Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” The concept is rather simple. Yet, for many people a feminist is a man-hating, aggressive female who wants women to overpower men. The list of stereotypes of feminists is endless, and non of them are very flattering. First of all, every person can be a feminist whether you are a female, male, or non-binary person. Second, the goal of feminism isn’t for women to overpower men and most feminists also don’t hate men. What feminists fight for is equality for all genders, not the power of one gender over another.
As for feminist literature, one author that comes to mind right away is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award-winning Nigerian-American author. You might have heard of her acclaimed works, such as Americanah or Purple Hibiscus. While there is an underlying tone of feminism, justice, and equality in most of her work, two books stand out. Especially in the current political climate, it is extremely important to learn about intersectional feminism. We need to educate ourselves on what it means and why it is so important. Feminism is about all women (and men) and it’s important to always remember that.
We Should All Be Feminists
This slim collection of essays is based on Adichie’s TedX Talk of the same name. The award-winning author first talks about her personal stories of sexism, discrimination, and gender inequality, giving examples from her native Nigeria and her experiences living in the United States. When she was first accused of being a feminist at age 14, Adichie didn’t even know what it meant so she had to look it up. Throughout the years she then redefined her personal meaning of feminism, eventually coming to the conclusion that she is a “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.”
She goes to to explain what 21st-century feminism is and why it is an urgent issue for people of all genders. She also contradicts the notion that we are now living in post-sexism society, pointing out different aspects of life where women are still marginalized.
In her unique way, she tackles sexism and gender inequality. Through personal stories and anecdotes she shows us how the separation and inequality between the genders already begins in early childhood. She outlines why this discrimination and inequality is harmful for everyone, not just girls and women. I recently had a (very intense) discussion on this topic. What I tried to get across in this debate is exactly what Adichie describes in her book, too. That is, that feminism is about the equality of men and women, and not—as some people assume—women trying to get retribution and take over the world.
In the current political climate it is especially important to also look at feminism from an intersectional perspective. Too often, feminism is associated with white women, not taking into account the different experiences and struggles of feminists who are people of color. Adichie gives a strong and important voice to this inclusive and intersectional feminism.
So, if you have been asking yourself what feminism means today and how you can be a more inclusive and better feminist yourself, this is a book you should put on top of your list. You can also listen to her Ted Talk here.
“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.”
Dear Ijeawele, or a a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
A childhood friend of Adichie once asked her how to raise her daughter as a feminist. This is not a question answered in a minute. So Adichie wrote a letter with 15 suggestions to help raise a new generation of feminists and independent women. The suggestions vary greatly. From letting your child pick whatever toy they want, be it a doll or a helicopter, to not thanking the father of your child when he changes diapers. He didn’t do a gracious deed for you; he did his job as a father.
Adichie also makes it abundantly clear that if you decide to be a feminist you must embrace it fully. There is no such thing as a “conditional female equality.” In her words: “Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not.”
Her suggestions and ideas clearly show us how many aspects of our lives are still determined by underlying gender roles and biases. What’s a girl’s role? What’s a boy’s role? Men must be tough and strong, women must be gentle and kind. Masculinity is still considered superior to femininity. Adichie makes her views on stereotypical gender roles extremely clear with strong punches such as: “The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.” There are different expectations and roles for different genders that are taught from a very young age. It’s time that we tear them down. Unlearning these expectations might be difficult, but it’s necessary.
This book isn’t just for mothers and daughters. It’s for every parent who wants to raise their child to be able to live outside a stereotype and become an independent and empowered person. If people want their children to truly be themselves, teach them exactly that. Politics keeps trying to define norms that different genders should adhere to. Keeping that in mind, we must remember that gender roles are a societal construct that limits our potential.
“Teach her that the idea of ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. ‘Because you are a girl’ is never reason for anything. Ever.”
Too many voices out there try to disregard and shut feminism up. Even within the feminist movement, there are still a lot of differences and misconception about who or what should be included in this movement and what a “true” feminist should be or act like. These two books are a foundation for people to educate themselves more and get a better understanding of what feminism actually is. They also shed light on the need for more intersectional feminism. Adichie’s work can help to deconstruct the misconceptions surrounding the feminist movement and hopefully can get more people to join in the fight for equality and justice for ALL women. I truly hope that after reading these books, you too will want to be a feminist.
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Photo: Rebecca Willems, Howard County Library