What is the definition of a feminist? Popular entertainment and closely held historical stereotypes paint the picture of a bra-less woman with hairy legs and man-shaped chip on her shoulder. “We Should All be Feminists,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls for a new definition, both of gender and feminism.
“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are,” Adichie said in her admired Tedx Talk, now adapted into a slim book. The purpose of Adichie’s talk is starting a needed conversation about gender, what we teach our children, and how feminism is not a movement by women as much as a movement by humans.
Adichie’s definition of a feminist is “a man or woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it. We must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better.”
Culture, fashioned “to ensure the preservation and continuity of a people,” is constantly changing, but culturally held stereotypes are not quick to change. “Culture does not make people,” she argues, “people make culture.” We need to reshape our world culture so that definitions of masculinity and femininity are not so narrow.
By teaching young boys that they must be hard, they must earn money, and maintain their power we are placing them in “a hard, small cage.” We teach girls that they must sublimate their needs and desires to men, “we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves.” We teach girls to spend their energy and time thinking about how to attract and please men (how many “Cosmopolitan” covers tout “Sex tricks that will make your man scream”?!). We raise girls to view each other as competitors, not for jobs, but for men. We define femininity by how men perceive women. We define masculinity without help from the feminine realm. We teach boys that their identity as men has little to nothing to do with women. “We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.” What if, Adichie postulates, we focus on ability and interest instead of gender when raising our children.
Adichie does not deny issues of race or class. These are equally important issues in our world culture, but are not the issues at hand. To define feminism as simply an issue of human rights is to “deny the specific and particular problem of gender…it would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.” To find a solution to issues of feminism we must acknowledge that historical definitions of gender excludes and suppresses one group—women.
Ultimately we must remember that “the person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for these attributes.” There are no genetic, or hormonal attributes that make men better leaders than women, that mean men should earn more money than women, or that mean only women can be “feminists.” We should all be feminists to make our world more egalitarian and, ultimately, more successful.