Our ideas of gender have not evolved very much

we should all be feministsWe Should All Be Feminists
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is Adichie’s TEDx speech in book form, so it has a lot in common with the Rowling book I reviewed last week. Again it’s short (about 50 pages) and can easily be read in half an hour. Again, I found my enjoyment of it was helped by trying to read it “aloud in my head” to semi-recreate the original format. And again I thought it an important, moving work but have some minor reservations.

Adichie describes herself as “a Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”, which I think says something about her but a lot more about the resistance she has encountered to the label “feminist”. That resistance will be familiar to a lot of readers. In calm, reasonable and approachable style, she explains that the goal of equality has not yet been achieved, despite widespread claims to the contrary.

“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 will 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 ‘normal’ that only men should be heads of corporations.”

Adichie backs up every point with a personal anecdote, which I know is a method that has a lot going for it, but I personally found it too much. Not that I would have preferred no anecdotes at all, as they are what gives this book its personality, but I could have done with fewer.

But I did enjoy Adichie’s style and tone. She is impassioned but never tips over into angry. She remains largely cheery and hopeful in the face of her real experience of inequality (which I got the feeling is more overt in Nigeria).

“A thousand years ago…the physically stronger person was more likely to lead. And men in general are physically stronger…Today, we live in a vastly different world. The person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, innovative, creative. We have evolved. But our ideas of gender have not evolved very much.”

Importantly, Adichie addresses how the equality that feminism strives for will benefit men as well as women. She rails at the narrowness of modern masculinity and the unhappiness that causes. It’s such a key point that is too often missed and makes this tiny book my favourite text to date about feminism.

I was reading this sat next to my brother, who kept looking with interest at the title, so when I was finished I handed it to him. He immediately read it through and declared it excellent. So there you go: recommended by not one but two members of the Gardner family!

Published 2014 by Fourth Estate.

Source: Watermark Books, London.