Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie instantly became one of my literary heroes after I read Americanah. I would even go so far as to rank that book as one of my top reads ever.
Somehow though, I don’t think my accolades will make much of an impression on Adichie’s trophy cabinet. Her TEDx talk, We Should All Be Feminists has been watched over 6 million times; Beyonce sampled her talk in the song Flawless; the book We Should All Be Feminists is being distributed to every 16 year old in Sweden, and this month Adichie made it into Fortune Magazine’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. We Should All Be Feminists has been followed up by Dear Ijeawale, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, released just this month. Both books are a fantastic read, and provide a vital contribution to the feminist canon.
We Should All Be Feminists is the size of a Penguins 60s Classic, and is only 50 pages long. Her language is simple and devoid of academic jargon. Her opinions are backed up by anecdote rather than statistics. Despite this, or because of it, her essay is a powerful one.
Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.
My other recent feminist read, Fight Like a Girl (which I reviewed here) is written by Clementine Ford who also speaks plainly about gender injustices and her anger. However, Adichie’s slim essay is significantly more powerful than Ford’s book-length polemic. For me, it’s because Aidichi is practical (‘this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently’); she persuades rather than bludgeons, her language is respectful, and she acknowledges the damaging effect of masculinity on men (‘masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage’), while still recognising that patriarchy privileges them – a difficult line to tread.
She writes plainly and persuasively:
Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest…. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.
The simplicity of her language recently got her into a bit of strife; her comments about transgender women raised the ire of some critics who interpreted her words as belittling transwomen’s experiences (as you can read here. As well as her explanation, rather than her apology). In Dear Ijeawale, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Adichie explicitly addresses her avoidance of technical language (‘we feminists can sometimes be too jargony, and jargon can sometimes feel too abstract’).
Dear Ijeawale is an excellent follow up to We Should All Be Feminists, and is possibly even better. It’s based on a letter Adichie wrote to a friend about how to raise a daughter as a feminist. She has adopted a similar format – a short, readable essay, but it feels like she’s gained more confidence in her feminist message, and in turn, being a feminist figure. I love her challenge to all women to be unconditional feminists, ‘Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not’.
Dear Ijeawale‘s fifteen short chapters are inspiring, and again, practical. Despite being a mum of two boys, I found many of her suggestions aimed at parents of daughters hugely relevant and insightful – ‘never apologise for working’, don’t be complicit in diminishing the role of fathers, never say that fathers are ‘babysitting’ their own children, teach your kids to love books (‘the best way is by casual example’), and the fantastic line: ‘the knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina’. She provides many examples of how, although we think we’re raising our children gender neutrally, we really don’t. None of this is preachy though – she somehow delivers her advice in a way that’s instructive and non-judgemental.
Given I’m mother of two boys, I feel a huge responsibility to ensure my sons grow into men who wholly respect girls’ and women’s human rights. I want them to be as stricken by the presence of gender-based violence as I am. I want them to become men who will spontaneously challenge other men’s sexist behaviours. In sum, I want them to choose to neutralise their white, male privilege in meaningful ways. Reading Adichie’s books has reinforced my sense of obligation to do this, but she has also inspired me to believe that I can. I urge every mother and father to read these books, and to read them together with their daughters and sons.
And because I’ve had this in my head since I started writing this post, here is Beyonce ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
Feature post thanks to Viktorija from Andsmile Studio, who does awesome graphics.