Review: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should all be Feminists

In the third guest blog from our MA placement students, Emma Allen reviews Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. The book is available to borrow in the Feminism section of the RACE Centre library under call number GE.1/ADI. Look out for new purchases in Feminism recommended by Emma coming soon!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian feminist. She grew up in Nigeria and is from the Igbo people. Adiche spoke at a TEDxEuston talk in December 2012, where she gave a speech on feminism. She has converted that speech into the book, We Should All Be Feminists. The book was published in 2014 by Fourth Estate. The text in this book is largely personal, with no backing texts from other sources. This makes the book much easier to read, and much more personable. Readers are able to connect with the text because Adichie draws from her own life experiences and things that she has been told.

The main argument is that everyone should be a feminist. She begins to push this point by drawing from certain experiences she has had where she has been treated as lesser than a man. One instance is when she tips a parking assistant for finding her and her male companion, Louis, a spot to park, and he turns to the man and thanks him, instead of Adichie. Louis is “…a brilliant, progressive man… [who] would tell me, ‘I don’t see what you mean by things being different and harder for women. Maybe it was so in the past, but not now. Everything is fine now for women’”. When the worker thanks Louis instead of Adichie, he “…looked at me, surprised, and asked, ‘Why is he thanking me? I didn’t give him the money.’ Then I saw realisation dawn on Louis’s face. The man believed that whatever money I had ultimately came from Louis. Because Louis is a man”. Another is when she is going into a hotel in Nigeria, and is immediately stopped on suspicion of being a sex worker. Adichie asks, “Why, by the way, do those hotels not focus on the demand for sex workers instead of on the ostensible supply?”. This question comes to the heart of one deeply entrenched issue in society. Women are seen as suspect, as if they do not belong somewhere unless they are either accompanying a man or are paid to ‘service’ a man. But the blame and scrutiny falls on the women, not the men paying for sex work.

Figure 1 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

The man being seen as authority is something that is taught to boys from a young age. Adichie tells a story from her childhood, when she was in school. Her teacher was giving the position of class monitor to the child that scored the highest on the test, and Adichie scored the highest. However, the teacher said that a boy had to be class monitor, and had assumed that a boy would score the highest on the test, instead of a girl. So the position went to the boy that scored second-highest, even though he did not want the position and Adichie did.

Through this story, readers come to understand that young boys do not always crave positions of power, but eventually become used to the fact that they are given these positions over the girls, and come to expect that authority to be given to them in their adult life. Not only does this reinforce the negative expectations men have of authority, but also harms women, because when they are rightfully given authority over men, they are questioned and demeaned, even when they have better qualifications than the men. So how does this all tie into the creed of We Should All Be Feminists? Adichie uses her life to connect with people, of all genders. She details the trials and struggles she has faced, and wonders why more people are not angry like she is. This is an important topic to discuss, especially when more women than ever are in the workforce after decades of being shut out by men. Being able to understand part of the root of misogyny can lead to different teachings for young boys that will allow them to grow into men that respect women as just another person. Adichie says this near the end of her book: “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture”. Humanity has changed drastically over the thousands of years of existence. Change must happen again to create a better and fairer future for women.