In We Should All Be Feminists (2014), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expands on her much admired TEDx talk to address our deepest misconceptions about feminism. By masterfully interweaving personal anecdotes, philosophy and her talent for prose, she explains how men and women are far from being equal, how women are systematically discriminated against and what we can do about it.
Have you ever witnessed an argument when someone used the word “feminism”? Did you notice how people reacted?
Like many other -isms, feminism is a word that provokes a wide range of reactions in people – and many of them are negative. In fact, feminism can often evoke aggression and condescension.
The author experienced this when she was still a teenager – and didn’t even know what a feminist was. When she was fourteen, she had a vigorous argument with a close male family friend. As the argument heated up, he called her a feminist in a way that sounded like feminists were akin to criminals.
And this wasn’t her last encounter with this attitude. At an interview to promote her first book, Purple Hibiscus, the journalist interviewing her advised her not to call herself a feminist.
Because, he said, women who called themselves feminists were jealous, unhappy and incapable of finding a man. The author has many other similar stories, like a time when she was told by a female Nigerian academic that feminism was a Western indulgence, incompatible with African tradition.
But feminism is not only dismissed by people who are against it. Many people believe that men and women should be equal, but that feminism is no longer necessary because the sexes are already equal. These people believe that women used to be oppressed but now have all the same freedoms that men do.
One of the author’s friends had demonstrated exactly this kind of attitude. He couldn’t understand how exactly women were treated differently – until he witnessed it firsthand.
One night, he and the author went out for dinner. A valet parked their car, and she gave him a tip. But instead of thanking the author, the valet looked at her male friend and said “thank you, sir.” In that moment, her male friend caught a glimpse into the everyday oppression of women.