Monday, December 26, 2016

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie manages to cram a lot of ideas about feminism in a very short space, and she manages to do it well. Apparently this essay is based off a TED talk: it shows. The construction of the essay, the way it drifts from anecdotal and personal to a more broad worldview, and the way the introduction and the ending bookend the overall topic - that's classic TED talk construction.

One of the most interesting topics in WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS is how feminism has become taboo in society. I've actually talked with women who are against feminism, and some of the reasons they gave actually support what Adichie says here: the biggest reason women don't seem to want to be feminist is because they see feminist precepts as Boolean variables:

"I can fight for reproductive rights or I can have children."

"I can fight against sexism or I can have a husband."

"I can be a feminist or I can be a real woman who enjoys putting on makeup and having fun."

Obviously, these examples are gross over-simplifications and do not represent the beliefs of everyone who is a feminist or against feminism (I apologize if they offended anyone, because they are meant as extreme examples to better illustrate the point). But the vast majority of anti-feminist arguments that come from women do seem to revolve around the fear that being a feminist somehow means losing one's femininity, which is simply not the case.

Feminism exists because there is an inherent bias in the system. That bias has faded away over the years, but it's like paint in stone. It's easy to scrape away what's on the surface; it's a lot harder to dig in deep and find the paint that's seeped into the brick. Adichie discusses some of these biases, like how women are frequently expected to do all the childcare in addition to working, how men are still expected to pay for things whether it's a first date or a new house because money has become associated with men, or how women are often treated negatively for embodying the assertive traits that would make a man a "leader."

"We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons" (12). 

Being a feminist doesn't mean that you want to dismantle gender norms - it means acknowledging that gender norms aren't hard rules. Feminism also means acknowledging the bias in the system, and engaging in dialogue to raise awareness and find solutions. And it benefits men, too, who are also victims of sexism, and expected to be sexually dominant, successful, and emotionally stoic where women are expected to be sexually submissive, non-threatening, and emotionally available. The reason it's not called egalitarianism is because it nulls out the group that it's supposed to be helping, making it far too easy to relegate women to the side and say, "Why are you focusing on women? All genders are supposed to be equal."

Because that's the problem: they aren't.


"I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity" (17).

5 out of 5 stars!

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