she gave the man who had parked her car a tip. After taking the money out of her hand, the man turned and looked at Louis, apparently exclaiming, “Thank you, sah!” (7). In addition to her own stories, Adichie also reveals the still prevalent injustices toward women in the workforce and in the realm of social expectations.
In the second part of her gentle confrontation, Adichie calls for the reimagining of the word “feminism” as a method by which we raise our sons and daughters in order to reach a fairer world, one in which both male and females are treated equally. Conclusively, Adichie’s message is less for the uprising of women to exceed the patriarchy, and more a call for mothers and fathers to end the continuation of these deeply ingrained ideas about gender through their parenting habits.
What is energizing about Adichie’s voice is that it is one of coherence, clarity, and raw humanism. Unlike the volumes of feminist theory books that line the shelves of any college library, Adichie’s style is relaxed, to-the-point, and minds the layman. She even says at one point, “…each time I try to read those books called “classic feminist texts”, I get bored…” (3).
Her tone, which seeks not to blame men, but to attribute gender discrimination to all people, candidly states the facts and encourages a straightforward look at what it is to be a feminist, which is simply a person who believes in equality for women and men alike. Briefly, Adichie recognizes that society as a whole must change if equality is to be achieved, and the way to do that is to start with children.
Adichie brilliantly points out the propensity to raise our boys to be appreciated for their aggressiveness, that we define the idea of “masculinity” so narrowly that we place our men in a box. Boys are taught, Adichie emphasizes, to stifle their fears, their weaknesses, and to shun vulnerability. On the other hand, the girls who eventually become subjugated women in society are raised to value beauty, to crave marriage, to worry about what people think of them, to stifle their own anger, their own opinions, their own voices, in order to make way for men. And so, these boys and girls grow-up and the cycle of gender discrimination continues on.
What Adichie is calling for is the raising of boys and girls to claim different values, to eliminate this idea that each gender exist within certain boundaries, or else be persecuted. She does so in such an engaging way, that one can whip through her 52-page essay in the time it takes for a couple cups of morning coffee to be slurped.
Adichie’s solution is simple, which is what is so beautiful about it. In foregoing the usual feminist jargon, she succeeds in outlining the cause of feminism for people who either don’t quite understand its mission or have been hesitant to delve into the idea because of the misnomer of its cause, which has often been spread by so-called “radical feminists” and the like. Hesitators of reading this book should rest assured that what Adichie has done is to reconstruct a frequently alienating, transient, and sometimes combative subject into a transparent, rational, accessible, and all-around essential idea.
Ultimately, Adichie is simply asking us to be aware of these disparities in our culture, to ask ourselves why we as males and females should be threats to each other, and how we can work to eliminate those habits. This piece has been curated for every person, whether they consider themselves feminists, or whether they’re not sure what a feminist is. It will provide a simple, effective definition of the term and give a compelling assignment to parents and future parents to raise children to be equalizers in a world of uneven gender roles.
While this is more complicated than it sounds, (because every culture has their own deeply ingrained views on gender roles), it is only obvious that we begin at the childhood level in order to affect change in our future. I believe if we implement her uncomplicated parenting and personal habits, we could see the eradication of gender discrimination over a period of a few generations. If you’re willing to explore this idea, too, then do yourself a favor and read this all-together informative, humorous, and valuable essay.