What does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie say about gender in We Should All Be Feminists?

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Adichie has a wealth of knowledge and valid opinions regarding gender, as outlined in her book We Should All Be Feminists . In her view, gender has traditionally been used to limit people’s true selves. Gender roles, expectations, and stereotypes have been used by society to discriminate, enslave, and limit...

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Adichie has a wealth of knowledge and valid opinions regarding gender, as outlined in her book We Should All Be Feminists. In her view, gender has traditionally been used to limit people’s true selves. Gender roles, expectations, and stereotypes have been used by society to discriminate, enslave, and limit people, and to compel them to conform to what is deemed “right” or “acceptable” at the expense of being their true selves.

These aspects of gender are more destructive to women, who face most of the unfair gender expectations. For instance, Adichie argues,

The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.

Gender expectations, according to Adichie, are more unfairly skewed against women. Since childhood, girls are taught to limit themselves to be more subservient to men in society, and particularly to their future husbands. Adichie opines,

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage.

These expectations, especially regarding marriage, are not imposed on the boys as they are on the girls, which begs the question: Why the double standards?

According to Adichie, gender has been used to exclude women in various socioeconomic and political agendas for centuries. Therefore, the call to feminism is not only a call for affirmative action against gender discrimination but also a human rights action advocating for gender equality. Adichie argues,

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 pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.

This sentiment complicates the gender issue, noting that gender is indeed problematic in society, especially as far as the pervasive expectations, stereotypes, and roles are unfairly aimed at limiting women’s potential. Overall, Adichie says gender is only as good as it offers everyone the freedom to be who they really are, without undue limitations or expectations from society.

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Adichie says that gender matters everywhere in the world because we all—men and women alike—grow up learning gender roles that constrict us and put us into boxes. She states:

Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves.

She goes on to say:

We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage. We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak—a hard man.

Adichie shows through example how gender roles limit people. When she was nine, she wanted to be class monitor, a position of power. She was told whoever scored highest on a test would be the monitor. She scored highest but was then informed that the teacher meant the boy with the highest score would get the job, which he did, even though he was a gentle child who did not want power.

Adichie shows the many ways assumptions about gender limit women in Nigeria, such as not being allowed to enter certain clubs alone. Men, too, are limited by gender there—even if they have a very small income, they are always expected to pay a woman's way as well as their own.

Though Adichie begins her work by saying she was taught feminist was a word she should avoid because of its negative connotations, she ends her talk by saying everyone, male and female, should embrace the term because by changing gender expectations we will liberate both men and women.

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Gender is a major theme of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. Adichie says that “gender as it functions today is a grave injustice.” She tells the story of one of her female American friends who had recently taken over a management position from a man. Though her predecessor was considered tough and talented, the employees working under Adichie’s friend quickly complained about her aggressive and difficult management style, saying that they were upset that she hadn’t brought a “woman’s touch” to the job. Another one of Adichie’s American friends called her after a meeting in which her boss ignored her ideas but praised her male coworkers when they said something similar. The woman wanted to take it up with her boss but was worried about coming across as too aggressive. Adichie discusses how important it is for women to appear “likeable,” and argues that we do not teach boys to worry about being “liked” in the same way. These gender expectations are internalized, resulting in a double standard where men are praised for being tough and aggressive while women who act the same way are criticized for being “unlikeable.” Adichie also points out that gender stereotypes hurt men as well. From a young age, boys are taught that they must fit into a very narrow definition of masculinity that does not allow them to express their emotions freely. Adichie argues that when we expect boys and girls to adhere to strict and confining gender roles, we stifle their interests, their talents, and their humanity; everyone loses.

 

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