We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published July 2014, Read February 2017
Rating: ♥♥♥ (of 5)
“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.”
We Should All Be Feminists should really be titled “We Should All Be Feminists, Duh” or include the subtitle “This is the most obvious shit that I can’t believe I actually have to say it.” Recently, the little book made headlines when a Swedish women’s charity gave the book to every 16 year old in Sweden, one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. Personally, I think this may have been a wasted exercise.
You must understand, I was raised a feminist. My mom was one of the few Second Wave Feminists who believed in intersectionality even before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989. She populated my childhood with the stories of Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, educated me on Stonewall, and had me watch Philadelphia when I was nine or ten years old. So much of We Should All Be Feminists had me saying “of course,” or more bluntly, “DUH.”
Adichie’s essay is an incredibly basic primer on feminism, and I am afraid it is one that obscures intersectionality. I know you may be wondering how an African author could write an essay on feminism that lacked intersectionality. She alone represents the merger of two important minorities. Yet the text obscures some of the most marginalized by our societal prejudices on gender: LGBTQIA+ individuals. The book is rife with heteronormative and cisgendered language.
Adichie argues that there is a biological difference between men and women, which, when referring to gender, is simply not true. We do not have “undeniably” different “biological abilities” as she says. In fact, men and women are so diverse, it is almost impossible to make an accurate, let alone inclusive survey of their respective abilities. Later in the piece, Adichie while discussing toxic masculinity and purity culture states that “loss of virginity is a process that usually involves two people of the opposite genders.” This is yet another moment of bias against the LGBTQIA+ community. These are things we believe because of our straight, cis-centric culture, not because they are the truth.
The essay is not bad. It contains many truths about feminism and its agenda. We feminists don’t hate men. We believe women are just as capable, intelligent, creative, and valuable as men. We believe our current gender binary system of inequality is as toxic for men as it is for women. But it fails to push feminism forward, which is what great feminist literature does. Adichie’s feminism is stuck in the mass-market, easily digestible form that helps Taylor Swift sell albums and makes Bustle so popular with women. It is neither new nor revolutionary. It is watered down and too easy. Feminism can do better.
To read more radical, revolutionary, intersectional feminist writing, explore Everyday Feminism, Claudia Rankine, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, and Jacqueline Woodson to start.