“Feminist” has become a bad word, an angry word. If you’re a feminist, you don’t shave your legs, you hate men and you never want to get married. How did we get here?
Multi-award-winning Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a talk in 2012 at TEDxEuston, a yearly conference focused on Africa and African ideals. Speakers are meant to challenge their audience.
At the bidding of her brothers, Adichie spoke about feminism and she did not expect her talk to be well-received, especially on the continent of her birth. Yet, in the end, she received a standing ovation.
Her TEDx talk has now been turned into a a Kindle Single Vintage Short, available for purchase today. The essay is titled We Should All Be Feminists and, no, Adichie does not speak to women alone. Certainly, we are part of the problem, the lack of sex equality. There is quite a bit more to it than that.
Raised in Nigeria, Adichie had a slightly different childhood experience than most of us. As a child, one of her male friends called her a “feminist.” Adichie had no idea what that meant, not really, but she knew it was bad. Being a “feminist” went against Nigerian culture and she would never find a husband if she was tagged as such.
That was what it was all about in Adichie’s youth: finding a husband. In this instance, I suppose American culture and Nigerian culture intersect. As American women, we, too, are expected to find a husband. If we don’t, culture believes there is something wrong with us. In Nigeria, singularity is practically a curse.
In her essay, Adichie points out the problems we all have. Across the world, we know men make more money than women. As females, the higher we get in our career, the fewer women we find. If women take charge, they’re bitches; if men do the same, they’re successful.
There’s an episode of Sex and the City that I always remember. Samantha has just lost a contract because she slept with a man in the office. Her response: “If I was a guy, you would have shaken my hand, bought me a Scotch and given me a key to an office.” We deal with double standards every day. Again, though, Adichie wants us to know this is not about men being bad; this is about all of us.
It’s about gender. According to Adichie, “The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.” Men should be tough. Men should be providers. Women should be comforters. Women should be quiet, small, cooking in the kitchen. Society drowns in “should.”
Adichie has found her own way. Not only did she give a very brave TEDx talk, but she was even quoted in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless.” Although she once taught class in an ugly, masculine suit, she now owns her femininity while retaining the “feminist” belief in equality.
She’s not angry; she’s hopeful. Women must do better and men must do better, too. We must raise our children without infringing cultural “norms.” We are who we are, feminist or not. Adichie wants us to own our genders and you’ll find her words will have you fist-pumping instead of fist-punching someone in the face.