“You’re a feminist?”
My high school friend’s face lit up with shock and exclamation. “I could never be a feminist, I love my dad and other men in my life too much to do that.” Feminism was never looked upon fondly in my hometown. Rather than expressing the fundamentals of equal rights, feminists are seen today as ‘domineering’ and ‘out of touch’ with reality.
As Betty Friedan distinctly put it in The Feminine Mystique, feminism is a “man-eating phantom” in the modern world. It honestly becomes pretty exhausting after a while when it shouldn’t be a fight at all. Perhaps those opposed are tired of the pure concept of equality, or the constant reminders from feminists. However, constancy is key- especially in feminist writing.
Born in Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a clear example of a powerhouse feminist. She has worked with Beyoncé, given Ted Talks, and written several books on being a feminist. Her book Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is one of my favorites at the moment.
When her dear friend Ijeawele had her baby, Chizalum, and wants her to become a feminist, Adichie sums up fifteen suggestions to raise her child from a feminist worldview. For women in college, I think it’s super impactful. Here are some of my favorite approaches from the book:
Gender roles do not matter.
Too often, women are told growing up that we should skip out on activities because we are girls, or that we are too fragile and cannot be overworked. That we should only wear more feminine outfits because our genteel nature defines us. It even started with teachers in school only letting boys pick up the heavy chairs in class. Adichie asks her Ijeawele to let her daughter explore all of her interests in this quote:
“If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children, we give them space to reach their full potential. Please see Chizalum as an individual. Not as a girl who should be a certain way. See her weaknesses and her strengths in an individual way. Do not measure her on a scale of what a girl should be. Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself.”
Danger of ‘Feminism Lite’
‘Feminism Lite’ is when individuals see female equality as “conditional.” An example of this is when someone says, “I’m all for feminism, but equal pay is a different subject altogether.” Adichie summed up feminism in a a simplistic, but understandable way:
“Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.”
I’ve always had a huge issue with the appeal of likeability. I am definitely a people-pleaser, but now I question if that is from my own nature, or conditioning. After talking to my friends about this, I feel like it is a huge issue in college as well.
Basing my worth off of my grades is a tendency of mine, but I do believe that it is from the way that I grew up. We are taught to believe that pleasing others is the most important thing as women; more than our own wants and wishes. Adichie is a welcomed reminder for me to put my goals and desires as the most valued opinion I hold.
“Many girls think of the “feelings” of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”
I would recommend everyone to read Adichie’s books. They are the words that I have needed for so long, especially as I am pursuing my college career. Reminders like these will keep the feminist fight alive.