Published by Vintage on July 29th 2014
What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun.
With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.
Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a bestselling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
I first heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when I saw a video of her TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story. It was a wonderful video about the importance of representation of different identities in media. I thought “Woah, I need to read a book by this person”. So, I thought I should start by reading Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which was adapted from another TED Talk on feminism she did.
What I liked:
- We Should All Be Feminists feels like an introductory course on feminism. Adichie teaches us through her own personal experiences what feminism means to her and why it’s important. I enjoyed this aspect, even though I’m pretty educated on the subject. I feel like it needed to be more fleshed out, but since it was such a short book, I think it did a good job.
- Like I said above, the author talks about her experiences being a feminist, and I liked how she would talk about the different micro aggressions she would go through, because I could find myself nodding along and thinking “Wow, I’ve been through this, too”. The way she told her stories were both interesting and comical in a sense.
- I think the part I liked the most of the book was when she would dismantle the popular misconceptions people had about feminism.
“The 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, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humor, you don’t use deodorant.”
She talked about the importance of men being feminists as well as women, and also about intersectionality.
“I was once talking about gender and a man said to me, ‘Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?’ This type of question is a way of silencing a person’s specific experiences. Of course I am a human being, but there are particular things that happen to me in the world because I am a woman.”
What I disliked:
However, despite Adichie talking about intersectionality and the importance of feminism, she contradicts herself and ends up preaching the opposite. There are two main reasons why I didn’t rate this book higher.
- When the author talks about gender, she tends to talk about it in the binary. Girls and boys. Men and women. Adichie tended to talk about sex and gender, but it felt like she used the terms interchangeably. Yes, she talked about important issues, and had really important points, but it felt like she was missing the nuance that was needed to also include the transgender community.
- There’s a particular remark she makes in the book that seems to erase the LGBTQIA+ community and promote heteronormativity:
“We police girls. We praise girls for virginity but we don’t praise boys for virginity (and it makes me wonder how exactly this is supposed to work out, since the loss of virginity is a process that usually involves two people of opposite genders”.
This is an error that should not be made when preaching feminism. This made me feel really uncomfortable, and it was hurtful to read. I’d write these mistakes off as just being a problem with the year it was released, had it not been for the fact that Adichie recently came out with some transphobic and misogynistic comments that only reinforced the problematic aspects of this book even more. If you want to know more, click here (tw for transphobia). There’s also a great response from Laverne Cox, here.
Overall, the book does indeed explain why we should all be feminists. However, I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for the transphobia, heterosexism, and the fact that the author has not changed their views. Read at your own risk, but don’t take it as the book about feminism.
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