“We Should All Be Feminists” | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 49 pages| Vintage Books | Goodreads
I love TedTalks, but I very rarely fully absorb the information the way I absorb written material. With that in mind, I picked up this little 8 dollar copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists,” which is essentially the written adaptation of her viral Tedx presentation (yes, the one that Beyoncé excerpted). If, like me, you’re the sort who likes to reread poignant sentences and sticky note facts to look up later, perhaps this is the better format for you.
As a text, “We Should All Be Feminists” is an accessible feminist treatise with an application far wider than its title suggests. It’s a delightfully simple book, written in delightfully simple language—it’s perfect for woefully simple people. It’s primarily an anecdotal talk, filled with examples of women who have sold houses and worn fake wedding rings in order to seem less intimidating to potential suitors or be respected in their male-dominated society. Despite being smart and successful, these women are afraid of aligning themselves with the concept of feminism.
Unsurprisingly, Adichie is unapologetically feminist, and spends the following 50 pages eloquently explaining her thought process. “We Should All Be Feminists” explains her feminism with refreshing straightforwardness.
Some people ask, “Why the word feminist?” Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that word would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender.
Explaining the nuance of feminism by juxtaposing it with human rights is a positive example, considering broad- minded human rights activists do plenty of substantive work. A less charitable comparison would be closer to the faux-inclusivity of “all lives matter.”
Once again we encounter the universality of Adichie’s explanation of feminism; of her ability to bolster all demographic-specific movements even in a speech specifically targeting a single movement.
“Some people ask, “Why [Black Lives Matter]?” Why not just say [all lives matter] or something like that?”
If the Adichie’s initial response about feminism rings true for you, then the following should as well:
“Because to say ‘all lives matter’ in this situation would be dishonest. Black Lives Matter is, of course, simply one part of an ‘all lives matter’ ideology—but to choose the vague expression of ‘all lives matter’ is to deny the specific and particular problem of racism.”
The same thing would hold true if one wanted to support breast cancer research vis a vis all cancer research. Or perhaps providing aid to a specific country versus every other poverty stricken area in the world.
To challenge the particular in favor of the general is a classic derailing comment, commonly used by those who feel excluded from whichever movement is on the table. Take this comment from the #IStandforDiversity twitter conversation the other day:
This is indicative of a rather common misunderstanding by a majority or otherwise widely accepted population when considering marginalized movements: That inclusivity is somehow not beneficial for those already a part of the mainstream.
Feminism, as Adichie notes, is simply one facet of the greater human rights movement. Women reaching a multidimensional equality with their male counterparts is one more step for all other non-WASPs. Through that lens, feminism becomes more than a belief system held by man-haters and divorcees (people really say these things). Feminism becomes less of a dirty word.
That idea is the heart of “We Should All be Feminists.” While the work needed to achieve equality between the sexes may be intimidating, the word feminism doesn’t have to be as well. It can unify people under the idea that societies have the collective power to optimize their cultures, making them more accepting and less antiquated. Most importantly, it can liberate men, women, and everyone in between who has been stifled by the heaviness of gender roles and responsibilities.
If you can’t tell, I enjoyed “We Should All Be Feminists, and wish I’d started off my feminist eduction with it instead of the cumbersome and unrelatable Feminine Mystique (which, while necessary to explore, doesn’t need to be read from cover-to-cover). For those who struggle with the idea of feminism, or with social activism in general, I recommend it highly. I especially recommend it to people who have trouble articulating why they are feminist, and could use some help finding the right words.
Have any of you read “We Should All Be Feminists?” If you have any hot takes let me know in the comments! Similarly, if you have any other books that really bring out the activist in you, let me know!