“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising 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,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Adichie, a prize-winning Nigerian novelist, recently published “We Should All Be Feminists,” a modern feminist manifesto of sorts. At just 50 pages, it is a startlingly short – yet moving – read on gender stereotypes today.
The fight for feminism is not new. The suffragettes fought for women’s right to vote in the 1800s, followed by the likes of Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir and millions of others who struggled for equality. But for the past few years, feminism has been increasingly prominent in literature and media across the world. The definition of a feminist is constantly debated, as more attention has been drawn to the topic. Adichie devoted a TED talk to the idea of feminism, garnering acclaim and recognition from women of all walks of life, including Beyonce. Adichie then developed the talk into a book, which was initially available in the form of an eBook.
Throughout the book, Adichie focuses on the barriers of gender roles – and the differences between the lives of men and women.
Today, women still receive lower pay than men in jobs of equal position. In society, women are seen as the ones who must get married first, and must maintain their purity until then. Men, on the other hand, face the pressure of being the sole breadwinners. All these are stereotypes and views that Adichie discusses.
The title itself describes Adichie’s assertiveness throughout the small novel. Highly personalised, the author addresses intimate incidents of feminism in her life and her journey to being a feminist. She draws on her own experiences; for example, the first time someone called her a “feminist,” she was taught to believe it was a bad word. In her native country Nigeria, people warned her about the supposed evils of feminism. Adichie discusses all of this in a succinct fashion, but manages to present a thorough view of feminism today.
In an interview with Vogue Magazine, Adichie said, “We don’t really talk about gender, and I’m very much a believer in the power of discourse, in having conversations, of trying to reach out.” This appears to be her main motivation behind the speech-turned-book – bringing awareness and a level of comfort to this topic which so many of us avoid. Adichie describes how people are afraid to discuss gender roles. It is one of her many eye-opening theories, that the root of the problem is in our lack of acknowledgement.
Much of the novel is dedicated to these anecdotes, all written in the author’s eloquent prose. The flow of the book is at times fast, but this is mostly due to its short length. Adichie balances subtle levels of emotion with the stories she uses to illustrate the subject. Her voice is evident throughout, and readers can sense the palpable anger she has when it comes to lack of equality. It is clear that she is calling for a change.
Her choice to keep the book short was effective in conveying this. Within the first ten pages, her purpose and message is clear. Yet readers will want to continue hearing Adichie’s views – both for the beauty of her writing and for her many ideas that break the boundaries of gender stereotypes. What is most compelling is the passion evident in her argument – and her final statement that we should all be feminists.