Brief synopsis: This essay is a modified version of a TEDxEuston talk author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave in December 2012. In it she asserts that sticking to traditional gender roles that no longer contribute to our survival as a species perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about men and women that disadvantage them both in different ways. While Adichie briefly speaks about feminism in general, TEDxEuston is a forum dedicated to inspiring ideas on developing the African continent, so she chooses to focus on her home country of Nigeria. Despite cultural variations, many will recognize similarities in the struggles men and women face in the anecdotes Adichie shares with her audience.
Rating: Island collection
Long story short: We Should All Be Feminists is an eloquent introduction to a conversation that has been systematically avoided by our society at large. Though the essay is short, Adichie touches on the different facets of feminism and how the movement actually benefits all genders. She dispels the notion that being a feminist is problematic and limiting, and proudly bears the title once given to her by a friend who, in the heat of an argument, accused her of being a feminist in “the same tone with which a person would say, ‘You’re a supporter of terrorism'” (8).
At its crux the essay is about shaping future generations, it’s about raising our children in a way that enables them to be the best versions of themselves regardless of gender, in a way that focuses on their interests and not the sexual organs they happened to be born with. Adichie says passionately, “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture” (46).
And perhaps my favorite part about the essay is that it emphasizes that in order to nurture healthier minds everybody—regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation—must rally together and say enough!
Continue reading to see some of my favorite quotes from the essay. If you have 30 minutes to spare, I highly encourage watching Adichie’s original TEDxEuston talk. The essay and the recording are almost identical (the essay includes a few more stories and a little more analysis), but Adichie’s humor and spirit really shine through in the video, and it’s fun to see her and the audience interact.
Long story long: Feminism is a difficult subject to tackle, not only because of the controversy it generates, but because it’s a dynamic process that is easily influenced by people and society. In We Should All Be Feminists Adichie argues that feminism should influence us.
Here are some excerpts from the essay that I found especially riveting (there were a lot to choose from; it was hard to narrow them down):
- “If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal” (13).Many gender stereotypes that prevail today are results of normalized behavior. Expecting men to pay on dates or assuming women are the only ones responsible for childrearing and household chores are both examples of practices that have been accepted for so long that we see them as the default roles for men and women. However in today’s society this isn’t healthy behavior. Says Adichie, “In a literal way, men ruled the world. This made sense—a thousand years ago. Today we live in a vastly different world. 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.” (18) And intelligence, knowledge, creativity, and innovation, know no gender.
Desensitization, or becoming less and less affected by something, also helps explain why sexism isn’t outright obvious to many people. Having been inundated with antiquated ideas of masculinity and femininity it is often difficult to realize our unconscious biases and how they shape the way we interact with ourselves and with others. It is time we change what “normal” looks like, so that it better represents individuals instead of a gender dichotomy.
- “We teach girls shame…We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something” (33).
How we react to expressed sexuality for men and women is perhaps the most glaring example of a double standard. “We police girls,” argues Adichie, “We praise girls for virginity but we don’t praise boys for virginity” (32) despite the fact that sex is an act that requires at the very least two individuals.Adichie tells the story of a young girl who was raped in a Nigerian university. “The response of many young Nigerians, both male and female, was something like this: ‘Yes, rape is wrong, but what is a girl doing in a room with four boys?’ Let us, if we can, forget the horrible inhumanity of that response. These Nigerians have been raised to think of women as inherently guilty. And they have been raised to expect so little of men that the idea of men as savage beings with no self-control is somehow acceptable.” (33).
Telling me I shouldn’t be walking around in a short skirt because it looks like I’m asking to be raped is like me telling you that you shouldn’t be walking around without a helmet because you’re asking to be hit in the head.
- “Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human…It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that” (41).
One of the most contentious arguments I’ve had with a friend has been about renaming feminism and calling it something like “equalism” instead. Because aren’t we just saying that all genders are equal? Yes we are, but as Adichie points out it’s one gender in particular that has continually been oppressed, and to ignore that fact is to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.Furthermore, it’s the traditionally feminine attributes—like showing emotion and vulnerability—that are considered to be the weaker traits. Thus “feminism” aims to elevate these characteristics so they enjoy the same privileges as traditionally masculine attributes.
A Tumblr user summed it up nicely: “I call it feminism instead of equality because it is the feminine traits that men and women are shamed for. It is the feminine traits that society needs to accept.” — goblinfae (via Tumblr)
We Should All Be Feminists is an earnest appeal asking that we create a world where people are free to express their true individuality, where there is no room for pretense or farce, where gender and oppression don’t go hand-in-hand.