Adichie and Feminism

In her book We Should All Be Feminists, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie succinctly and deliberately argues for the cause of feminism. She cites many anecdotes of experiences from her life and the lives of Nigerian and American women that she knows to illustrate modern gender inequality. Her introduction addresses the negative connotation that the word “feminism” has and how male dominance has become normalized and accepted over centuries. Adichie then uses examples to illustrate the many ways in which men and women are socialized and treated differently based on gender in both Nigeria and America.

Adichie raises many issues in an effective and concise manner, summing up a number of the basic manifestations of gender inequality so precisely that I found myself surprised at the basic truths of some of them. While I had recognized on some level, for example, that domestic duties are often not divided equally between husbands and wives, I had not considered just how abnormal it is for a woman to say “thank you” to her husband for taking care of their child, as Adichie describes on page 37. In my own home, my mother, younger brother, and I do most of the housework, particularly my mother. By contrast, my father rarely steps in to clear the table after dinner, do his laundry, or even sweep. This is a regular occurrence in my house even though he and my mother work approximately equal amounts. There is also a much less visible “mental burden” that is largely carried by women such as my mother in households. She keeps mental lists of groceries that are needed, domestic things that must be taken care of, appointments for my brother and I, and an array of other necessities that I have the privilege of being unaware of. Overall, my mother does a disproportionate amount of the housework in my home.

One aspect of Adichie’s work that stood out to me was her references to biological differences between women and men. Her assertions that these differences were undeniable and somewhat rigid struck me as straying into the territory of trans-exclusionary feminism. Earlier this year, Adichie came under fire from several activists for her statements about trans women. She stated:

“I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are” (Michelson, Noah. “Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Under Fire For Comments About Trans Women: Twitter comes for your fave in the wake of a problematic new interview.” Huffington Post. March 11, 2017. Accessed September 10, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-feminism_us_58c40324e4b0d1078ca7180b).

This notion of male privilege being experienced by trans women is one that is commonly repeated by those who call themselves feminists and wish to exclude trans women from their activism. It is problematic and regressive because it treats trans women as people who have enjoyed the benefits of male privilege rather than as individuals who have suffered oppression for their gender identities not being recognized. Overall, I agreed with the arguments Adichie was making in her book. However, her views on gender versus sex are not as progressive as her other views are.

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