Though technically an essay bound between two covers, I couldn’t help but reflexively share Adichie’s words as something which grabbed my attention this month. Aptly named, Adichie’s essay – adapted from a TED Talk of the same name – presents compelling arguments in favour of feminism being embraced as an all-encompassing ideology, as opposed to a stereotype or label for a certain type of woman; the woman who does not shave, the woman who burns her bra, the woman who cannot find a man to accept her. By sharing her experiences of gendered discrimination from as young as nine years old, Adichie shows us all how this stigmatism affected, affects and will continue to affect women and girls for generations to come, if we do not all become feminists.
Despite meeting the condition of having the highest score on a test to become class monitor, Adichie watched her ambition slip into the hands of someone who scored lower than her, and someone who had no desire to fulfil the role though filled it nonetheless, – because the teacher’s assumption was girls knew the monitor had to be a boy. Or more recently, where on a trip to Lagos, accompanied by a male friend, she tips the valet, who turns to thank him instead of her, because of the assumption that women cannot be financially independent from men. Or when entering her hotel, she is harassed with questions relating to her stay, or asked to produce a room key as evidence of her lodging, because of the assumption a woman entering a hotel alone means she is a prostitute.
Much like Pateman’s argument, Adichie questions, why, in the incident she may be a prostitute, the focus is on combatting her as the supplier, as opposed to the one who demands her. Being ridiculed by friends and family from Nigeria who claim her mindset has developed through a Western upbringing, – where attitudes and literature allegedly encouraged Feminism as a concept – Adichie questions if this were the case, why equal pay was only brought to the table as an issue in the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act.
Though the ’80s popularised the movement, Adichie highlights in these daily assumptions regarding jobs, financial independence and social settings, how both developed and developing countries are still lightyears behind where they should be when it comes to rectifying gender inequality, because feminism remains a label with ‘baggage’, as opposed to an ideology which affects us all. It’s negative stickiness – in the words of Ahmed – means it fails to attract an audience beyond the narrow pool of women who understand a woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle.
From Adichie’s Essay:
‘If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal. If only boys are made class monitor, then at some point, we all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to be a boy. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations.’