We Should All Be Feminists (Really, We Should)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of those writers and social theorists that will most definitely serve to represent this period of time (if you haven't read Americanah you should immediately). I finally got around to reading her essay that expanded the TED Talk she gave on feminism. As you can see by the stick notes in the picture above, there were so many sections that made me nod my head and give an emphatic "yes! Exactly!" 

It is important to note that Adichie grew up in Africa, and speaks from that perspective in a majority of this piece. While gender equality is undoubtedly a global issue, the severity of the issue differs from place to place. Her experience comes from the perspective of seeing women not being allowed into night clubs without male chaperones, women turning down jobs to please their husbands, women being expected to take on all domestic responsibilities, and women being told they simply cannot hold positions of power. Granted these things happen in the United States, but the widespread acceptance of the gender gap in Africa is a bit more commonplace than what we are accustomed to. Anyway, context can be necessary, although this does not negate the fact that feminism is essential. 

"...but what it shows is how that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage: you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don't wear make-up..." (11)

I have also been called a feminist with a tone of disdain (once by a student! Ha!). The problem here is a classic connotation vs. denotation issue. By dictionary definition, a feminist is someone who simply wants equality. Unfortunately, culturally this word has become emotionally charged in a negative manner, as Adichie addresses above. She points out later, though, that culture is something that is created by the people, it is not the people; therefore we have the power to change things.

"What struck me- with her and with many other female American friends I have- is how invested they are in being 'liked.' How they have been raised to believe that their being likable is very important and that this 'likable' trait is a specific thing" (24).

This is something that I grapple with often and did more than ever when I first started teaching and had an old-school, professional male boss. Even when I first started teaching high school I wanted the kids to like me, but I also struggled with the idea of them liking me and respecting me. Male teachers don't seem to deal with this as much; they go in and get the job done and anyone who has a problem with that can screw off. I have made a lot of progress in this area in frequent years, at work and personally. I try to treat people with respect, but I stick to my guns on things I feel strongly about.

"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" (34).

God, I am so sick of gender stereotypes. That whole Target not labeling their bedding and toys as girls/boys causing such an uproar was ridiculous. Why does a pink bedspread need to be labeled as "girl"? Why send a message to a little guy that because he wants a pink blanket he's not really a "boy"? My son had a frilly apron on this afternoon to help me make pizza and he loved it. My husband? Didn't care. Me? Thought it was great. Let's just let people be themselves and chill out with the labels. 

"We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage" (26).

As the mother of a little boy this really hit home. I don't want anyone to tell my son that he needs to "man up" or "crying is for girls." I loathe the fact that some people still turn their noses up at men staying at home to take care of children while the women are the breadwinners- such a horrible example has been set for young men as they grow up. 

We spend a lot of time talking about how women have the short end of the stick, and yes, we do, but we cannot fail to acknowledge the fact that society puts a great deal of pressure on males to fit int a certain box as well, both physically, emotionally, and economically. 

"I know a woman who has the same degree and same job as her husband. When they get back from work, she does most of the housework, which is true for many marriages, but what struck me was that whenever he changed the baby's nappy, she said thank you to him. What if she saw it as something normal and natural, that he should help care for his child?" (37)

Ugh. This is something I have allowed to happen in my house- this is me claiming a great deal of responsibility for it. My assumption of the household tasks and child care comes from three main places. One: it was how it went in my own house growing up. Two: I get home four hours before my husband, so I really do have to care for Sawyer and getting housework out of the way is logical. And three: I have a "need to do it all" mentality that I've taken to the extreme. My husband would be willing to do more if I told him what to do, but I have fallen into this 1950s housewife (that works full time and has hobbies and friends) routine that makes the feminist in me scream (and I also tell people what to do at work all day, and am tired of it by the time I get home). It's a tough situation and I take a lot of the blame. Adichie makes a wonderful point, but I'd like to add to it that thanking your spouse for their efforts isn't a bad thing... as long as it's done mutually. 

"And that is part of the problem. That many men to not actively think about gender or notice gender. That many men say... that things might have been bad in the past but everything is fine now" (42).

I think this is unfortunately something that can be compared to the idea of white privilege and race right now; so many white people don't think about racial injustice because they, incorrectly, don't think that it impacts them. So many men don't think about issues regarding feminism because they, incorrectly, don't think that it impacts them. We need a collective change of perspective in both regards.

I read it in less than an hour, on the treadmill. It's not hard, but it is important. 

1 comment:

  1. I have been contemplating reading that book - I recently read AMERICANAH for my book club....a book I otherwise probably would not have read....as a result, I watched her TedTalk and LOVED it!!