Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 595
In We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tackles many issues that she, as a Nigerian woman, has faced throughout her life. She recalls the word "femininst" being hurled as a childhood insult, being refused the role of "classroom monitor," having her existence unintentionally ignored by waiters, and having those she tips thank the males in her presence. She acknowledges that, while gender equality has evolved quite a bit over the last hundred years, there are still gaps in the expectations of men and women. Adichie also highlights that though "52 percent of the world’s population is female . . . most of the positions of power and prestige are occupied by men." Ultimately, she uses this statistic to argue that a cultural change is required in order to ensure gender equality. To achieve this, she focuses on the importance of individuality, confidence, and awareness of others.
Throughout We Should All Be Feminists, Adichie discusses the importance of maintaining and celebrating individuality. She argues that when a society assigns expectations on the basis of gender, it tells a person "how we should be rather than recognizing how we are." She illustrates this with an example from her own life: Women are taught cooking and cleaning skills from an early, while most men are not. Despite this emphasis on cooking and cleaning, one of Adichie's female friends always absolutely despised domestic work. This friend spent several years pretending to enjoy it; and, when she stopped pretending, her husband's family complained of how she changed. While growing up, the friend was never asked whether she particularly enjoyed cooking. Instead, it was assumed that she would be willing to perform this task, simply because she was a woman. Thus, for many years, she was being who everyone else wanted her to be instead of being true to herself.
Having the Confidence to Challenge Social Norms
Adichie argues that empowered and confident individuals are essential to the creation of new societal norms. To demonstrate this, she turns to a discussion on clothing. Society's expectations—both implicit and explicit—often dictate what women should and should not wear. For example, one of her friends who is not married deliberately wears a wedding band to professional meetings in order to be taken "more seriously." The first time Adichie taught a class, she remembers being more concerned about what she would wear than the actual material she would cover in class. She stresses the importance of being confident enough in yourself to be who you are and to claim your individuality, regardless of what society tells you to be.
Cultivating an Awareness of Others
Adichie argues that a major obstacle to the realization of gender equality is the lack of awareness on the part of men who do not experience the inequality. At one point, a male friend, Louis, tells her, "I don’t see what you mean by things being different and harder for women. Maybe it was so in the past but not now. Everything is fine now for women.” Adichie believes Louis's beliefs stem from an issue that she, herself, has struggled with: the inability to recognize that things which may be obvious to you, may not be obvious to others. It was not until a parking attendant thanked Louis for a tip left by Adichie that he realized how ingrained gender inequality is. Adichie argues that if more people take time to look outside of their own personal experience and try to see life from the viewpoints of others, more people would identify themselves as feminists and argue for cultural changes.