Some readers might be familiar with the name Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. An excerpt from her 2012 TED talk titled, We Should All Be Feminists, was featured on Beyoncé’s song ***Flawless from Queen B’s album, Beyoncé. Following her talk, Nigerian- born Adichie wrote a brief 48-page essay on the topic of feminism that coincides with her feminism discussion. In light of the struggles that women are still facing in 2018, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss Adichie’s essay and state why feminism is the catalyst for a better future for everyone. I will quote parts of the essay in this article and relate a similar example from my own life in order to demonstrate that sexism is prevalent in society, whether it be in Nigeria or America. I highly recommend this short essay to all readers or to watch her TED talk.
Adichie opens the essay with examples from her life that showcase the negative meanings surrounding the topic of feminism. She mentions the heartbreaking death of her childhood friend, Okoloma, whom she recalls arguing with as children. In the middle of the argument, Okoloma called her a “feminist.” His tone of voice was meant as an insult and Adichie said it was as if he said, “you support terrorism.” After the publication of her first novel, a Nigerian journalist said her novel was “feminist” and that Adichie should not identify with the feminist movement because “feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.” A Nigerian academic called her novel “un-African.” A friend told her that feminist meant hating men. The point of these stories was to show how the word feminism is “heavy with baggage.” Reading the opening of the essay, I felt angry. Women are taught and expected to be anything but angry, and if we are, we are automatically labeled as a “bitch.” Adichie’s opening section sheds light on the misconceptions about the feminist movement and poses the reader to think about the word feminism both as a global movement and in his or her everyday lives.
Following the opening of various interpretations about the word feminism, Adichie graces the reader with examples of the structural sexism that is engrained into our society While in primary school in Nigeria, Adichie’s teacher said that whoever got the highest grade on a test would be class monitor. Adichie received the highest score on the test, but then her teacher said that the class monitor had to be a boy. The teacher thought it would be normal and obvious that a male should have the highest grade on a test, and therefore hold the powerful position of class monitor. “If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If only boys are made class monitor, it becomes normal and we think subconsciously that a boy has to be class monitor. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations.” When Hillary Clinton was running for the Democrat candidate for President, I was a senior in high school. I recall my English teacher telling my class that one of the boys in her previous section said that he does not like Hillary Clinton as a candidate. When asked why, rather than say he did not like some of Clinton’s policies, he said that he just does not think that a woman should be president. In other words, he did not think that a woman’s place was in the White House. If only men are endorsed by the RNC and DNC for potential presidential candidates, it starts to seem natural that only men can become president.
The way we raise boys and girls has an instrumental effect on society. Adichie mentions how we raise boys to be “hard”, to fear weakness, to fear vulnerability, which leads to the weak egos of men. From personal experience, it is evident that we teach boys to be “hard men.” When my brother was beginning to play baseball around the age of 5, he would cry in the middle of the game or after the game if he struck out. My dad would reprimand him for crying and tell him to “toughen up.” I remember playing softball as a young girl and crying if I struck out or missed a fly ball. My parents would console me and tell me that it was okay and that I would catch the next ball that came my way. I was never told once to “toughen up” while crying about a situation that made me upset.
One of the most profound statements of this essay was the excerpt that was on Beyoncé’s song: “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, the make them feel smaller.” One of the ways that I think about girls “shrinking themselves” is the topic of household work. Adichie states that women are more likely to do housework, such as cooking and cleaning, than men.
Readers, think back to the holiday season. You are gathered with your friends and family around the kitchen table that was stuffed to the brim with baccalà, calamari, angel hair with tuna sauce, garlic bread, smelts and much more. After eating, where did you go? Did you go to the living room to watch the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors matchup while playing with your new Apple watch? Or did you go to immediately open a container of Dawn and start cleaning the sauce-stained dishes from the meal? Now, are you a male or female? Odds are, if you are a male, you went straight to the couch, dreaming of a LeBron James’ or Steph Curry win. If you are a female, you probably joined your female family members around the kitchen sink and began the cleanup. In my family and some of my friend’s family, I have noticed a majority of the time, only the women will clean after a meal. My mom directs me to clear off various condiments and plates while my brother and my dad watch the latest basketball or football game. Why do we not teach the males in our families to clear and clean the table, but we teach and expect girls to do the same? Why do we not teach all members of our family to help clean the table?
Saint Mary of Mount Carmel School is a small grade school in the small town of Dunmore, Pennsylvania. When I attended the school, the 7th and 8th grade girls would take turns wiping the crumbs from the tables and chairs from the lunch period. The boys were never asked to clean off their own tables or the tables of other students. The upper-class girls were taught to “shrink themselves” and to “cater to the fragile egos of males.” I remember girls complaining about this situation, and fortunately, the school no longer forces the girls to clean the tables of their peers.
If reading this article make you feels angry, embrace the emotion. Every sentence in Adichie’s essay rings with truth about the obstacles women face in everyday life. Read the essay or watch the TED talk for yourself and think about Adichie’s words and examples and try to relate them to your own personal experience. At the conclusion of her essay, Adichie defines the word feminist from the dictionary as a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. In Adichie’s words: “All of us, women and men, must do better.”