Book Review: We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This isn’t a book per-se. It’s just a single essay based on a TED talk by the author. I picked this up at the Hyderabad airport when I was stuck there from 6pm to midnight alone, without The Hero or Chotu for company. I almost picked up a Vogue but saw this at the billing counter and changed my mind.

The author starts off by describing the baggage that comes with the word feminist. She says, and I quote:

I decided I would now be a Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men

This is an important thing to remember. So many of us feel the need to explain what “type” of feminist we are as though feminism by itself is some sort of man-hating, identity obliterating force. One that takes young and impressionable Anakins and turns them into Sith Lords (well, technically apprentices, but you know…). Feminism is not about wanting to reverse the power balance in our society. It’s about trying to find a new, fairer, normal. It’s hard to explain what feminism means, however, because for millennia patriarchy has focused only on concentrating power in a few hands. The very idea of equality is quite radical in most societies.

A second important point the author makes is about how many people are unable to see how women are constantly either rendered invisible or judged by unfair standards. She gives an example of her friend who thanks her husband each time he changes their baby’s nappy and an American executive who behaves the same way as her male predecessor but is judged “unlikable”. She also talks about her friend who doesn’t see how women are still disadvantaged and about Igbo culture that privileges men.

At the end of it, she reaches the same conclusion many of us also have. We not only need to raise feminist daughters but also feminist sons. She says:

… by far the worst thinking we do to males – by making them feel they have to be hard – is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.

And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males.

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or new about this piece of writing – not for many feminists, anyway. However, the thoughts are so well organized and elegantly expressed that it serves as a handy reminder of why I’m a feminist. African culture seems so similar to Indian culture that this piece feels more relatable than those written by Western writers. For example, does this sound familiar?

Recently a young woman was gang-raped in a university in Nigeria, and the response of many young Nigerians, both male and female, was something like this: “Yes, rape is wrong, but what is a girl doing in a room with four boys?”

and this?

… These Nigerians have been raised to think of women as inherently guilty. And they have been raised to expect so little of men that the idea of men as savage beings with no self-control is somehow acceptable.

and this…

… We teach girls shame. Close your legs. Cover yourself. We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilt of something.

If you’d like to read this essay, I’d recommend the Kindle version. If you’d like to get all evangelist like me, buy a printed copy and lend it out to everyone you know starting with immediate family. If you don’t want to read, you can try watching the original TED talk. (I haven’t watched it myself so if you do, please do leave a comment). But the message is important and needs to be heard. Here’s the video:


Fun fact: Hyderabad is one of the best airports I’ve been stuck in. 🙂

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3 Replies to “Book Review: We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

  1. Boy, I can tell you it is hard to raise a feminist son with the whole world teaching otherwise! After I heard MIL telling him on 2 occasions to not “cry like a girl”, I finally asked her how does one cry like girl. Thankfully Mil is a reasonable being. She laughed and got the message. But such reinforcements keep coming from everywhere and anyone. Takes so much energy to keep giving different reminders. I get the feeling that my son is a social experiment! Let see what he turns out to be. Heads up for you!

    1. You’re so right! Have you watched the Vogue Empowered “boys don’t cry” ad? It’s spot on about the level of pressure boys are also under.

      Please keep detailed (b)logs of your experiment. Chotu will be the focus group after the trials are done on Venky 😉 I have a feeling lil Ms T will not need much work. She’s a natural rebel like her mom and namesake Goddess.

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