We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likeable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons.
I first read this short book a year ago in a hospital room and it’s no coincidence that I decided to re-read it this time of year, just like it’s no coincidence that I’m publishing this review on my daughter’s first birthday.
There is so much I hope to teach my girl about life and there are so many contrary lessons that will be pushing up against her in the years to come. But one of the most important things I hope to teach her is that she is valuable and important and that she should never accept any one treating her as lesser because she is female.
This can manifest itself in many different ways. Sexual harassment, unfair treatment in the workplace. Wolf whistles when you’re just trying to cross the street. The fact that people will refer to a “working mom” (and have opinions on whether or not a mom should work) but people rarely talk about “working dads”. Strangers who tell you to smile.
I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness.
Adichie covers a lot of ground in this little book and while some of it is more specific to her home country of Nigeria, there is much that bears reading (and re-reading) here and I believe this is an important conversation.
Adichie addresses the idea of “the angry feminist”, beginning with the tale of how she first called herself “a happy feminist”, of how she was told feminists are unhappy women who won’t find husbands. But she lets us follow along on the journey from placating others’ ideas of feminism to allowing herself to be angry about the state of gender today and this misconception of what it is to be a feminist.
Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change.
Yet one of the things I love about Adichie is that she refuses to allow anyone to stereotype here. Yes, she’s angry, but she isn’t an angry feminist. Yes, she’s a feminist but that doesn’t make her less feminine. She chooses to embrace the things she loves – colourful clothing and make-up, high heels and history – unapologetically and with a beautiful insistence that it has nothing to do with her desire for equality between men and women. Because, quite frankly, it doesn’t and it’s ridiculous that in the 21st century people are still trying to argue that liking lipstick and wanting to get paid the same as a man are mutually exclusive things.
If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.
This is Adichie’s challenge; it is up to us to change the world. How we live our lives, how we stand up for ourselves and others around us will change the world. How we raise our daughters and our sons will change the world.