“Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
Thanks to Beyonce, we all know this snippet from Chimamanda’s powerful TedX talk. Ms Adichie has gone on to write a short e-book based on this talk, the book suitably titled- ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. That was going to be the title of this post but I have to stick to the typewriter tuesdays theme because this is actually also a review of the book though I know I will go off on quite a number of tangents. Bare with me:)
Of course I agree with my all time favourite author that indeed we should ALL be feminists because it is quite necessary in this day and age; not just women, but men as well. Chimamanda did a sort of extension of the TedX talk because she wanted to fully explain why she is so adamant on her feminist stance and also why she thinks we all need to join the bandwagon. Being a feminist myself, I know you all may think I will be biased on this post but I will try my very best not to favour my opinion so much.
Chimamanda starts her book by telling a story about her long time friend, Okoloma who passed away in 2005. Okoloma was the very first person to ever call the author a feminist. She explains how at the time she had no idea what it meant but the way that her friend had said it, she thought it an insult at the time. Fast forward many years later, after the release of her novel, Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda was called a feminist yet again by her peers such as journalists, academics and the like. The word feminist according to these people was an unhappy woman who could not find a husband. Feminism was ‘un-African’ and an influence from the Western world; being a feminist meant that she hated men. Chimamanda took the moniker with pride and made it the exact opposite, calling herself a happy, African feminist who does not hate men. As the constant criticism kept rolling in, she could see that the word feminist was associated with so much negativity and she wanted to change that.
She tells another childhood story of how she was appointed class monitor but immediately lost that position to a boy simply because he was male and she was female despite being top of her class and earning the right to be the class monitor. Because boys were usually the ones that were class monitors, it became a norm that could never ever change. It is sadly not just an african mentality but a global one as well… ‘If we do something over and over, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal’. Chimamanda talks of her life in Lagos, how extremely male dominated it is that even a simple girl seen walking into a hotel is looked down upon as people assume she is a sex worker as opposed to someone who really is just coming to the hotel for say a meeting or for lunch with friends.
A woman footing the bill at a restaurant is looked down upon, as if she cannot afford to pay her own bills. I have seen that a lot here in Nairobi as well, though I must send a shout out to the waiter at 360 Degrees, who placed the bill right in front of me at the end of a meeting I was having with a friend. I think because I got there before my male friend, he assumed I was the one who planned the meeting. When it’s a group of 2, even just 3 people meeting at a restaurant and one of them happens to be male, waiters/waitresses automatically assume it is he to pay for the meal. It is something we have been so accustomed to since time immemorial and hence, it became normal. So when a woman pays the bill, the man usually takes it as an insult to his ever fragile ego. When in essence, she is just doing what a man would do as well. She is paying for lunch/dinner/drinks etc, just as he would normally pays for the lunch/dinner/drinks as well. It is OKAY. She is capable of doing it herself so let her. Don’t judge her for it or take it personally. In fact, you should be glad she can pull her own weight in whatever situation just like you as a man, can as well. Equality can’t be that hard a thing to fathom can it?
Chimamanda emphasizes the fact that as humans we have really evolved but our ideas of gender are clearly still stuck in the medieval ages. Here in Kenya it is not as suffocating for an independent woman as it is in Lagos and that I am thankful for. Seems we are slowly heading in the right direction. A woman in Lagos cannot be able to do practically anything without a man, and it is not because she is fully dependent on a man but the society there has made it such a norm there that sometimes she has no choice. A woman in Lagos cannot enter clubs alone, she has to be accompanied by a man otherwise she will not get in. When seen hand in hand with a man, the man will be acknowledged but not the woman. The woman is basically invisible. She is just an object as opposed to a human being. I’d like to see the clubs in Nairobi try that and see if they’ll ever have a full house.
The work place is yet another place where people really need to understand why feminism exists and fight for the injustice that women go through on the daily. We all know how condescending some men can be, I say some because it’s not every single man who feels all high and mighty towards women. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook wrote an entire book just based on this. Assuring women that they have a right to sit at the table as well, they can give their ideas and opinions and take action without the fear of being judged or even worse getting the sack. If we kept living in that fear, the Daily Nation would have a very hard time finding Top 40 women under 40 candidates for their annual Business Daily segment.
Chimamanda teaches a writing workshop in Lagos and she talks of some participants who have been warned to stay away from her workshop. That listening to her ‘feminist talk’ would make these women absorb ideas that would destroy their marriages. I don’t know why marriage is such a heavily talked about issue in African communities. I am only in my early twenties, but the pressure to tie the knot in this generation right now is crazy! I know some families that wait for their daughter to graduate from school and then the next thing is to find her a husband. Not get a job and build your career or even possibly get another degree, no… It’s all about – Get a man. Get a reputable man, get married, have kids. That is your role in life as a woman. Finding a life partner is not to be looked down upon of course, no man is an island after all. But this man should come into your life because of how you live your life. Not because that is all you want in life.
She not only focuses on women alone though. Like the title says, Chimamanda wants us ALL to be feminists. She has a section on men as well and how we as a society have done a great disservice to them in how they are raised. Masculinity is defined in an extremely narrow way and putting young boys in such a cage so early life teaches them to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of being human. This has left most men with very fragile egos. Any small thing, like say paying the bill at a restaurant instead of letting him do it, bruises their ego so much and they feel like you are challenging their manhood. Guys its okay to not be all put together, it’s okay to accept help when you need it. One of the quotes from this book that really spoke to me and relates to this was a quote Chimamanda said when asked whether she worries about men being intimidated by her… “A man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in.”
Back on the marriage topic, it is quite sad that women are being pushed to get married by a particular age but men can stay single all through his life if he wants to. An unmarried 30 something or 40 something year old woman is seen as a failure yet for a man the same age it seen as him taking his time to choose a wife. Society needs to change its stance on these gender ‘rules’ if at all equality between the sexes is to be achieved. Women will give up jobs, career dreams, even going to particular places or acquainting herself with particular people all to please the man whilst in a relationship. Why do we never see a man making the same compromise?
The sad thing is we live in a society where men seem to have all the power, and why? Because it happens all the time that it has become normal. Feminists are not bad people. They are not trying to say that women and only women should rule the world, all we are saying is that society should really give us a break. We can’t wear what we want without being judged or some man seeing it as his chance to take forceful advantage of our bodies. We can’t go to work everyday and come home without a man expecting us to cook and clean and raise the kids as well yet he is quite capable of doing that himself. We can’t expect to be as successful as the man because the man expects us to be seen and not heard. So many rules and gender expectations are placed on the woman, especially the African woman and people are still wondering why Feminism is on the rise? Chimamanda talks of men feeling threatened by the idea of feminism, she feels that this is triggered by how they are raised… ‘Their sense of self-worth is somehow diminished if they are not naturally in charge as men.’
Culture may have stated many years ago that women are to be subordinate to men but culture is constantly changing and we should adjust accordingly to the changes. Chimamanda perfectly concludes her book with this powerful statement- ‘Culture does not make people. People make culture.’ She posed a question to her readers that I will post here as I am posing the same question to all of us…
‘What if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender?’
Would like to know your responses to that so feel free to comment below! This book though only 70 pages long is quite the short story, one I won’t forget anytime soon.
P.S: I think is the longest post I have done this year, goodness!