C.N Adichie published this book-length essay in 2014. Adichie is a Nigerain novelist and short-story writer. Her parents held academic positions at the University of Nigeria. She did her schooling and college in her home country and later went to USA for higher education. So her writings have influence of both the experiences of home and foreign. She has used simple language in this essay. While going through it I rarely needed the dictionary.
In We Should All Be Feminists, Adichie tries to make general observations on gender on the basis of her own experiences. While going through this essay it becomes evident that she was intelligent and sensitive right from childhood. The way she beautifully narrates her childhood experiences at the beginning of the essay is testimony to the fact that she is an organic writer. She in no way exaggerates and calls a spade a spade. She wrote an article ‘Purple Hibiscus’ in 2003 which fetched her a lot of criticism. Some began to link her description of feminists with unhappy women, others with un-African tradition. She stayed firm in what she believed and she responded effectively to the allegations. She began to call herself ‘Happy African Feminist’. She simply used the antonyms of words with which she was tagged by people.
This essay also reflects how many hardships one has to face when one is trying to reform a conservative society. Coming up with a counter narrative that challenges the status quo is always a daring task and only brave people can accomplish it. This essay has a plethora of lessons for all of us in terms of what can be achieved by determination and by holding on to what one believes in.
Nigeria is a post-colonial state and part of the ‘global south’, a term for underdeveloped or developing countries. One of the features of post-colonial states is that they retain the colonial legacy in one way or the other. That is why we see stereotypes and people afraid of changing the status-quo because these have been taken unquestioningly from the former colonial masters. Adichie’s essay reveals how gender was a basis of discrimination in Nigeria. In school she scored the highest in the class but was still denied the designation of class monitor just because she was not a boy. It shows how the seeds of ‘gender roles’ are implanted so early in children.
Adichie mentions Lagos, the largest city and commercial hub of Nigeria, as the place where she likes to spend time with her friends. I have never imagined that a city in Africa could be as entrepreneurial and spirited as Adichie describes it to be. This is perhaps because of eurocentricism which makes us ignore non-western capabilities and only see the weaknesses.
Adichie also draws our attention to the magnitude of patriarchy prevalent in her country. When she was with her friends in a market, she gave a tip to a person who helped them to park their car. The man thanked her male friend instead of her. The presumption is that women don’t earn and they are financially dependent on men. She tries to challenge these ideas, break stereotypes, and seeks equal respect and dignity for both the sexes through her writings and in the way she lives.
Adichie’s essay shows how important it is to introspect and re-examine our beliefs and practices. This will lead us to learn and unlearn many things. In her essay she shows how masculinity is associated with a man, and how a woman is considered opposite or incompatible to it. This essay also talks of how particular feelings are associated with a particular gender. Anyone who tries to act or think out of the box is tagged as abnormal. She makes an important distinction when she says that in the past the only touchstone for leadership was physical strength but in modern times it is intelligence and knowledge which is the key to a leadership role.
If we look at Kashmir, once a couple decides to opt for family planning, it is always the woman who is sterilised. Then the same women are not allowed to give bath to a dead woman during final rites. This stigmatises women’s identity and is given a false religious sanction.
I think Adichie traces the whole oppression of women to the family environment, which is then perpetuated by state and civil society through different means.
To conclude, I would say this essay is a good way to understand the day-to-day issues of women, which many of us tend to ignore.
The writer is a PG student at Department of Politics & Governance, Central University of Kashmir. [email protected]