Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Nigerian Feminist and Author
On March 10th, Nigerian author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke at Gustavus Adolphus College. Every other year, they invite a Women’s and Gender Studies speaker to campus, and due to her advocacy and her great TedTalk about why we should all be feminists, Ms. Adichie was the obvious choice.
Many community members of her hometown of Lagos do not agree with or understand her feminist practices, and Chimamanda acknowledges that they traditionally practice a patriarchal culture, with the man as the head of the family and a submissive wife. She disagrees that women should only aspire to marriage, and instead advocates for gender equality. Ms. Adichie is an eloquent speaker and wonderful novelist, to which I can attest, as I am in the midst of reading her novel Purple Hibiscus.
Ms. Adichie’s presentation at Gustavus Adolphus began with storytelling, which she does best. She described various times when she experienced discrimination for being a woman, and when others were either victims of or became conscious of gender discrimination. After speaking for about 20 minutes, she asked for audience members to share their personal stories or ask questions.
This is where the dialogue became…interesting. Individuals asked her advice regarding what they should do in certain situations, and some asked her opinion on various feminist concepts. These questions included: “Feminists are often stereotyped as women who burn their bras and don’t shave their legs. What do you think about that?”; “My friend’s greatest desire is to be her boyfriend’s future housewife and cook and clean for him. What can I say to her to get her to want more in life?”; and, “Do you think men have any part in changing gender biases, or do you think we (men) should just sit back and let women do it all?”
Not to insult any of the participants, but these questions, to me, seem quite rhetorical or self-explanatory. I do not know Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie very well, but I think I could guess exactly how she, or any gender-conscious person, would respond to these questions. They seemed quite futile, and furthermore, Ms. Adichie is a Nigerian woman and identifies very closely with her home community. Why weren’t people asking more about experiences of gender inequality that she has faced in Nigeria? Or about transnational feminist issues? Or about Nigerian or African laws or current events that perpetuate inequality? Or about how she became to be a conscious feminist, in the midst of what she describes as a patriarchal culture? Why did we not utilize her knowledge as an individual who has had multicultural experiences?
I do not want to disregard the parts of Ms. Adichie that identify more so with US or “Western” culture. I am sure she has many Western feminist beliefs and thought all the questions to be productive. However, I feel that these types of questions further perpetuate the notion that feminism is a white woman’s movement, and in this case, a Western woman’s movement. These questions were based entirely upon experiences of U.S. American women and feminism. Not one audience member asked Ms. Adichie about feminist movements in Nigeria, or non-Western ideas of gender equality. My fellow classmates and I who had traveled from St. Olaf began to feel a bit frustrated and uncomfortable. We believe that in order to be conscious in our feminist advocacy, we must consider diverse communities and experiences; we must understand how our actions affect others across the world; we must engage in conversations and learn more about different goals and the connectivities and intersections that exist among us. We must reach out further than simply our Western view of feminism, for it does not speak for all women globally. The audience at Gustavus Adolphus College had the chance to do this with Ms. Adichie, and we failed.
It is possible that Ms. Adichie would not have had all the answers, but at least we would have added one more diverse voice to our understanding of our interconnected places in the world. By this, I do not mean we should maintain our hegemonic and colonial viewpoints as U.S. Americans to look down upon more patriarchal cultures and “save/change” them. I mean exactly the opposite: let us listen to all voices and consider them with equal value, for hierarchy has no place in feminism. Let us raise each other up as women and feminists and work together with common goals that benefit us all and do not infringe upon our own cultural practices. Let us listen to each other. Let us not be content with the stigmatizations of feminism that say it is a white woman’s movement, or a movement of the West. Let us embrace intersectionality and be conscious and active, taking advantage of opportunities to learn more and advocate not just for our own community but in collaboration with many communities. Let us engage in our international communities and actually work toward changing the world, together.