We read an article recently about changes that are being made in Sweden. The Swedish Women's Lobby are giving every highschool student a gift of the book 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book is an adaptation of the incredibly popular TED Talk she gave in 2013 - a must watch, shared below this post.
In her TED Talk, she talks about the word 'feminist' and how it often comes with negative baggage. She recalled a time when she was a teenager, debating thoughts and ideas with her good friend, who turned to her and said 'you know you're a feminist?' with a tone that likened her to a supporter of terrorism. She talked about how she and other girls in her country were taught to have ambition, but not too much ambition and to be successful, but not too successful - otherwise you will threaten or 'emasculate' the man.
She spoke of a novel that she wrote about a man who, among other things beat his wife. When she was promoting her novel in Nigeria, a jounalist - "a nice, well-meaning man" wanted to advise her. He said people were saying that her novel was feminist, and shook his head sadly as he told her she that should never call herself a feminist, because feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands. Of course this is absolutely comical and absurd, but it's also extremeley worrying that this mindset exists. It might seem harmless to some people, mostly to people who are not overly-affected by gender inequality, or for those who are affected but are so blinded by socialisation that they can't see it.
Gender inequality is a fact, and shows itself through pay rates, attitudes towards women, statistics of sexual and domestic violence, the gender and power imbalance in politics and in other 'high up' positions and much more. The late Kenyan, Nobel Peace Laureate, Wangari Maathai put it simply and well when she said, 'the higher you go, the fewer women there are.'
When Chimamanda's friend 'accused' her of being a feminist, she was not sure what this word meant so she looked it up in the dictionary later. It said Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. She proudly confirmed during her TED Talk that "he was right that day when he called me a feminist; I am a feminist."
It's very sad and hard to believe that people, usually those who identify as male or female and have internalised these socially constructed gender norms, expectations and attitudes, are afraid to use the word feminism or identify as feminists. That is to say that people are afraid to stand up and say 'I believe in equality of the sexes'. Chimamanda said that gender is not an easy conversation to have, and to bring up gender is sometimes to encounter an almost immediate resistance. I for one have, and I think all other feminists have experienced this negative reception and resistence!
Chimamanda talked about how a young woman was recently gang raped in a University in Nigeria. The response of many young Nigerians, both male and female was something along the lines of this: “Yes, rape is wrong. But what is a girl doing in a room with four boys?”
She contiunes "Now, if we can forget the horrible inhumanity of that response, these Nigerians have been raised to think of women as inherently guilty. And they’ve been raised to expect so little of men that the idea of men as savage beings without any control is somehow acceptable."
She speaks about how she has chosen to no longer feel apologetic for her femaleness or femininity. How young girls and women should not have to feel guilty or vulnerable because of their gender. How they should not have to stifle their sexuality because they are not seen to be sexual beings in their own right. And in the same way, she talks about how we do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them; we stifle the humanity of boys. Men should not have to be strong, tough, masculine, afraid of weakness or 'inherently' more sexual than women.
This is why we need to raise our children differently. We need to teach our sons and daughters that they are equal and that all people are equal and deserving of the same respect. We need to stop focusing on gender as a defining characteristic and stop internalising and abiding by unfair and outdated gender norms and expectations. We need to focus on character, interests and ability. We need to focus on people.