Chimamanda, the happy feminist

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer whose works range from novels to short stories to nonfiction.She was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. Inspired by Nigerian history and tragedies all but forgotten by recent generations of westerners, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels and stories are jewels in the crown of diasporan literature.

Ms. Adichie has been invited to speak around the world. Her 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of A Single Story, is now one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists has a started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014.

Please click here to watch the Ted Talk WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS.

“We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much … to be successful, but not too successful, or they’ll threaten men”, says author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this classic talk that started a worldwide conversation about feminism, Adichie asks that we begin to dream about and plan for a different, fairer world — of happier men and women who are truer to themselves.

We share here some extracts from the Ted Talk which is being discussed so widely for its relevance to so many parts of the world across cultures. We believe there is much that we can relate to within the culture of India too and we hope the talk will inspire many –

” I wrote a novel about a man who among other things beats his wife and whose story doesn’t end very well. While I was promoting the novel in Nigeria, a journalist, a nice, well-meaning man, told me he wanted to advise me. And for the Nigerians here, I’m sure we’re all familiar with how quick our people are to give unsolicited advice. He told me that people were saying that my novel was feminist and his advice to me — and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke — was that I should never call myself a feminist because feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands. So I decided to call myself “a happy feminist.” Then an academic, a Nigerian woman told me that feminism was not our culture and that feminism wasn’t African, and that I was calling myself a feminist because I had been corrupted by “Western books.” “

“Now here’s a story from my childhood. When I was in primary school, my teacher said at the beginning of term that she would give the class a test and whoever got the highest score would be the class monitor. Now, class monitor was a big deal. If you were a class monitor, you got to write down the names of noisemakers — which was having enough power of its own. But my teacher would also give you a cane to hold in your hand while you walk around and patrol the class for noisemakers. Now, of course you were not actually allowed to use the cane. But it was an exciting prospect for the nine-year-old me. I very much wanted to be the class monitor. And I got the highest score on the test. Then, to my surprise, my teacher said that the monitor had to be a boy. She had forgotten to make that clear earlier because she assumed it was … obvious. A boy had the second highest score on the test, and he would be monitor. Now, what was even more interesting about this is that the boy was a sweet, gentle soul who had no interest in patrolling the class with the cane, while I was full of ambition to do so. But I was female and he was male, and so he became the class monitor. And I’ve never forgotten that incident. “

“So in the literal way, men rule the world, and this made sense a thousand years ago because human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. The physically stronger person was more likely to lead, and men, in general, are physically stronger. Of course there are many exceptions. But today we live in a vastly different world. The person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person; it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person, and there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative, to be innovative. “We have evolved; but it seems to me that our ideas of gender had not evolved. “

“Gender matters everywhere in the world, but I want to focus on Nigeria and on Africa in general, because it is where I know, and because it is where my heart is. And I would like today to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world, a fairer world, a world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently. We do a great disservice to boys on how we raise them; we stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way, masculinity becomes this hard, small cage and we put boys inside the cage. We teach boys to be afraid of fear. We teach boys to be afraid of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian speak, “hard man!” In secondary school, a boy and a girl, both of them teenagers, both of them with the same amount of pocket money, would go out and then the boy would be expected always to pay, to prove his masculinity. And yet we wonder why boys are more likely to steal money from their parents.” 

“What if both boys and girls were raised not to link masculinity with money? What if the attitude was not “the boy has to pay” but rather “whoever has more should pay?” Now, of course because of that historical advantage, it is mostly men who will have more today, but if we start raising children differently, then in fifty years, in a hundred years, boys will no longer have the pressure of having to prove this masculinity. But by far the worst thing we do to males, by making them feel that they have to be hard, is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The more “hard man” the man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is. And then we do a much greater disservice to girls because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of men. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller, we say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much.” “

“Because I’m female, I’m expected to aspire to marriage; I’m expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. A marriage can be a good thing; it can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?” 

“I know a woman who has the same degree and the same job as her husband. When they get back from work, she does most of the housework, which I think is true for many marriages. But what struck me about them was that whenever her husband changed the baby’s diaper, she said “thank you” to him. Now, what if she saw this as perfectly normal and natural that he should, in fact, care for his child?” 

“A feminist is a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it. We must do better.” 

The best feminist I know is my brother Kene. He’s also a kind, good-looking, lovely man, and he’s very masculine.” 

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