Review: We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As you would expect, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is wonderful when she talks about feminism. And why not? She’s wonderful when she talks about everything else. In this essay, an adaptation of the TED talk sampled by Beyonce in “Flawless,” she argues that the necessity for feminism is in everything we do, in the air we breathe. To be a feminist doesn’t mean to hate men, or society — it means to hope for better from men and from women and from society, and to act in ways that promote that ideal of being better.

Many of the anecdotes Adichie tells take place in her native Nigeria, but many of them could just as easily have happened in America: the casual contempt of her friend’s use of “feminist” to describe her; the valets who thank her male friend for a tip she gave him — these are things that have happened to me in my own life. As minor as they are in the moment, they add up to this constant low- (and sometimes abruptly high-)level feeling that women are not full, worthwhile members of society.

Nor does Adichie limit herself to the harms a sexist society does to women. Women, to be sure, are damaged by societal expectations, but so are men. “Masculinity,” Adichie writes, “is a hard, small cage.” When we put women in a box that says “sweet,” “submissive,” and “pretty,” we’re creating an equally confining box for men that says “tough,” “provider,” and “unemotional.” These gender norms hurt us all, and we are all responsible for working to fix them.

When’s Adichie’s next novel coming out, btw? I am just curious.

This essay was made available to me for publicity purposes, via NetGalley. This review has been for Aarti’s wondrous A More Diverse Universe blogging event. Visit her links page to see what everyone else is reading, and check out the hashtag #diversiverse on Twitter!

  • rivercityreading

    I’m so in love with that TED talk that I find myself listening to it every once in a random while. I bet it would be pretty great to just sit back and read it. Totally with you – I’m itching for another book, too!

    • Gin Jenny

      So greedy of us! She just released one in 2013!

  • Heather

    Okay. That’s it. I need to read some Adichie. That library hold is taking WAY TOO LONG.

    • Gin Jenny

      Oh you DEFINITELY do. Read Half of a Yellow Sun. It’s shattering, but so, so good.

  • Adichie is one of those authors I look up to, not just for her writing but her attitude to life too. I hope there is a new novel soon-ish.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes! I love that she’s always reminding us to look at race and gender prejudices in a nuanced way. That lady.

  • I grabbed this the day it became available on Kindle. It was a fantastic short piece on feminism – kind of makes me hope that she does a whole sort of non-fiction book.

    • Gin Jenny

      Oo, yeah, like a book of essays? I would sign up to read that!

  • I feel encouraged whenever I see someone link up to items like this about feminism. I really enjoyed reading a transcript of Emma Watson’s talk to the UN the other day. I had such a skewed understanding of feminism as a child because the church I was raised in labeled it as evil. I heard a lot about “those awful heathen militant feminists.” It wasn’t until college that I learned that the core of feminism was equal rights for women. You would think that this would be an easy thing for everyone to get behind.

    • Gin Jenny

      Well, I think anything that requires people to admit that they’re part of a system that privileges a group they are in over a group they are not in tends to be scary for people. It’s easy to get defensive and say “Well I am not doing anything to cause the pay gap, and I worked for everything I got!” (or whatever), and not engage seriously with the points feminists are making. It’s sad though. It would benefit everyone to let go of a lot of these harmful gender stereotypes.

  • I really have to read Adichie. I’ve heard such wonderful things about her and her books but her books just haven’t made it onto my reading pile yet. When they do, no doubt, I will be wondering why I took so long!

    • Gin Jenny

      Do! She’s wonderful!

  • This is most interesting and very pertinent, I think. It always annoys me when people dismiss feminism as in some way ‘finished’ or in some ill-conceived notion as ‘hostile’. It’s neither. However, I tend to react badly to the attempts to create a new compulsory identity for women, one that is strong, adventurous, tough, etc. Substituting one set of adjectives for another in no way tackles the problem of female identity. Actually, what I’d be keener to see is more validation of qualities like gentleness, slowness, thoughtfulness and compassion. They seem to get trampled on in that compulsorily-adventurous world but they’re some of the most useful qualities we can have. Must read Adichie!

    • Gin Jenny

      I agree that those qualities get undervalued, and actually, I think it’s part of the same problem. They’re undervalued because they’re coded as being more “feminine” qualities, whereas the strong, adventurous ones are coded as being more masculine, and thus more desirable. The less we feel the need to put adjectives in gender boxes, the more I think we’ll be able to value them on their own terms.

    • Gin Jenny

      Oh, plus, the value placed on gentleness and compassion FOR WOMEN can often spill over into being demands of those qualities. Which can really suck and be very confining.

  • Sounds very enlightening–I’m currently listening to Gay’s essays in Bad Feminist and I love the notion that to be a feminist one must just want to champion women. Really, that’s all. It’s so simple but why do we all make it so difficult. And I’m glad to see someone talk about the boxes that we put men in and how that further perpetuates the problems. Sadly I’ve only read Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie but I look forward to reading more by her.

    • Gin Jenny

      Did you like Half of a Yellow Sun? I absolutely loved it, and I usually have a very very hard time with books that deal with wars. Americanah is my favorite of hers, though, I think.

  • I read this yesterday and then spent last night lost in TED talks. Adichie was the best. I must have more of her!

    • Gin Jenny

      I know me tooooooo! I love her!

  • Well that sounds wonderful. (The book, not the shitty sexist stuff that happens all the time, everywhere.)

    • Gin Jenny

      It is! (The shitty sexist stuff is still shitty, but it’s good to have it described.)

  • I bought this essay awhile back but haven’t read it yet — I’m glad to know it’s good, as expected.

  • aartichapati

    Um, everything Adichie says is amazing, so I am not surprised she wrote such a fantastic essay. SUCH a literary crush on her.

  • I need to read this one. I got a taste of this book a while back and liked it. I need to get hold of it soon.

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