Last night I heard Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak at the Royal Festival Hall, London (part of the Women of the World festival). Interviewed by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, she spoke brilliantly on this, her new book, and gave her thoughts on why feminism is important and what it means to her.
Written as a letter to a friend who has asked for advice in bringing her daughter up as a feminist, the book has a conversational tone, as funny yet direct as Adichie is in real life. These are fifteen sensible suggestions, given alongside examples that illustrate how our patriarchal society behaves towards even those women who have achieved positions of great power.
In her fourth suggestion, Adichie talks of the dangers of Feminism Lite, a sort of female equality which has conditions attached. These ideas suggest that men are superior but that women should expect to be treated well:
Feminism Lite uses the language of ‘allowing’. Theresa May is the British prime minister and here is how a progressive British newspaper described her husband: ‘Philip May is known in politics as a man who has taken a back seat and allowed his wife, Theresa, to shine.’
She talks in her seventh suggestion about marriage and the tendency towards it being seen as an achievement for women. Contrasting the Clintons, when Hillary Clinton ran for president, she listed ‘Wife’ as her first descriptor on her Twitter account while Bill lists ‘Founder’. She originally kept her surname, Rodham, after marriage, but was persuaded to change it to Clinton so that her husband did not lose votes.
Before Adichie spoke last night, Angela Davis gave a talk in the same venue. Both events sold out and I wasn’t able to get into Davis’s talk, but I managed to watch about 20 minutes on the livestream. A common thread is the idea that, especially in western societies, we shrug and say, well, can’t change that within our lifetime so why bother? Behind this book is the message that we can change society for those who come after us, and why not? Adichie pointed out that a more equal society would benefit not only women but men as well. A patriarchal society reduces men in many ways. One example is the idea that if a woman wears a short skirt then a man may not be able to control his behaviour. But what does that say about the man? That he is subhuman? Surely not!
This is a short book filled with simple ideas that work. It is written to a woman with a young daughter, but as Allfrey said during the discussion, there is no point in raising feminist daughters and not feminist sons. Men can be feminists too (so many times on Twitter etc. I see women telling men to butt out of ‘women’s issues’!) and must be for society to change. If you know anyone with a birthday coming up, male or female, young or old, you could do worse than gift them a copy of this book.