We Should All Be Feministsby Published 29 Jul 2014
|We Should All Be Feminists.pdf|
What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun.
With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.
Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a bestselling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
"We Should All Be Feminists" Reviews
'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.
I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists in a single, uninterrupted sitting over two beers at my favourite bar. This is important for two reasons. First, it shows how quickly one is able to read this book, and read it you should. This should be, assuredly, essential reading. At it's worst it is simply a primer and general basis for examining feminism but even those who have spent a great deal of time studying and living it will find great value in her words. She is powerfully succinct and delivers her message in potent anecdotes easily swallowed in a coating of gorgeous prose than leaves one yearning for more (after finishing this I spent a few months reading everything she had written). Yes, this is just a printed version of her readily and freely accessible TED talk yet it elaborates on a few points and being able to connect with the printed word and drink in her message this way is an extraordinary experience. Secondly, and more importantly, the fact that I was able to read this uninterrupted in a bar is an interestingly gendered privilege that those who disagree that gender plays to extremely biases and unequal treatment should pay attention to. And it is exactly that, a privilege, and because I was able to enjoy my solitude while reading in a crowded bar I need to speak up. Imagine, for a moment, had I been female and alone. Without a doubt, a male figure would have inquired what I was reading and probably would have probed me to talk about it. Or, let's face it, more likely would have not given a damn about what I was reading but used it as a spring board to talk about what he reads and why it makes him so cool. Probably would have tried to get me to drink a bit more. Probably would have ignored that I was sitting there alone trying to read a book and been completely oblivious that his presence was a total, undesired interruption. Knowing myself, I would have been polite and chatted while glancing back at my book each moment the conversation lagged hoping to continue reading. I've seen this happen countless times. A girl alone and enjoying a drink is never left alone. Men swarm like flies. She probably just got off work or is waiting for something. She is assuredly not there for you. She is there for her. Let her be. There is a very good chance I would never have made it more than a dozen pages through this book trying to read it alone and drinking in a bar had I been female. And this is very problematic.
What is it with males who cat-call? Why does it seem that this sort of behavior happens most often when someone is engrossed in their own life, ie. looking at their phone, listening to music or reading a book (also, why is it that so many people see reading a book--and this goes for all genders--as an open invitation to keep talking? I read in my car on lunch breaks for this very reason). It seems to be some creepy ego trip--how dare she have a life that I have no part of they must think. Whats worst are those who see a ring and proceed anyway like some gross primal alpha male domination instinct. It's repulsive and juvenile. The girl you see on the subway or in the bar or at a park or wherever you may be isn't there for you. She isn't wearing a dress to impress you, she just likes that dress. Her make-up wasn't put on that morning to please you. She smiles at you when you say something because that is what polite people do, not an invitation to the bedroom. Please stop this behavior.
'People make culture' Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, 'If we do something over and over, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal.' This sort of animalistic male domineering has gone on for so long that it has become a norm. People talk about creepers in clubs and bars as if it is just an annoyance that comes with the territory instead of a problem that should be addressed, which is very sad to me. Yes, this is not something I have to deal with so I am most definitely speaking out of place and likely offensive to some because of this and I am sorry, but I just am tired to seeing misogynists get away with being creepy assholes because it is just 'something that happens'. This male behavior seeps into all of society and sexualizes everything. Recently I encountered a man with a t-shirt listing 'Rules for Dating My Daughter'. If you are a man and own a t-shirt that discusses your own daughter's sexuality, that isn't cute it is repulsive. Why are you sexualizing your own daughter? Why must we impose sexuality onto anything? 'The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.' This sort of sexualization in society takes hold in so many ways. Clothing is assessed for how others will respond to it sexually, our speech, our actions, the way we move when passing a stranger on a street, hell even the books we read the shows we watch the hobbies we have all get looked at by society in a way that people assess in a sexualized manner. Girls that like sports or video games are 'hot', girls that read Jane Austen are 'nerds', knitting isn't sexy, etc, et al, and all of it is bullshit. Let people be people and treat them like people. It makes me sad hearing from female friends how many strangers on social media start a conversation with 'hey sexy' or something to that effect. A woman is not her looks, please at least acknowledge she has a brain and a personality first. Do these lines actually work?
We teach girls shame. “Close your legs. Cover yourself.” We make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.It is sad to think these are the lessons learned from common interaction with society.
'This is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.'
What is most important from Adichie's words though is that Feminism isn't just something for 'angry women', but something for everyone. 'My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.' This is something we all must take to heart. It isn't just about empowering females, but also about teaching males about their own behavior. Male fragility is a real thing and forcing men to submit to gender normative restraints is just as damning as imposing it on females. 'But by far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.' Boys tease other boy who cry or might like something that is seen as 'girly'. They force an obdurate normality that becomes like a cancer and the side-effects harm everyone. Much misogyny can be boiled down to a male feeling they must assert a dominance or because they feel threatened. We must teach boys that a self reliant woman isn't a threat but something to be cherished just as much as we should teach girls that being independent and strong isn't something to shrink away from.
And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate himI find that the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to be one of the most damning motifs we find in entertainment art forms. This whole idea that a man can tame some wild girl and save her from herself is disturbing. Why can't we have the Well Adjusted and Well Read Dream Girl? The Independent and Business Minded Dream Girl? Another motif in entertainment is that white (male) knight that is the only thing that can save the girl (look at 13 Reasons Why, which is hugely problematic on countless other levels as well, but perpetuated the idea that all of society fails this girl and only the white male love interest can save her but just happens to be too late. Bleh.). We need to teach our children to be strong, to be kind, to be themselves and to see that gender norms are damaging to both themselves and others.
'Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.'
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a fantastic speaker and writer that can deliver a heady and multi-faceted topic in such easily accessible ways without sacrificing the weight and magnitude of the ideas. This is a book everyone should read and give thought to. This is a problem that affects us all regardless of our gender and the issues of it should always be first and foremost in our minds and actions if we ever hope to see a change in the world. Treat others like people, with love and not lust, with hope and not hindrance. Let the girl at the bar reading by herself read her book and give her the agency to talk to you if she chooses to, and if she doesn't, don't take it as a slight against yourself. We are all trying to get through this life, lets do it together. I'd like to publicly declare misogyny as my arch-enemy, please join me in the fight to exterminate it. Let education and empathy be our weapons, and always lead by good example.
'Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. 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.'
Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights or something like that? Because that would be dishonest. 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.
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We Should All Be Feminists tackles the issue of feminism in the twenty-first century, rallies readers to envision a better, more equal world, and then encourages readers to take action to make that vision a reality.
The misunderstanding and negative stigma associated with the word feminist is eloquently explained in just a few short pages. The clear-headed, concise approach taken by the author to make the word and the cause more accessible to all is effective.
But it shows how that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage: you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don't wear make-up, you don't shave, you're always angry, you don't have a sense of humor, you don't use deodorant.
Rather than be afraid of the word feminist, readers are encouraged to understand and embrace it.
Much care is given to examining the varied ways in which boys and girls are raised, highlighting the disparate priorities emphasized in their upbringing based solely on their gender.
We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case.
We raise our girls to see each other as competition - not for jobs or accomplishments, which in my opinion can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.
We do a great disservice to the boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of our boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. [. . .] But by far the worse thing we do to males - by making them feel they have to be hard - is that we leave them with very fragile egos.
Citing the norms society has come to accept, and the sexual politics that continue to cause imbalance between genders, the author urges readers to transform their way of thinking and lay the foundation for more equality in future by examining and reforming the way boys and girls are raised.
Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we should begin to dream about a plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how we must start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.
Personal stories are interwoven throughout, giving a more intimate feel to this essay, which was adapted from a TEDx talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2013.
We Should All Be Feminists is a small book overflowing with big messages.
My deepest gratitude to Quarterly.co for providing a free Literary Box with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Quarterly.co's Literary Box comes with bookish goodies, a feature book, and two additional books selected by the author of the feature novel.
What makes the Literary Box special are the notes written by the author of the feature book. These notes give readers unique insights into the book that only the author would know.
I want to just buy a crate of these and pass them out to strangers and friends and family.
This is the single most convincing essay I’ve ever read on feminism. It does not point fingers and blame men for a cultural mind-set they were born into. Instead, it offers calm logical arguments for positive change going forward. And that’s what the world needs:
“A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.”
Adichie states that the strongest feminist she ever knew was a man, and that’s kind of important. This is an essay about building bridges; it appeals directly to men and asks them to look at the world differently: it ask them to look at their actions, ones which were harmless and indirect, but were nevertheless sexist: it tries to make them open their eyes.
“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. 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.”
“I am trying to unlearn many lessons of gender I internalized while growing up. But I sometimes still feel vulnerable in the face of gender expectations.”
Gender is the key. Adichie gives an example of how when she first became a teacher she wore male orientated clothing on her first day. She wore a suit so the students would take her more seriously rather than just dressing in a way that made her comfortable. She sacrificed her individuality because of gender expectations. In order to be more authoritative she dressed like a man because a woman would not have had as much respect in such a situation. And that’s truly sad.
The same is true for men who feel unable to express their emotions because such a thing is considered weak and unmanly. We all have the capacity to feel and the fact that fiery emotions are considered a feminine trait is just, well, odd. But that’s the world we live in. Adichie proposes that we ignore such stupid labels and be whoever we wish to be: we are ourselves.
There’s so much negative stigma attached to the word feminist. This book is the true face of modern feminism, read it and you will not be able to fault its logic.
We should all be feminists after.