Perhaps you know of her as the brilliant author of works like Americanah or Half of a Yellow Sun. Perhaps you were hungrily following the barrage of media surrounding Yoncé’s new album. Either way, you should know about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an influential woman and a feminist. Why? Because her TED Talk on feminism doesn’t just outline what the circumstances of gender equality are like today. It proves how distorted the concept of feminism has become.
Many media outlets misinterpret what Chimamanda stands for. For example, there are ‘feminist’ outlets that publish articles with statements like: “Despite her strong feminist views, Chimamanda is a married woman”. So, to clarify, despite the fact that Chimamanda believes in equality among the sexes, she is married. Because why would any self-respecting feminist want to have a family and form a bond with a fellow human being that happens to be of the opposite sex? This gross misreading influences the public, and we cannot deny that the public forms opinions through various types of media.
It’s no wonder then, that so many are reluctant to call themselves feminists. The media and popular culture has portrayed feminism as something that is associated with angry and/or pot-stirring, bossy women who hate lip-gloss, men, and bras. I call bullshit.
Here are the top ten points from Chimamanda’s speech that put the term “feminism” into perspective for me.
1. Everyone struggles with the meaning of the word “feminist”. At one point, Chimamanda felt the need to specify herself as “a happy, African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself but not for men”.
We’ve all been there and may still be straddling that awkward position where we’re too scared putting our foot down for or against ‘feminism’. It comes with so much “heavy baggage”, as Chimamanda says, that most of us would rather stay out of a conversation that affects us so deeply.
Do you believe that you deserve as much pay on the job as your male counterparts? Do you believe that there should be more women in government, especially those representing issues for women? Do you believe that a woman should be treated with as much respect as a man no matter where she is or whom she is with? If any of those answers are a yes, you’re a feminist. Congratulations! You did it without abstaining from men, heels, bras, or the color pink. You didn’t even have to burn anything. Are you a male reader who nodded yes to the above questions? Fear not! This doesn’t make you less of a man, just a better human being ready to be involved in a more balanced society.
2. Double standards still exist and it’s about time that they don’t.
When Chimamanda was in fourth grade, she wanted to be class monitor. To become class monitor, you had to get the highest grades on a test. Chimamanda got the highest score and was told she couldn’t be class monitor. Because she was a girl. Before you say, “This was long ago”, keep in mind that double-standards still exist.
Thousands of years ago, physical strength was the deciding factor for leadership and survival. Now we live in a world where intelligence and creativity matter. Chimamanda emphasizes that no hormones affect these qualities in a human being. And, in case we have a Captain Obvious in the room (there’s always one…), please refrain from pointing out that men and women are biologically different. Let’s not let the process of socialization exaggerate these biological differences into social capability and incapability. Despite what some think, there really is no such thing as a “domesticity gene”.
3. Chimamanda faces the constant criticism that her articles on feminism seem “angry”.
News flash: we should ALL be a little incited. If you’re not angry about the fact that one set of human beings is given preference over another because of an appendage hanging between their legs, or lack thereof, there’s a problem. And it’s called gender inequality.
This is not to say that to be a feminist you need to be an angry woman. Ladies, let’s stop sitting on the sidelines and watching our sex struggle to achieve the same status as men. Gender is not an easy conversation to have, so don’t just get angry, get passionate and involved. Jennifer Lawrence, Beyoncé, Meryl Streep, Chimamanda and, heck, even Joseph Gordon Levitt can’t fight our battles for us, especially if we praise them for doing so but do nothing to alter the state of norm ourselves.
4. It’s time to stop being worried about whether your personality and success are going to intimidate a man. In Chimamanda’s words, “A man who would be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in”.
Preach. The next time a man tries to get you to lower your career status or personal standards, consider that a giant red flag dancing around with the words HELL NO on it. He’s got a fragile ego. You don’t need to cater to it.
5. There needs to be a shift in the language of marriage.
First: you don’t have to compromise yourself as a woman or a feminist in order to get married. Marriage can be a source of joy, love, and support. To all the women out there who think that feminism involves denouncing men and marriage, I beseech you to think again. That being said, we all have the right to make an informed and comfortable choice, no matter what people say about expired eggs. If marriage isn’t for you, that’s all that needs to be said.
Second: the language of marriage is currently the language of ownership, not partnership. Now, there ain’t nothing wrong with things like the MRS. CARTER TOUR. Taking on your husband’s name out of preference while still considering yourself an equal to him is great. Beyoncé celebrates her power as an individual while acknowledging that she has a partner whom she loves and cares for. Make no mistake; she’s the one kicking ass on stage, not her hubby. Be mindful of your own relationship language. Partnership > ownership.
6. We’re doing a disservice to boys in how we raise them…
…by defining masculinity in the narrowest way. Chimamanda throws a cloud of connected points at us, encouraging a process of challenge and change. Boys are taught to be afraid of weakness and vulnerability. They mock emotion and mask their true selves. They’re constantly facing societal pressure of having to be the ‘strong’ ‘provider’. This little point leaves one tumbling down the rabbit hole of endless questions. Who’s to say that women can’t pay for the date every now and then? Why is it that there is rarely an instance of paternity leave? Why is it that wives thank their husband for changing diapers? So on and so on.
7. We’re doing a disservice to girls in how we raise them…
…by teaching them to “shrink themselves” in terms of ambition and goals. They should aspire to marriage and are taught to compromise. We police girls; we praise them for their virginity and stamp out their right to feel desire and accept themselves as sexual beings. We teach women shame, “Close your legs…cover yourself up”, and yet we don’t teach boys how not to ogle at or use women as sexual objects. Women grow up turning “pretense into an art form” and live their lives only acknowledging the aspects of themselves that they think are safe to show society. Are you mentally calculating the number of times you’ve subconsciously encountered these constraints and not thought twice about it? I did. And it terrified me.
8. It’s time to focus on abilities and interests instead of gender when raising our children.
No explanation necessary here. It’s a fact.
9. Have confidence. Chimamanda told herself: “I choose to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity and I want to be respected…because I deserve to be”.
Personally, it was important for me to articulate to myself that feminine is NOT anti-feminist nor is it a negative attribute. The color pink is beautiful. And Legally Blonde is a great f*cking movie, so back off haters. Having stated this, it is also crucial to acknowledge that being a woman does not mean there is a requirement to be “feminine”. The problem arises when people associate feminine qualities with weak or shallow behavior. It’s time to kick the stereotypical concept of femininity to the curb, because it’s misguided, judgmental, and just plain false.
10. Everyone. EVERYONE. Should be a feminist.
The bottom line of Chimamanda’s talk. A feminist is an individual (man or woman) who believes in social, political, and economic equality for women.
Do you find yourself struggling with the different interpretations of feminism? What are your thoughts on these points? What else is needed in this conversation in order to make it more open, honest, and better understood?