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We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has become a key name in modern Feminism, and has become a personal favourite of mine with her refreshing direct approach to writing. Adichie is a Nigerian writer who moved to the US at the age of 19, and often refers to her views on Feminism by talking about her personal experiences being a Black Nigerian Woman in America. She began her series of viral TEDTalks in 2009, and shot to the forefront of Feminist conversation with her 2012 TEDxEuston speech entitled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. This was published in 2014 and has sparked a huge conversation surrounding feminism, femininity, gender, sexuality, race and representation. Beyonce even sampled her speech in her 2013 single ‘Flawless’, garnering more media attention.

Adichie comes in at 1.26 – 2.20

The original TEDTalk

For me, this speech and book opened my eyes to the wider experiences of being a woman. It showed me that we all have so many connected issues that need to change, but we also have differences too that need to be taken into account.

There were a few things in this book that really resonated with me. The first was her candid discussion about the stereotypes and stigma surrounding branding yourself as a Feminist and the word itself. Some quotes as follows:

“You know, you’re a feminist. It was not a compliment, I could tell from his tone” (page 8)

“It seems to me the the word feminist, and the idea of feminism itself, is also limited by stereotypes”

“but what it shows is how that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage: you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think woman should always be in charge, you don’t wear make up, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humour, you don’t wear deodorant”

“I should never call myself a feminist, since feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.” (page 9)

“calling myself a feminist meant that I hated men” (page 10)

“My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better” (page 48)

“Feminism was not our culture, feminism wasn’t African”

I relate to so much of this, and have seen so many people in own life and in the media who hold these stereotypes. (See the section on Dolly Parton in my List of Heroines). It’s so damaging, and makes it so difficult for us to move forward, so it is so important for educated Feminist activists to acknowledge these stereotypes and their own struggles within them.

The next topic she touches on is our view on women’s sexuality, her cultural background definitely played a part in this but it is a global unspoken rule that patriarchal societies share. A couple of great quotes include:

“We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way boys are”

“We teach girls shame. Close your legs. Cover yourself. We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something. And do girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. Who silence themselves. Who cannot say what they truly think. Who have turned pretence into an art form” (page 33)

This definitely links back in with my Slut-Sliding Skirt practice and research. Shame, judgement and sexuality link Feminism and Fashion so strongly.

I was definitely inspired by her view on femininity and self-representation (although she doesn’t use that term in particular).

“I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. I wore a very serious, very manly and very ugly suit” (page 38)

“the less feminine a woman appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously” (page 39)

“I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be” (page 39)

These definitely manifested in the form of a hyper-feminine, frothy moodboard and sketch experimentation linking slut-shaming and femininity. I was playing with extremes, covering up and a bit of an OTT aesthetic. I think this has something there but I am not particularly happy with the experiments, I think it’s all a bit too obvious and done-before.

Some other, more generalised quotes I love and picked out were:

“The higher you do, the fewer women there are” (page 17) referencing workplace hierarchy and women in positions of power

“We should all be angry” (page 21)

I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better” (page 21)

“If you are a woman, you are not supposed to express anger because it is threatening“ (page 21-22) Adichie is referencing management styles and the pressure put on women to not be bitchy.

“We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them” (page 24)

“we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently” (page 25)

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller” (page 27)

“We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man” (page 27-28)

Overall, I love this book and Adichie herself. Although it is not an ‘academic text’ in the sense that it isn’t a journal or article, I think it is a key text for me to refer back to. It is candid, real-world and relates back to the everyday struggles women face. Although I am tackling academic research and design solutions, I have to remember who this is all for and about.

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