I became familiar with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie through her TEDxEuston talk, We Should All Be Feminists—from which this book was adapted. My friend, Jessica, reminded me that I also knew of her from Beyonce’s video for Flawless.
When Staci first suggested that we read We Should All Be Feminists, I bought it right away thinking that it would be a hearty, heady read and would take a long time to get through. I ordered it on Amazon right away. But then when the book came in the mail, I laughed at myself. It’s so small. Including the foreward and About The Author, this book is 52 pages long. It’s an essay, really. It took me no more than half an hour to read—stretched out on the porch in the sunshine while the dog played in the yard.
But not only is it not a long book, it’s perfectly readable. Because of the fact that the heart of feminism is so basic and so… well, obvious, you don’t need fancy, highfalutin language to make a case for it. The beauty of this book is the simplicity and the honesty and earnestness that fills its pages. Make no mistake, though, that simplicity is to be dismissed at all. The truest and most meaningful things in our life are so simple at their core.
In the opening pages, Adichie talks about growing up in Nigeria and how, when she was growing up, much like where I live right now, “feminist” is a dirty word. A friend of hers called her a feminist as an insult when she was young and didn’t know what it meant. Later, after she wrote a book, a journalist warned her not to call herself a feminist because “feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.” From then on, rather than shirking the label, she called herself a “Happy feminist”. Someone else told her that feminism was anti-African, so Adichie started calling herself a “Happy, African Feminist.” On and on it went with people telling her what they thought a feminist was and why she should hide from the title. She continued to cling to it until eventually she called herself 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.” Obviously it’s a little cheeky but it really speaks to the biggest struggle that I have with Feminism. It’s really got nothing to do with Feminism at all as much as it has to do with what other people think it is. And these other people will cling so tightly to their idea that a Feminist is someone who hates men (or is angry or simply doesn’t want to wear a bra or shave her armpits or whatever) that it ends up distracting from the real heart of it all. Which is that Feminists believe in the social, political, and economical equality of the sexes. And if that’s the truth—and it is—then Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is completely right when she says we should all be Feminists. We should all be Feminists, indeed.
There’s another section of the essay that talks about the concept of gender as problematic—this is a bit that really spoke to me. Gender—just like race, is a concept that we have created to compartmentalize people. Yes, there is a biological difference between men and women—but biology is not what I’m talking about. The idea that men behave in these ways, and women behave in these other ways—the way we move about in society is what I’m talking about, here.
“We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.
We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak, a hard man. …
The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true, individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.”
It’s hard for me to expound on anything that Adichie says at all because she just says it all so clearly and simply and all I’m going to do is muck it up with words like “social construct” and “problematic” and “privilege” which are words that throw up red flags—even for me, sometimes.
So, I hope you’re really interested in this essay. If you are interested but don’t really want to find the book, there’s a link to her TEDx talk at the top of this page.
And if you want to know what we’re going to read in August, here we go! We’re reading The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. I hadn’t heard of this book at all before Stephanie suggested it but after a quick pop over to Goodreads to check it out, I’m really excited about it! It’s a novel that tackles immigration, is said to be very character driven, and there’s a love story in there, too. It has all the elements that make a novel seem very appealing to me. As soon as I finish the novel I’m currently reading, I’m going to start on this one right away.
A lot of people can read multiple books at once but I’ve never been able to do it. Have you??
What do you think? Does The Book Of Unknown Americans sound as good to you as it does to me?