Speak of the Week: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
On Wednesday, March 8, many countries around the world paid tribute to International Women’s Day, a day that is meant to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women, while also being a reminder that there is still much work to be done when it comes to creating parity between women and men, and protecting the rights of women when it comes to health and safety.
Over the past few years, there is perhaps no one who has risen to the forefront as the face of modern feminism than Nigerian author and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie, who was well-known in literary and intellectual circles, was thrust further into the spotlight in 2014 when Beyoncé sampled from her 2013 TEDxEuston talk [watch above], “We Should All Be Feminists” for her song, “Flawless”.
It makes sense then, that Adichie’s new book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, has been greeted with great fanfare, and arrived, fittingly, on store shelves on Wednesday. The book is based on a letter Adichie wrote to a friend who was expecting a baby girl, and who was looking for advice on how to raise her to be a strong, feminist woman.
CBC’s The Current, hosted by Anna-Maria Tremonti, was lucky enough to be granted an interview with Adichie about the new book, and Tremonti dug in, getting to the core of why Adichie believes why feminism is still an uphill battle, and why young girls – and boys – need to be raised as feminists:
AMT: What does it say that in 2017 we still need a guide on how to raise a feminist?
CNA: It says that there’s still a lot of work to be done. I think there has been some progress on gender, but I think the general idea that things are OK now with gender justice is simply not true. I think there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Adichie went on to describe how being a feminist is not limited to those that are female, but that everyone who believes in equality need to define themselves as such. “For me, to be feminist is to acknowledge that there is a lot that is wrong with the construction of gender in every society in the world,” she said. “That it means acknowledging that women, because they are women, have been deprived of political, economic, social, not just rights, but opportunities. And that and most of all, that one wants to make it better.”
In the interview, Adichie warns about young women being raised to desire proximity to male power, rather than to desire their own power for self-empowerment. “I still hear young women…saying ‘oh I want to get married to the manager of the big company.’ And, you know, I want a world where we raise girls to think ‘I can be the manager of the big company.’ The idea of a woman’s power being a consequence of…proximity to a man is just, it’s so troubling to me on so many levels.”
Later, she talks about the power of language when raising children, “I think it’s important to be very alert to, because it’s so easy to perpetuate ideas that diminish women and girls without even meaning to, or without necessarily knowing that you’re doing it….When I was growing up, people would often say…‘you know you’re old enough to find a husband.’….But…I don’t say that, because.…what it’s doing really, is that it’s sending signals to a girl about what she should aspire to.”
She goes on to address the double-standard that can surround women in the workplace, that even when things are ostensibly equal, the way women are raised to internalise “likeability” can still come into play: “I know women who are in positions of power at work, and they’re in positions where they have to reprimand their subordinates for things that require reprimanding, right? But they spend so much time thinking about ‘have I done it in a way that will still make them like me, do they hate me?’ And many of the men I know in certain positions like that, they just do their job. You know, they reprimand who needs to be reprimanded.”
She then relates this “likeability dilemma” to the recent US election. “I think Hillary Clinton’s loss, and just even the way she was covered [by the media], I was struck by how much we were told about her being likeable or not. And at some point, I thought if I hear it one more time, I’m just going to pull my hair out of my head. Why do we care?”
And why are we not talking about likeability when it comes to her opponent? Who, in my opinion, actually, that might have been a more appropriate conversation to have.”
Tremonti’s interview is perhaps too short to fully encapsulate the nuances that Adichie addresses in her books and talks about the state of feminism today and the realities that continue to confront girls and women around the world, but it’s a window into a conversation that continues to need to be had.
For staying at the forefront of popular culture and helping (along with Beyoncé) to make feminism more accessible, we chose Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as our Speak of the Week.