We Should All Be Feminists is a beautiful book by Africa’s vanguard feminist, the incomparable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We have been witness to her spellbinding literary prowess manifest in previous works such as Purple Hibisicus, and my all-time favourite, Half Of A Yellow Sun. With so many ostensibly politically correct definitions of the word ‘feminism’, Chimamanda choses to define it otherwise. This is after she received ‘advice’, majorly unsolicited, to the effect that her claim to feminism was giving her a bad reputation. That feminists are women who are unhappy because they can’t find husbands! In a touch of humour, she’d ‘update’ her definition of feminism to the effect of: A Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself and Not For Men.
She narrates real life instances where being female has worked against her. Like when she was in primary school and her teacher announced that the one who scored the highest grade in the test would be the class monitor. An excited nine-year old Chimamanda would warm up with excitement. She did score the highest in that test, but was never appointed class monitor. Why? Well, it turns out her teacher was of the obstinate opinion that the class monitor must be a boy. The said teacher didn’t feel the need to mention it, because she thought it was ‘obvious’. Another instance happened when she was a bit older. Out of her magnanimity, she chooses to tip the parking attendant, a man. Only for him to thank the gentleman she was with, instead of her. She likewise bemoans how gender is used for men and against women. For example how there are many entertainment spots in Lagos that she can’t go to alone simply because she is a woman. If she, or any other woman would show up, bereft of the presence of a man, then by default, they are assumed to be prostitutes.
She pays homage to Kenya’s Nobel Prize Winner, Professor Wangari Maathai:
“The higher you go, the fewer women there are.”
And no, this isn’t just an African problem, she postulates. In the U.S., there is such a thing as the Lily Ledbetter Law. This simply comes down to the sad reality that in America a man and a woman, working the same job, with the same qualifications, the man is paid more, well, because he is a man. Women in influential positions, whether corporate or otherwise, have to ‘shrink’ themselves lest they come off as aggressive or ‘manly’. She decries this as archaic, advocating instead for brain over brawn. She attributes to the general modus vivendi where females are socialised to invest in being ‘liked’. In her own words;
“We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likeable. We spend too much telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons.”
These skewed gender expectations, she posits, are rife, alive and constraining to women. For example, how we teach females that in relationships, compromise is what a woman is more likely to do. We, in her immortal words, “…Raise girls to see each other as competitors-not for jobs or accomplishments, which in my opinion can be a good thing, but for the attention of men…We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way boys are.” More ironically, “we police girls. We praise girls for virginity but we don’t praise men for virginity (and it makes me wonder how exactly this is supposed to work out, since the loss of virginity is process that usually involves two people of opposite genders).
She puts forward a few remedies to this skewed modus operandi:
- Gender matters everywhere in the world. That we should all 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 how to achieve that is that we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.
- To not teach our boys to stifle their humanity. To not teach them to be afraid of fear, weakness or vulnerability. To not to teach them to mask their true selves.
- To not teach our girl to shrink themselves to please the fragile egos of men. To not pressure our girls to get married, lest we push them to make terrible choices.
And as for whether she doesn’t worry that men would be intimidated by her? Her answer is simple;
“…A man who is intimated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, jewel of the Igbo, Queen of African literature, unapologetic vanguard feminist, MORE POWER!
REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO