In Conversation – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Africa Needs Feminism
She needs no introduction at home or internationally. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a true African icon of our times. Not only is she one of Africa’s literary greats, she is an icon the world has come to love and respect for her fortitude in speaking openly and fearlessly on issues ranging from the portrayal of Africa through the global lens, to gender roles and feminism. The Nigerian author of the bestselling Half of Yellow Sun is on record for stating that she is a “happy feminist”. In her own words, Adichie and why Africa needs feminism.
When it comes to challenging conventional wisdom where the African woman is concerned, which areas do you consider to be urgent, needs to challenge and a discourse created around it?
I don’t know…whenever I am asked which one is most important, I am like all of them are important. I don’t like the way we raise women in Africa in general. I think it’s about raising them differently. I think it is really important. Which is why you see women who are accomplished and educated and there is a lot holding them back and it is internal. Things that they have learnt…which is why a woman who has a house in the US, and is 39 is like I want to get married, I am going to sell my house…anyway, I don’t want to get into all of that and start another rant…
From your first Ted Talk where you focused on the narrative of Africa in the news, in what ways do you think that narrative has changed in the last five years or between the time you gave that talk in 2009 to now?
I think it has changed. I think we still have a long way to go. For me, what I care most about is who is telling the story of Africa. So the New York Times might have a piece about Nigeria and its kind of a bit more balanced than usual and part of that is because they know now that there is a Nigerian readership, which is a good thing and I am happy about that. For me, what’s more important is, who is telling the story, so I want a time for example, for there to be Africans writing about Africa in the New York Times. I don’t think we have that quite yet.
In terms of positioning and repositioning, more women are going into politics, starting up their own businesses but like you said, there is that internal thing holding us back. Nobody has ever sold feminism to me the way you did because where feminism is concerned, I have always felt it was being forced on me. While I recognise there is problem because gender is one of my focus areas as a journalist, I have found it hard to reconcile myself to everything that feminism represents or stands for. I do however acknowledge the need for it and the purposes it serves. So, what do you say to women like me, who feel this way about feminism?
I think a lot of women feel the way that you do and many women and African women who just shy away from it for many reasons. I mean we don’t have to…if somebody chooses not to call it feminism, it is fine for me. It is just the awareness that it is not okay, we can do better.
What else would you say to young women about positioning themselves and telling their story without fear or apologising for it because sometimes, we apologise for who we are in the way we come across because they don’t want to rock the boat?
There are so many women like that…we have to be apologetic, tone it down and the sad thing is, it is not because men are bad. It is a horrible structure that we in, but we can change it in little ways…excellence is very important and I often say to women, the answer is excellence. You can and you need to show that you can
What excites you about our young generation of African woman?
I think…first, there are so many beautiful women with natural hair and that excites me and I had to say that because it matters and there is a new confidence we have and its saying, this is us. This is what we look like and I am not going to try and be what I am and I love that. I think it is fantastic. It’s my generation and sort of youngish African women. And also, it’s mixed, on the one hand, women are advancing and doing better at work but on the other hand, there is the obsession with getting married, which I just think is awful.
Belinda: Does Africa need feminism?
Why? Is it not possible to achieve gender equality without the label because the argument is that feminism is a “White” thing and not an African thing?
We don’t need a label but it is easier when you give something a name because you have something to build a rally around and something for people to stand on. I don’t think we need to call it feminism. I call it feminism. Remember I started by saying how I went around trying to make it African feminism, a softer, cultural feminism but I was like bullshit, I am a feminist. But also, I get to define it the way that I want. So I don’t have any concerns about my white African feminist friends…
I am going to ask a tricky question and it has to do with the whole notion of women fighting over men since we are talking about feminism and all that…
There is something wrong with that on many levels. First of all, for me, the idea that men are propped up to be taken is problematic. Again, it’s how we are raised – that thing where we are raised to compete with one another for the attention of men. My policy has always been you cannot take a man who does not want to be taken. And if your husband leaves you, your problem is not with the woman, it is with your husband. You know there is a lot of undoing that needs to be done, it cannot happen…I think it is too late for s (laughs) I really do but I am hopeful for the future.
What do you think might revolutionise the continent where gender equality is concerned?
There is always a generational difference…but I do think we need it. Women need to step up and men, here is the thing-I don’t think feminism is for women only. It is for men and women…that is the way we are going to change things.
Why are you hopeful about the future where the African girl child/woman is concerned?
When I say the future, I mean those who are born like today, I don’t mean like us (laughs). The basis for my faith and hope is that I realise how much of all of this is construction. We are not born like this. We are made like this. So for me, we can unmake it and so if I were to have children, it is very clear to me and also my nieces and nephews the way I deal with them, it is very clear how I do it. I don’t do that gender bullshit. I don’t do if you are a girl, you have to think other girls are competition for you and you have to be fake to get a man. You know, just be yourself and there are actually good men in the world (laughs).
Read Full feature: Africa Needs Feminsin
Author Image: Siddharth Khajuria