Thanks to all that contributed to our discussion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists during our February reading group. Please add your comments and thoughts. These were just a few of mine that I collected from the group discussion.
Should we all be feminists?
I had never really thought about before it was brought up in the group. Adiche demonstrates how gender inequality negatively affects both women and men, by sharing both general observation and personal experience. She makes it clear that gender equality to her means the liberation of men from the constraints of gender stereotyping as well as women. But what would it mean if we were all feminists? My automatic reaction is – Great! Isn’t that what we’re demanding? Everyone to agree that there needs to be equality between the sexes?
But practically how does this play out – does that mean we all must necessarily agree on what are the causes of gender inequality? Does it negate that in reality there are many different feminisms, and that what feminism and gender inequality means to each of us personally might be different and even contradictory to others.
Moreover, is the title suggesting that we should all be feminists in Adichie’s image? The feminism she offers is very humane, inclusive and positive but it still has its flaws. For example, it was picked up that in no way does she question the binary model of gender construction – her feminism is definitely women’s experience vs men’s experience. Secondly, it was also suggested in the discussion that her feminism enforced the idea that sex work was both undesirable and disreputable, indicated when she took offence to being identified as a prostitute in a hotel lobby. It’s hard to say we should all be feminists when we disagree on what might be liberating or oppressive and how we might go about changing these structures.
Is it a perfect feminist text? Should we even have a perfect feminist text?
The public embrace of Adiche’s text in popular culture and education on the one hand is an applause to the simplicity, lucidity and accessibility of her writing. An extract of Adichie’s We Should All be Feminists TED talk not only features in Beyonce’s 2014 single Flawless but the Swedish government decided at the end of last year to give every 16 year old in the country a copy of the text. The capability of a feminist text to reach such a mass audiences in this way is unprecedented, particularly to a younger teenage audience. But one of the queries that came up in our discussion was – is she angry enough? Does its ability to engage in a mass audience suggest non-controversiality, or is just not saying enough altogether?
As a group of university students and researchers all of which had previously read some sort of feminist text(s), probably Adichie wasn’t aiming her words at us which is why for some of us we were left wanting more. But when we put ourselves in the minds of a sixteen year old girl struggling fitting in at school and understanding peers/teachers/family expectations, Adichie provides an engaging introduction to understanding why, for example, girls and boys are told to dress, sit or stand in certain ways, and question what this is reinforcing about their roles in society.
Not only is this not a perfect feminist text, there was fervent rejection of the concept of ‘perfection’ in feminism altogether. Not only does this create ‘tokenism’ in which a few texts become the mouthpieces for a whole movement, it also produces a feminist canon which university syllabuses and public figures can rely on to exhibit intersectionality without really recognising the breadth of work and experience of women and lgbtqi communities.
‘Perfection’ also instigates judgement to be made about what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminism with little acknowledgement of how the two notions are often very conflicting, temporal and culturally-specific. As Adichie demonstrated, the wearing of lip gloss for example is part of her feminism and embrace of her femininity but to others shows a discord between feminist theory and praxis.
How does Adichie feel about sisterhood?
Adichie doesn’t really touch upon sisterhood in WSAbF, and we ended the discussion thinking about the trajectory of the feminist movements so far and whether sisterhood or sense of community was still as strong in the present. Postfeminism from the 1990s onwards is often characterised as being more individually-centred; focused around personal identity and self-empowerment. But we ended by thinking about 2016 feminism as an ‘imagined community’ and Adichie really does offer something special to this community of feminists by moving between the local and the global, personal and general which is why so many people have found relevance in her reflections.