If you’ve ever encountered, willingly or unwillingly, Beyoncé’s “Flawless,” then you’re familiar with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie— Nigerian author, activist, and, dare I say it, definitive feminist of our time. Queen Bey sampled a part of Adichie’s widely received TED Talk on feminism in the song, further launching her voice into popular culture and academic circles alike.
For Christmas, I was gifted Adichie’s book, “We Should All Be Feminists,” which appeared in the news recently after officials in Sweden announced that a copy would be given as mandatory reading to every young girl in the country. This is a pretty serious accolade, even in the progressive, socialist utopia that is Sweden. So, I had to give it a read— anything that is deemed a manifesto in this day and age deserves careful attention.
The main and most obvious reason why everyone should read this book is because it is short and written in an accessible style. I know we all collectively roll our eyes when someone sends us an article longer than a 15-point BuzzFeed list. Friends, you have no excuse with this one. The cornerstone feminist manifesto of our time is only 48 (not kidding!) pages. Read the damn book. Thanks.
I think Adichie’s perspective is crucial, as she brings a wide breadth of knowledge and personal experience. Raised in Nigeria, Adichie discusses how women there experience sexism, and how certain aspects of Nigerian culture influence gender expectations and attitudes. This is important for Western readers, because there exists a mythical assumption that sexism and misogyny are long gone in so-called “developed” countries. Adichie proves that this is not true – presumptive, binary attitudes about gender affect everyone to some degree, even if they may be more covertly expressed in certain contexts. Gracefully, she reminds us that our preconceived ideas about gender become more deeply engrained the longer we go without questioning them.
Adichie does not waste time arguing lofty theoretical ideas or alluding to past feminist histories the way so many dense academic readings do. She covers feminist issues across the board, in astonishingly succinct and strong arguments. “The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are,” she writes. “Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” See what I mean? Slay queen, slay.
Adichie’s rhetoric is inclusionary – that is, she speaks to a general audience, without presumptions of race, class or gender. Her message is simple: feminism touches everyone, and so everyone should be included in the conversation. Everyone needs to talk about how to bring greater equality to our world. She also personalizes things by telling thoughtful anecdotes, such as how male waiters will often ignore her when she enters a restaurant with a man, or how her friend, a successful business woman, constantly calls her and worries she is not “likeable” enough. These simple, yet nuanced stories successfully reinforce one of the guiding principles of feminism: that the personal is, undoubtedly, political.
Adichie beautifully defeats all of the opposing arguments against feminism and the need to call ourselves feminists. Like makeup, high heels, and doing your hair? Great, embrace it – but it doesn’t mean you can’t be a feminist. Think women actually have the “real” power? Think again, that’s an inherently degrading idea. “It is easy to say, ‘But women can just say no to all this’,” Adichie argues, “But the reality is more difficult, more complex. We are all social beings. We internalize ideas from our socialization.”
Again, Adichie does not write in a way that excludes or shames anyone. Rather, she pushes us to ask: do we really live in a world of equality? Once you read this manifesto, the answer will be clear – no, we do not. However, Adichie doesn’t leave you feeling cynical. In just 48 pages, she sets the stage for a new era of global feminism, one that includes every voice in the fight to dismantle restrictive gender norms and find real equality.
Shauna McGinn, Online Columnist