I was fifteen years old. I was spotty, more so than I am now anyway , stressed for my National 5s and discovering my love of languages; but more than anything else, I was angry.
I was a fifteen-year-old-angry-feminist who got into arguments with boys at school, and probably bored a lot of my friends and family with my “big ideas” about intersectionality that I had first come across from Instagram and social media. I knew the world was an unequal place, and that men and women were treated differently – but I didn’t think much harder than that.
For my sixteenth birthday, my best friend Oisin, (a much better feminist than I was, it must be said) bought me Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminists, adapted from her original Ted Talk. “Well yes,” I thought looking at the book, “That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
However, Adichie’s analysis of the world goes much further than the obvious. She does speak about classic feminist issues, such as the lack of women at the top of our hierarchies world-wide, the double standards women are held to, and the different ways we socialise our sons and daughters. Yet, she also speaks about the inequality she has experienced on a personal level in Nigeria.
The feminist discourse that I had encountered up to then had very much been from a white, middle-class western perspective. As much as there was support thrown behind Black Lives Matter and calls for intersectionality, rarely did I hear the voices of women of colour, especially in the social media landscape where I “did” my activism.
Adichie is proud of her homeland. Yet, she was told that being a feminist was at odds with being an African. She was told that only unhappy women who cannot find husbands are feminist. She was told that feminists hate men. Instead of letting these claims fracture her identity, and dirty the word feminist, she labelled 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.”
The author reminds us that being a feminist is not a personality trait (as maybe I thought it was) but a mindset. The idea that you can be a feminist whether you wear short skirts and heels, or dungarees and beanies, or – get this – if you are a man, is no longer a revolutionary concept; especially inside the university bubble. This an idea that many still need to hear.
However, Adichie has faced criticism too. There have been remarks made against her comments around transwomen from a 2017 interview. She is an LGBTQ+ advocate in Nigeria, and has since made several attempts to clarify what she meant from her remarks on Channel 4 News, which originally caused outrage. She is not a perfect feminist, but her essay alone can be seen as great feminist work.
Adichie reclaimed the word feminist, which to some had started to see as having sour connotations. She reclaims it for us all to use, with equal parts of tongue-in-cheek humour, and horrifying real-life anecdotes. We should all be feminists – and we are feminist if – in her words, we say: “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it. We must do better.”
Image: Howard County Library System via Flickr