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A TedTalk on Feminism: What can we learn from it?

Written By: Kritanjali Battig 

 

Chimmamanda Ngozi Adichie, a forever favorite author of mine, went up on stage a few years ago to demonstrate why ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. This is my take on her TedTalk. 

The temporal space of the stage accommodates the acclaimed writer for the twenty nine minutes, twenty nine seconds granted to her. Adichie touches upon specific gender binaries that remain prevalent to this very day, which have concurrently been addressed through the feminist movements. However, her culturally influenced perspective as a Nigerian woman resonates in her understanding of the need for feminism, while informing an universal problem. She states how the ‘male gaze’ subjects her to a product, unravels her potential and attempts to leave her subsidized. She further signifies how women are mannered into corporeal properties to protect guarded male fantasies by subjugating the woman to an ascribed position. The woman must refrain from acquiring an ‘achieved’ status; a position that can be earned or chosen. 

Adichie, an influential author, should be determined by her intellect and associated achieved status. However, she states that her achieved status is disqualified by a ‘waiter [who] greets the man and ignores [her]’. It appears that the ascribed status of the male waiter posits more power than the achieved status of the female author. The waiter, a man, exemplifies ‘power backed by certainty of legal right’. This incident is entirely controlled by the direction of the ‘male gaze’, a feminist theory that characterizes the act of depicting women from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that constrains women to being sexual objects. Adichie believes that many women, to this very day, are burdened by the enforcing cultural context and ‘shrink themselves’ or ‘sell their house’ in order to cater to ‘male egos’.

Yet, Adichie notices an ironic hypocrisy. The limiting sexual status of women informs an idealistic purpose. Through the male gaze, the female body is marked by its sexuality, which is ascribed as one is born within it. On one hand, the male gaze covets exposure and easy access to the female body for immediate gratification. On the other hand, Adichie states that girls are policed into protecting their chastity because ‘women can’t be sexual beings’. This can be connected to Freud’s idea that ‘the body is subjected to a curious and controlling gaze’ and monitored for disobedience. The female body must not be penetrable by external touch because it equals a rival force that disrupts a man’s smooth conquest of a woman.The irony lies in the condition that the man seeks an untarnished female body for a partner, while taking daily pleasures in ‘tainted’ bodies that are undeserving of the male afterthought. 

As many women have remained vigilant about their movements within society, they have abided by the notion of chastity in order to prove the worth of their bodies. John Berger’s words bring meaning to this commonplace routine- ‘Men act, and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’. The German word for young woman is ‘jungfrau’. But ‘jungfrau’ simultaneously means virgin. The associations between women and their prescribed norms have seeped into social, cultural and linguistic definitions which assume the active/passive, male/female binary in their own specific ways.