Aug 4, 2014

Muse: Why Everyone Should Read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "We Should All Be Feminists"

Being a feminist means being true to yourself regardless of whatever expectations society throws at you --- or so I thought. Other voices started talking...and talking...and talking...and talking and pretty soon feminism became an abundance of ideas, practices, and declarations to me. Then somehow rules were set, criteria was instated. You don't do this, you do this. You identify as this, you sure as hell don't identify as this. Then it became generational. It became womanism. It became #solidarityisforwhitewomen. It became #yesallwomen. It became Women Against Feminism. It became complicated as fuck.

Pliable as Play-Doh are the concepts of feminism, and yet some have built unmovable, hardened statues with them allowing the idea to become daunting to those unfamiliar to it or disdainful for those conditioned on stereotypes and whatever jargon talking heads spew. The definition of "feminism" is pretty straightforward. It's described simply as, "the belief or theory that men and women should have equal political, economic, and social rights and opportunities". What is also straightforward is Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie's essay, "We Should All Be Feminists", which yanks away all the conversational barnacles that get attached to feminism and its practitioners, and brings a centered and thoughtful dialogue toward it.

If this essay sounds familiar to you, you're not having a case of déjà vu, as Adichie addressed a TEDxEutson audience back in December of 2012 with this exact essay. It's also the infamous essay that was sampled by Beyonce for her song, "Flawless". In the last year or so its made the rounds in terms of audio, but some things just resonate better visually on paper, and "We Should All Be Feminists" takes on a new life when the text is laid out.

The essay is an approachable testimony. It's a sigh of relief to all the doubts and hesitations one might have when trying to understand feminism, but it isn't preachy or demands that you call yourself such. It dismantles the notion that feminism is some super secretive club that only the uber-privileged, man-hating, shaving dissenters, and accomplished boss ladies can unlock the door to. True, a lot of what Adichie relays isn't earth-shattering, or remotely academic, especially to those who knew this all along, but since women are still being treated as a lesser than to men, and we've got a new generation coming of age and believing that denouncing gender equality is the cool thing to do, this conversation is still fully in progress and needed. Adichie has also admitted that the scholarly side of feminism isn't her deal, and for that it's gratifying to know that someone out there can bring a crystal clearness to such a broad topic without quoting from the keystones of feminism texts and its philosophers.

Adichie formats this essay by personal encounters and begins with the negative ideals she built up about feminism, recounting the time when she was first called a "feminist"and how it was done under a negative context. From there she analyzes all the negativity attached to feminism to unearth the positives, reclaiming the word on her personal grounds. Crammed with lots of truths, the part that I particularly couldn't stop nodding my head to was her views on how women and men are raised, and how the way we raise them keeps us on this continuing cycle of dividing and misunderstanding each other. Adichie feels that we raise children on the basis of gender, and that we should raise them on ability and interest instead to enact a balance. So on-point.

Oh, and her thoughts on marriage and singleness? I want to mural them on every wall, everywhere. Adichie notes validly about how women are shamed and not taken seriously for being single, describing an unmarried friend who has to wear a fake wedding ring at conventions in order to be respected. Adichie further notes how it's constantly a woman's responsibility to cultivate and preserve a marriage. That a woman has to give up larger things like careers and goals that cater to her desires, while men "give up" mere trifles like cigars and strip clubs. She notes all these unbalances and more.

I admit to having some qualms about Adichie herself after viewing and reading interviews of her and being quite put-off by her recent novel, Americanah, which everyone and their mama seems to love. A friend graciously informed me to see things from Adichie's perspective as her being from Nigeria lends to how she carries and presents herself, and this essay allows me to understand better why she presents herself with such high regard. She illustrates several anecdotes where her femininity was belittled, and she describes times where she wasn't allowed in certain clubs unless she had a male accompaniment or was once thought of as a prostitute when checking into a room at a luxury hotel. Her biggest brush with double standards occurred when she tipped a valet and the valet didn't thank her, but instead thanked her male friend who had accompanied her, as he assumed that the money she handed him must have come from a man --- not from her. Oof. These incidents shaped Adichie to realize that her being a woman in her country was a "problem", but it led her to have pride become a survival mechanism for her.

I do think that since Adichie comes from Nigeria she doesn't quite capture the voice of an American woman of color and how they view feminism. Though she wholly (and rightfully) welcomes all walks of life into the conversation, finding your feminine identity as an American woman of color is walking a potholed road of antiquated stereotypes and combating against long-standing, historically minted White supremacy. Often times you can't fully feel the same type of empowerment that your White peers feel as their ability to express themselves as they so choose is considered the norm, while yours is often questioned, mangled, downgraded or simply ignored. While Adichie is speaking from a universal standpoint her assertions might not be the joyful noise American women of color would make about feminism considering how the history of the 1st and 2nd wave movements of feminism took strides to shut out non-privileged, non-White women. Still Adichie exceptionally defines things for the 3rd wave set, driving home how all women and those who support women are all grasping for the same thing: to be heard, respected, and simply thought of as equals. That's all a lot of us want and that's what all of us should consider for each other.

Like Adichie, I'm angry that every day is a new day dealing with sexism and bullschmidt, but amid my sneers I'm also hopeful. Hopeful that I can be feminine and feminist, hopeful that my brand of feminism is included into the conversation, hopeful that my future offspring won't have to endure the crap I had to endure, hopeful that my anger and others anger can resonate towards finding positive solutions.

Feminism should be something that women can mold and shape for themselves, covet and keep, and not lend to surprise or offense when another woman comes along with her own little sculpture that she has molded for herself. Feminism should be something not to distrust and something that men shouldn't feel threatened by. And yeah, I realize not that I was right all along, feminism is all about being true to yourself, regardless of what others expect of you. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie welcomes you to these thoughts as she has molded her empowerment for herself, as I have on my terms, because we are feminists, and well, everyone else should be too.

Purchase "We Should All Be Feminists" for a mere .99 cents via online book distributors.

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