Books and Reading Reviews

We Should All Be Feminists (2014), by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

weshouldallbefeministsNot that I really needed convincing, but a book entitled We Should All Be Feminists seemed like a pretty perfect place to begin my goal to read more feminist literature in 2015. And given that International Women’s Day was two weeks ago, I thought I’d go ahead and write a little about this essay. At only forty-eight pages, there’s really no excuse not to read this short piece, which considers some of the reasons why feminism is still required in today’s world.

The text is an adapted version of a speech that Adichie gave a while back; perhaps for that reason it feels formal but still personal. Adichie’s style is readable and intelligent, and at no point did I find myself disagreeing with anything that she said in this essay.

Adichie begins by considering the fact that the word ‘feminist’ carries a lot of baggage, and that people are reluctant to identify with it because it has so many negative connotations. She goes on to explain why the word is still necessary, why feminism is still such an important part of our lives in the twenty-first century. She includes several personal anecdotes, which serve to illustrate her arguments.

If you’re already someone who identifies as a feminist, and one who has read a bit of feminist literature, you will perhaps be familiar with most of the arguments that Adichie puts forward. That’s not to say that you won’t get anything out of it, though; the essay is well written and absorbing, and summarises many of pro-feminism arguments eloquently. Adichie’s own personal experiences – she talks a great deal about her experiences in Africa, for instance – also serve to illustrate the way that gender and culture interact in today’s world.

For me, the best part of this essay was both the writing (“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than how we are”) and the section where Adichie addresses the problem of terminology. A common argument against using the word ‘feminist’ is that it isolates one section of the population, makes it seem that women’s problems are the only ones that matter. Adichie defends individuals’ use of the word ‘feminist’ rather than, for example, identifying as a believer in ‘human rights’. She writes that to call oneself a believer in ‘human rights’ would be “dishonest”:

Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. […] It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human.

She adds that part of the solution to gender-related problems is to acknowledge these experiences, and the way that gender was (and often still is) used to divide, to shun, or to cause pain a specific group of people. For me, this was wonderfully expressed. The word ‘feminist’ has certainly caused me problems, and I’ve toyed with the expression ‘humanism’, for instance; but I’ve always somehow identified specifically with feminism, even if my larger worldview could probably be called ‘humanism’ or ‘egalitarianism’. Adichie’s defence of the word ‘feminism’ definitely made me appreciate the need for such a term.

I’d love to read more about feminism from Adichie (and, I think, just more in general!). For people who already identify with feminism, this is a wonderful piece from a like-minded individual. It might be the perfect text to suggest to someone who’s sitting on the fence, or who wants to get into feminist literature. It considers why feminism is still important in the twenty-first century, and introduces readers to some of the key issues facing women today.

Rating: 4.5 Stars



8 replies on “We Should All Be Feminists (2014), by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

I love how reading this felt like an extension of her TedTalk, rather than a transcript (which I suppose is what it is really.) I want to give a copy to everyone. She manages to articulate what I am unable to when I talk about feminism.

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts! Yeah, I watched the talk, which was really great. A lot of it is in the book in some shape or form, and it was great hearing her deliver some of my favourite lines. :)

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