When I first started dating the person with whom I most recently had a relationship, I tested him. No, I didn’t try to sneak a look at this bank statement or convince him to take me to Alinea or find out how much he could deadlift. (The answer to that last one, by the way, is a lot.) We had gone on several dates, I had determined that I was attracted to him, I found him easy and comfortable to talk to, but there was one more thing I had to find out. I had to know his reaction to the word “feminist.”
“If someone looked at my Spotify playlist,” I said, explaining my penchant for running to a soundtrack filled with booty music, “they’d think, ‘You say you’re a feminist, but I’m not sure you know what that means.’”
He didn’t bat an eye and our conversation carried on with nary a shudder or misguided questioning of why I “hated” men. He passed the test. In a world in which the word has become almost pejorative, it is important to me that I call myself a feminist. It is equally important that my partner understand why this is so.
In We Should All Be Feminists (2014), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores this very thing – what it means to be a feminist, why we should be one, and why our fight is not yet done. This brilliant short book is adapted from her TEDx talk of the same name and offers an eloquent and passionate argument for gender equality. It is almost en vogue now to proclaim that one is not a feminist, as if A) claiming to be pro-woman means you are inherently anti-man, or B) that for which all feminists before us fought has been won. It is also to distance oneself from whatever negative connotations the word has picked up – in response to a journalist who told her she should never call herself a feminist because feminists are women who are unhappy with their husbands, Adichie eventually resorts to calling 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.” Because it is believed, somehow, that one cannot be all those things and also be a feminist.
I have always argued that feminism, for me, is about choice. It’s about opportunity. I have been told by some women that I am “more feminist” than them, but I don’t think this is so. You can be a feminist and a doctor and dedicate your life to your career. You can be a feminist and a mother and stay at home to raise your kids. You can be a feminist and love women. You can be a feminist and love men. You can be a feminist who bakes, who knits, who skies, who runs, who reads, who writes, who does any number of any things that are important to you. And if you believe that you should not be kept back from doing those things because of your gender, you, my friend, are just as feminist as me.
It is important that we do these things we love, regardless of our gender, because if all we see is men in these roles, we start to believe only men can fulfill them. Adichie recounts a time when she worked hard to be class monitor, only to have the honor handed to a boy who scored lower than her on their tests and didn’t even want the job. But because the role of class monitor – read: CEO, Chief of Surgery, President, etc. – had always gone to a boy, a girl was not even considered. Whereas men were historically called to lead owing their greater physical strength, such is not the case today. “The person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person,” she asserts. “It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, innovative, creative. We have evolved. But our ideas of gender have not evolved very much.”
This book is as simple an argument as one can have for the case for feminism. For anyone who questions why feminism is still relevant today (I must point out that I have inadvertently read several books in a row that would prove this) or is not sure how misogyny and patriarchy them, this serves and an excellent primer. It is direct, plainly written, can be read in one sitting, and yet is filled with passion and a craving for opportunity.
So, why is this word so important to Adichie? Why is it so important to me? Some would ask why not just say you believe in human rights, to which Adichie replies:
Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.
I implore you, read this book. We should all be feminists. Here are your reasons why.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a non-fiction book about feminism, read a book under 100 pages]