Book Reviews, Gender, Books, Pop Culture

Confused over feminism? Read “We Should All Be Feminists”

Buy a box full, stand on a street corner and hand them out to every passerby.

Feminism. If there’s one word that we’ve all heard of by now it’s feminism. And with it has come mass debate on what the term means – definitively and socioculturally. Is it a radical movement screaming for the heads of men? Or is it one looking for equality? Is it even a movement that is needed? 

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay, We Should All Be Feminists, does a fantastic job of tackling exactly such queries. Don’t let the description of an essay bore you away though. This 52-page booklet – original a TED Talk and also an inspiration of Beyoncé’s Flawless – surpasses expectations with its mix of lively and witty anecdotes and insightful analysis.

Time has shown that storytelling is a powerful vehicle of making hard-to-grasp concepts far more accessible. We Should All Be Feminists makes good use of the ‘show, don’t tell’ adage that all writers are asked to adhere to by connecting to its audience through a personal conversational tone. 

Adichie begins the conversation by recalling her first run-in with the word feminist, a label that she was slapped with in the middle of an argument with an old friend. Right off the bat, she noted that the inflection behind her new label wasn’t positive, but negative. 

And so the essay moves. It takes its reader on a trip down memory lane in Nigeria where Adichie is “advised” to not sound like a feminist, as she is called a man-hater, as she is harassed in the lobby of a hotel for being a woman alone, as she is told girls can’t be class monitors, as her male friend is thanked for the tip she gives a waiter because, obviously, her money comes from a man. 

Her experiences, of course, don’t speak to everyone else’s. Many will argue that because these issues happened in Nigeria, then perhaps Nigeria is the place where feminism needs to exist, not outside. 

To those people, I say that Adichie’s anecdotes stand as simple examples. Search your own experiences and I bet you’ll come up with a 52-page essay yourself. The levels of discrimination we face across the world aren’t equal. Where one woman’s biggest worry might be the wage gap, in other areas, there are women fighting for their rights to not be married off at a young age. Fighting for the right to abort. Fighting for the right to work. 

We Should All Be Feminists, then, is a great introduction into the nuances of a world in desperate need of feminism. Adichie gives insight into the micro-aggressions women often face and how they go unnoticed. It unpacks the negative connotations attached to the word feminism. It’s a beginner’s handbook for the 21st century. However, as it is a mere introduction, it doesn’t touch upon intersectionality in as much depth as needs to be. Its focus lies heteronormatively on gender as a social construction. This is not to say that it completely ignores the existence of all other facets though.

Adichie touches upon the internalized lessons of socialization ingrained within us from a young age. She speaks of marriage, she speaks of toxic definitions of femininity and masculinity, and she speaks of breaking free of the bonds that gender places on both women and men. 

“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 … [and] what if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender?” she wrote (pp. 34 and 36). 

And gender, she noted, is definitely not an easy conversation to have.

“It makes people uncomfortable, sometimes even irritable. Both men and women are resistant to talk about gender, or are quick to dismiss the problems of gender. Because thinking of changing the status quo is always uncomfortable,” she wrote (p. 40).

We Should All Be Feminists delivers powerful prose on the need for feminism. It challenges the ideas of the evolution of gender roles, it highlights how we have let stereotyping and culture limit us. Ultimately though, it leaves readers with renewed hope and energy to fight for a better tomorrow.

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