“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author of Americanah, is more an essay than a book (52 pages – easily read on a lunch break) adapted from her celebrated TEDx talk of the same name. Adichie proposes a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness.

weshouldallbefeministsShe first unpacks the term feminist from all the negative baggage and stereo types: “you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don’t wear make-up, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humor, you don’t use deodorant.”

She tells a story from her childhood. At the beginning of the term at her primary school, her teacher said that whoever got the highest score on the test could be class monitor. If you were class monitor, you would write down the names of the noise-makers every day. You also were given a cane to hold in your hand as you patrolled the class. Even though you were not allowed to use the cane, it was an accoutrement of authority. Adichie very much wanted to be class monitor, and she got the highest score on the test. To her surprise, the teacher then said the class monitor had to be a boy – so the boy with the second-highest score became the class monitor. “What was more interesting is that this boy was a sweet, gentle soul who had no interest in patrolling the class with a stick,” while she was full of ambition to do so. The teacher didn’t make this caveat to the rule clear as she assumed it was understood. It was “normal” that only boys could be class monitor. If we do something over and over again, or see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, clergy, presidents, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should hold those positions.

Adiche acknowledges that men and women are different – different hormones, sexual organs, and biological abilities. And, women can have babies; men cannot. Men have more testosterone and are, in general, physically stronger than women. It made sense a thousand years ago that men ruled the world, because human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. Today, the person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. “It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes.” We have evolved. She argues that our ideas of gender need to evolve to catch up.
We teach girls to be “nice,” not angry, aggressive, and tough. Boys are taught to be “hard” – so, angry, aggressive, and tough are okay. We spend too much time teaching girls to worry what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case; she goes on to state: “I would like to ask that we 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.”

Adichie ends with her own definition of a feminist: “a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better.” We should all be feminists.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, January 2. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, January 4 for a discussion of We Should All Be Feminists at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.