Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we should begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.
A tiny book full of powerful and important words that should be given to every student. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, already a name that many know thanks to such works as Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and the unforgettable Americanah, Ms. Adichie has, in my opinion, surpassed them all. In We Should All Be Feminists, Ms. Adichie discusses feminism and gender issues without confusing graphs, statistics or complications. Instead, she uses her own experiences and those of women she knows and also talks of cultural norms that should be changed and what we all can do to change the status quo. Written as a modified version of a TEDxEuston conference held in 2012, Ms. Adichie decided to speak about this very subject, which she knew may not be received very well. However, the standing ovation she received showed that her words had power.
The book discusses how the word feminist is a loaded one and has been used, for the most part, as an insult mainly by men. To them, it means you hate men, don’t wear bras, don’t shave, etc. Ms. Adichie said that in Nigeria (like in most countries), men are always seen as more important. For instance, in Nigeria it is unheard of for single women to enter a hotel without being questioned and they cannot go into a club alone without being escorted by a man. When Ms. Adichie gave a tip to a guy who found her a parking spot, her male friend was thanked and not her because it was assumed he gave her the money. That same friend was astonished into silence when he realized the gender problems she mentioned previously were seen with his own eyes. By why did it take something like that to happen for him to realize women deal with such indignities on a daily basis? Because to many men, women have so many opportunities that they shouldn’t have anything to complain about.
Ms. Adichie also discussed what women go through when in positions of power. Instead of focusing on the tasks at hand, they worry more about being liked and are called out for being too aggressive when they exhibit the same behavior as their male peers. Some will cry in private and not say anything because they don’t want to seem too aggressive. Others will worry about how they are perceived by their employees or peers. Many in power are overlooked or treated with disdain simply for being a woman.
Ms. Adichie mentioned a very radical notion that could, on many levels, change the way gender roles are thought of in today’s society. Instead of being raised to be “hard men,” boys should be raised to not be afraid of being vulnerable. Currently, they are raised to be masculine, but what does that mean? It means that they are not to show any weakness whatsoever (which is probably why bullying is at an all-time high), keep their emotions in check and “be a man.” But most of these men are cold, lack empathy and have very fragile egos. And who do they turn to massage those fragile egos? Women.
Which leads to the second part of Ms. Adichie’s radical notion: to raise girls to not live their lives for a man. And that means letting them know that getting married is not the end-all-be-all. Many American women these days are waiting longer to get married, some not bothering at all. But there are still many societies around the world that see marriage as the only thing women should look forward to. Not an education, not traveling around the world. Being a wife.
Now before I start getting mean comments about this, let’s get something straight. I am not against marriage if that’s what YOU want to do. I’ve actually been to many weddings and have been engaged myself. But marriage is not something I care to do. Ever. It’s just not for me. And I was lucky, I was not raised to see it as something to strive for because my parents wanted me to make my own decisions about my life. In Nigeria, India, and yes, America, marriage is what women are pressured into by family, friends, even strangers. But men are told to see the world, have some fun, sow those wild oats. The double standard is unrealistic and just plain dumb.
I remember seeing a photo of a couple once in a magazine and they looked like they could rule the world. Why? Because both were very well-rounded individuals who came together as a couple and were happy with each other. The woman had a Master’s degree, traveled the world extensively and worked in a job she loved before meeting her husband. Her better half had an MBA, also traveled extensively and made a name for himself in his chosen field. When they met, marriage wasn’t even on the radar for either of them. They were just two attractive people who had their own lives and decided to go on a date. And it was because they both had their own lives that they were able to keep the pressure of marriage out of the relationship. When they did marry, it was because they wanted to and not because they felt like they had to. And that makes all the difference. (By the way, they are both now great friends of mine, so I know them well).
One of the biggest problems many women face is the insecure man. In the book, a friend of Ms. Adichie’s asked her if she was worried about intimidating a man. Her answer was one I share, along with many other women: she didn’t even think about it. Why would she and why should any of us? If a man is threatened by a successful woman, that’s his problem and not hers. Women are taught to be smaller than or to “dumb it down.” “Don’t hurt his ego.” “Don’t emasculate him.” “You’ll never get married that way.”
Women and girls will see each other as competition and fight over a man (something I will not do). Men just move to the next one (unless he’s crazy and then will stalk a woman so no one else can have her). Those men are seen as emotional, full of passion and should be listened to or given a chance.
“We teach girls shame.”
“‘Close your legs. Cover yourself.’” We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. Who silence themselves. Who cannot say what they truly think. Who have turned pretence into an art form.”
I could not agree more with this excerpt. Women can never, ever admit that they like sex. It is the shameless slut who would admit such a thing. Sexual desire is not something women should even be thinking about. Oh humbug! Who says? Slut-shaming is at an all-time high for no reason than to stamp a woman’s right to feel desire. Even today, in this ridiculous political climate we’re living in, women are being attacked from all sides. Politicians (mostly male) are doing everything in their power to take control of women’s bodies. If a woman wants access to birth control, well tough, you shouldn’t be having sex anyway. If she wants an abortion because she was raped, well suck it up Princess, you’re having that lifelong reminder of when you were violated.
Thankfully, there are more and more women (and men) out there who are taking a stand against this type of mindset. But the fight is a hard one, as more and more states are creating (and passing) laws that restrict a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body. Being sexual is treated as a crime and women are the ones being punished.
“Many of us think that the less feminine a woman
appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously
Ms. Adichie brought up a valid point about femininity in the workplace. It is seen as a fault instead of who we are. But we are women and many of us wear pretty dresses, high heels and lip gloss because we want to. For ourselves. But many of us were raised to do those things to find a husband or make ourselves more attractive to men. In the workplace, it can be a detriment, depending on where you work. I remember seeing a news article about a woman who was fired for dressing in what some would call “sexy” attire. When she showed the reporter some of the clothing she wore, it was almost laughable. The clothing wasn’t “sexy,” she was just a beautiful woman with an incredible body. She could have worn a burlap sack and still made it look good. And that was the problem. Not her work performance or demeanor towards her coworkers. She was beautiful and feminine and smart as hell and her male coworkers couldn’t handle it.
“Why the word feminist?”
Many see that word as a troubling one. “Why can’t it be about human rights?” Because it isn’t. That’s like saying “All lives matter” when the Black Lives Matter movement is mentioned. Clearly they don’t or BLM wouldn’t even exist. The same goes for feminism. If things were equal among genders and women given the same opportunities, the same pay and the same treatment as men, feminism would not exist or need to be discussed.
Ms. Adichie did us all a service by turning her speech into a book for everyone. If gender matters are already difficult to discuss without all of the silly rhetoric on top of the discussion. So why not start by taking Ms. Adichie’s book and discussing it with friends and family, especially children. Kids are open to everything, including people of all backgrounds. They love their friends no matter what they look like and are taught how to hate. Sharing this book with them may just create a new generation of adults who see feminism as something great instead of hateful. Because as the author said in her book, “All of us, women and men, must do better.”
Below is a link to Ms. Adichie’s TedxEuston talk of the same title.