You Either Are or You Are Not

AdichieDay 40 of our Lenten journey beyond “Beyond Vietnam.”  Excerpted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recently released Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions (2017):

Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite; the idea of conditional female equality. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women, or you do not.

Teach your daughter to question language. A friend of mine says she will never call her daughter “princess”. The word is loaded with assumptions, of a girl’s delicacy, of the prince who will come to save her. This friend prefers “angel” and “star”. So decide the things you will not say to your child. You know that Igbo joke, used to tease girls who are being childish – “What are you doing? Don’t you know you are old enough to find a husband?” I used to say that often. But now I choose not to. I say, “You are old enough to find a job.” Because I do not believe that marriage is something we should teach young girls to aspire to. 

Try not to use words like “misogyny” and “patriarchy”. We feminists can sometimes be too jargony. Teach her that if you criticise X in women but do not criticize X in men, you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women. For X please insert words like anger, ambition, loudness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness.

Do you remember how we laughed and laughed at an atrociously written piece about me some years ago? The writer had accused me of being “angry”, as though “being angry” were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism. But I recently came to the realization that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism. Because in my anger about sexism, I often feel lonely. Because I love, and live among, many people who easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice.

Teach your daughter to question men who can have empathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than as individual equal humans. Men who, when discussing rape, will say something like, “If it were my daughter or wife or sister.” Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of crime as a brother or son in order to feel empathy.

Teach her, too, to question the idea of women as a special species. I once heard an American politician, in his bid to show his support for women, speak of how women should be “revered” and “championed” – a sentiment that is all too common. Tell her that women don’t need to be championed and revered; they just need to be treated as equal human beings.

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