I could, in good conscience, end this post here if I wanted to. But I don’t want to. The subject demands and deserves time and thought far beyond its own short length.
We Should All Be Feminists is a short book—or long essay—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who adapted it from her own TEDx Talk. The book outlines her introduction to feminism and how sexism and misogyny have shaped her life, as well as the lives of countless women.
Adichie’s arrival at feminism is a familiar story. When she first heard the term, it was thrown at her like an accusation. Later in life, as her writing career took off, she was advised to never call herself a feminist. She describes calling herself a “Happy Feminist,” because the stereotype was that feminists were angry, brooding, and unmarriageable. From there, with every generalization about feminists she heard, she added more qualifiers to what she called herself. If she were to identify herself as a feminist, she had to ensure everyone that she was not going against her culture, did not hate men, and was decidedly feminine.
I found this so relatable. Not necessarily because I came to feminism in this exact way, but because it is so incredibly common. To call yourself a feminist is to open the floodgates.. Suggesting that society is structured to benefit men more than women is considered an act of aggression. Promoting equality translates to wanting the privileged to be stripped of their power. People assume you’re declaring a war on men. When you get more intersectional, it’s seen as an attack on heterosexuality, whiteness, and the gender binary. A woman who calls herself a feminist is not allowed to do so without consequence. That’s what drives these qualifiers. By saying you’re a feminist, but that you don’t hate men, you shield yourself from accusations to an extent. You escape that stereotype.
It’s often not until you gain a deeper understanding of feminism that is clicks. You don’t need to explain yourself. You don’t need to justify being a feminist, or dilute your beliefs to avoid making waves.
“We teach girls shame. Close your legs. Cover yourself. We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. Who silence themselves. Who cannot say what they truly think. Who have turned pretence into an art form.”
The book has its limitations. For example, it doesn’t really explore queerness or the gender spectrum. It doesn’t touch upon every aspect of intersectional feminism. This, however, is not huge a fault, and is largely just pickiness on my part. Adichie is writes eloquently—we all know this. But she is one woman, and she must speak of her own experiences, many of which are universal and relatable. It’s important to be critical of writing that is hailed as feminist, but it’s equally important to understand who is writing it. She explains feminism through her experiences because it’s what she knows, and all she can personally attest to. And that’s fine. I often think back to Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, in which she voices her dissatisfaction with the pedestal on which feminists put one another. We force expectations on them to be perfect, to not miss a thing, to say the right thing every single time so that, when they slip up—even in the smallest way—they become the pariah of the feminist community. Now, the (very few) shortcomings of We Should All Be Feminists are certainly not enough to cause that much of a stir. But it did spring to mind, and is important to note. Ultimately, what Adichie has done with this essay is provide a solid and undeniable case for feminism in a world that rejects it from every angle. It’s a brief essay and can only cover so much ground.
In short, We Should All Be Feminists is an intelligent, empowered, and deeply personal look at just some of the ways in which women are held back by both systems of power and by peers. If you or someone you know is on the fence, or simply wants to begin learning, this book is clear, concise, and fully developed. Though it is short in pages, my copy is filled with tabs pointing to favorite passages. Adichie does not waste a single page, and for that I am grateful.