GA Book Club #3: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

The month of September is over which means it’s time to discuss ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. I hope you’ve been able to get involved with the book club this month either by reading the essay or watching Adichie’s TED Talk.

What I like about this essay is its accessibility. It’s accessible first and foremost because of its length; I’d have a much better chance of convincing someone who isn’t particularly interested in either reading or feminism to give this text a go than I would offering them a chunky and thick hardback. Its pocket-sized design is really great in this way, and the relatively short length of the text does not take away from its quality either as it moves quickly, covering many different aspects of feminism, making it the perfect text for the aforementioned purpose. Adichie also creates accessibility in her writing style through combining anecdotal stories of her life with a humorous tone and limited use of subject-specific or low frequency lexis.

However, the essay’s length and style also had some drawbacks
for me personally. After watching Adichie’s Ted Talk, I was surprised to
discover that it was almost identical to the essay I had just read and I felt
like some aspects of the text could have been expanded on more as it almost
moved too quickly for me. Although, this is coming from someone whose main
interests are reading and feminism and would happily read hundreds
of pages on the things Adichie discusses. This essay would have been absolutely great for me a few years ago when I was first discovering feminism and although this meant it was lacking in some ways for my current self, I can appreciate it’s worth as a ‘guidebook’ or ‘introduction’ to feminism and I am glad it exists as it does! Anna, one of the founders of GA, described the text in a similar way when I told her we would be reading it this month for the Bookclub.

Despite the fact that reading this essay didn’t completely blow me away, there were some parts of it that I found really interesting. For example, Adichie’s consideration that physical strength was the defining factor that made men the more powerful and important gender one thousand years ago. Through
discussing this she highlights the absurdity that this could ever be used as an
argument to promote gender inequality in our world today where, amongst other things, intelligence and creativity are valued much more highly. She puts it nicely stating, “We have evolved. But our ideas of gender have not evolved very much.”

Adichie’s forgiveness of the people who have been unintentionally misogynistic towards her throughout her life is also important. In describing her experiences of being on the receiving end of misogyny, for example in describing waiters who greet the man she is with but not her, she states “The waiters are products of a society that has taught them that men are
more important than women, and I know that they don’t intend harm’. Even though the way in which the men act anger and upset Adichie, she understands that they are not acting in such a way out of spite but rather because this is the way society has taught them to act. Although Adichie telling these men that they should also greet her might have made her feel better, it probably would not have changed the way they view gender and specifically women in society, but watching her TED Talk or reading her essay might have. It can take a great deal of energy calling out people every time they make a misogynistic comment and Adichie shows the importance here of picking and choosing when it is most productive to react. That said, of course sometimes it is totally okay to call people out when they are being blatantly and intentionally misogynistic and you’re always justified in doing so!

Even before watching the TED Talk, I read parts of the text in my head in Adichie’s voice and was confused why I recognized the line, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.’ I soon realized that part
of Adichie’s essay/talk is included in Beyoncé’s song ‘Flawless’ which is why I
recognized what I was reading. For me, this reflects the accessibility of this
text because it is an example of how Adichie really brought this discussion into
the mainstream. I feel as if this text is really important for our generation
as it has been represented by many different forms of media and in a world
where media dominates, it is necessary that a message can be received on as
many platforms as possible and it is Adichie’s straightforward prose that allows for this to be the case.

Another aspect of the text I enjoyed was Adichie’s statement that women are portrayed as ‘inherently guilty’. This portrayal hugely affected me when I used to find excuses for the misogyny I experienced, particularly when I was groped and particularly when no one else knew about it because I was in a packed environment such as a gig. This victim-blaming mind-set was so harmful for me because society has taught us to ‘close your legs’ and ‘cover yourself’ as Adichie comments on in the text. I want to use this as a reminder to never blame yourself for being on the receiving end of misogyny.

Although Adichie has come under some controversy recently for her comments about transgender women, her discussion of gender in this text is seemingly pro-LGBTQ. She states ‘The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.’ Although I wish Adichie would have further discussed the transgender community in this text, she regularly rejects stereotypes and traditional views of gender throughout. Again, it seems that she does not go into too much detail on the subject because she does not go into too much detail on anything in this text, it’s main drawback for me, but these subtle references help the reader more easily understand the experience of transgender people.

I think my favourite part of the essay is Adichie’s rejection of the so-called evolutionary argument. She states ‘Some people will bring up evolutionary biology and apes, how female apes bow to male apes- that sort of thing. But the point is this: we’re not apes.’ Simply put, this sounds so obvious! But I am regularly surprised about how when I express my thoughts on anything that people tend to disagree on, someone says ‘well, apes do it so it must be natural’ or ‘well, that’s how cavemen lived so it must be right’. We have evolved for a reason! We are supposed to be making progress socially and intellectually so it baffles me that people refer to our primitive ancestors or
to apes, who we can all agree are not as intelligent as humans, as a point of
reference.

Overall, I would recommend this essay. It wouldn’t necessarily be my first recommendation for someone who takes great interest in reading and feminism as I think, if you have the time and the want to do so, there are better and more informative texts to read. I would however recommend this to someone who has considerably less interest in either reading or feminism or both. Considering the short amount of time it takes to read though, it is worth a read for anyone who has the best part of an hour on their hands, maybe not even that if you’re a fast reader!

For the month of October, we will be reading ‘The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic’ by Jessica Hopper. It was recommended to me for the Bookclub by a fellow GA rep, Sophia Simon-Bashall, and the title immediately caught my eye. It seems like a great fit for our campaign and although music criticism is not something I am particularly well read on, I am very much looking forward to giving this collection of essays a go!

If this book sounds like something you’d be interested in I hope you’ll join me in reading it over the next month. You can send us your thoughts on the text either on Twitter using the hashtag #GABookClub, email us at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com 

or join our GoodReads group and contribute to the monthly discussion by following this link- https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/230714-girls-against-book-club

The post discussing Jessica Hopper’s essay collection will be up on Sunday 5th November so keep an eye out on our Twitter page for the link then. And if you do have any thoughts on any of the essays then make sure you send them in before this date for a chance to be featured in next month’s post!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).