Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Feminism as Baggage

I think of myself as a storyteller, but I would not mind at all if someone were to think of me as a feminist writer… I’m very feminist in the way I look at the world, and that world view must somehow be part of my work.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian born writer of short stories and novels. Among a multitude of honors, she has won the O’Henry Prize and earned a MacArthur Genius Grant. Her novels include: Purple Hibiscus, Half a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck, Americanah, and We Should All Be Feminists. The following excerpt is from the last.

In 2003, I wrote a novel called Purple Hibiscus, about a man, who among other things, beats his wife, and whose story doesn’t end too well.While I was promoting the novel in Nigeria, a journalist, a nice, well-meaning man, told me he wanted to advise me. (Nigerians, as you might know, are very quick to give unsolicited advice.)

He told me that people were saying my novel was feminist, and his advice to me–he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke–was that I should never call myself a feminist since feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.

So I decided to call myself a Happy Feminist.

Then an academic, a Nigerian woman, told me that feminism was not our culture, that feminism was un-African, and I was only calling myself a feminist because I had been influenced by Western books. (Which amused me, because much of my early reading was decidedly unfeminist: I must have read every single Mills & Boon romance published before I was sixteen. And each time I try to read those books called “classic feminist texts,” I get bored, and struggle to finish them.)

Anyway, since feminism was un-African, I decided I would now call myself a Happy African Feminist. Then a dear friend told me that calling myself a feminist meant I hated men. So I decided I would now be a Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes to Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not for Men.

Of course much of this was tongue-in-cheek, but what it shows is how the word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage:

You hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don’t wear makeup, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humor, you don’t use deodorant…

What kind of a feminist are you?


7 Replies to “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Feminism as Baggage”

  1. Completely agree with everything you say, I often think of myself as feminist because of how life has thrown me into situations where I had no choice but to “Do it myself” but I’d never say out loud that I am a Feminist, because of all the negativity that pullulates the word. I believe, as a woman, one can be or do whatever one wants to, but I also don’t hate men and I do shave my legs and and wear bras and do the common things women do… So I love the title
    “Happy Feminist” it makes more sense to me 🙂 Thanks for this, was an awesome red.

    1. I refuse to believe that what we wear on the outside determines what we are on the inside. Feminism is ours whether we wear galoshes or heels, mini-skirts or overalls, false eyelashes or bow ties.

    2. What we hold in common as human beings counts far more than our ascribed gender differences. Let us hold hands and jump puddles together as equal human beings on this planet.

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