Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is my favorite feminist figure. She started being a feminist before even knowing what feminism was and that makes her genuine and authentic. “Dear Ijeawele” or “A feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions” is a small book that everyone should read wherever, whenever and whoever they are. She wrote it as a letter to her friend, who asked her how she could raise her baby girl a feminist, so Ngozi came up with fifteen suggestions that don’t only represent advice for raising a baby, but actually make a depiction of how the society and our cultural backgrounds collude with one another to expose us to biases and prescribed gender roles, like our identities should be entirely built on the premise that we are a boy or a girl. Being female or male is not a personality, it’s just a sex.
One thing the author states is that she was accused for being angry about sexism, as it were a shameful thing. “Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism. But I recently came to the realization that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism. Because in my anger about sexism, I often feel lonely. Because I love, and live among, many people who easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice.” That’s the first problem – many people still think misogyny and sexism are not real and that feminism is not necessary. I personally know a lot of people like that. Moreover, feminism is widely misunderstood, even among women, even among so-called feminists. Here’s what the dictionary says:
- the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
- (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
So here we have it. It’s called feminism, not human rights, in order to put emphasis on the discrimination that mostly happens towards women. Feminism is not about praising women or hating men – on the contrary, it’s about both men and women being treated equally, having the same human rights. It’s about letting go of social biases such as women should wear girly clothes, men should pay for the first date, girls like dolls, boys don’t cry, women should marry and take care of the children, men should provide the main family income, women must obey but it’s ok, they are in control (behind the scenes), men must speak up their minds but it’s ok, women have the power, from behind the scenes. How can you be in charge if you don’t express yourself, or you only do it with the help of someone else? And why should someone be in charge in the first place? Can’t both men and women have control over their actions?
It is a known fact that in many places around the world women are still treated like inferior creatures that should be oppressed. The first feminist manifesto is Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, published in 1792. It also talks about how women were politically repressed when the Constitution was created in France during the revolution. Effects of the mentality that we live in a men’s world can be seen in the most civilized societies, through small things: women not being included in men’s conversations because it’s not at their level of comprehension (I’ve experienced that and all I can say is that the arguments they were bringing in their highly intelligent discussions were childish and sketchy). Women being expected to cook and clean. Fathers being praised for “helping” with the baby – what is there to help? It is the mother’s child just as much as it is the father’s. Even job titles can end up being sexist: “Remember the mechanic in Lagos who was described as a ‘lady mechanic’ in a newspaper profile? […] the woman is a mechanic, not a ‘lady mechanic’.” Language should be questioned and these errors should not be ignored.
And the whole story starts from the moment we are born – pink clothes for baby girls, blue clothes for baby boys. Of course, there are the grey baby clothes in the gender-neutral section. “’Gender-neutral’ is silly because it is premised on the idea of male being blue and female being pink and ‘gender-neutral’ being its own category”. Toys for boys are interactive trains or airplanes, games that make them use their brains, toys for girls are dolls and stuffed animals. The simple fact that girls who have what is called a boyish behavior are shamed and vice versa (boys with girlish behavior) is an act of simply denying one’s personality. It’s not about being a boy or a girl, there are no prescribed biological rules for what humans should or shouldn’t like based on their sex. Being sad or scared, enjoying arts and poetry definitely doesn’t make one less of a boy and more of a girl.
But sexism happens on a larger scale. Let’s take the gender pay gap situation, for example. At the moment, in the US the average woman earns annually 81% or 82% of the annual salary of the average man. In EU, the gender pay gap stands at 16%, while in Asia it is 19.3%. And there are many other examples of sexism, all of them happening as we speak, yes, in this modern world.
It is indeed infuriating and it should stop, but a change will start happening once people really acknowledge the existence of misogyny and gender inequality and the need of feminism. We are currently experiencing a phase called Fourth-wave feminism. The previous three waves fought for and earned women liberation and individualism and at the moment we are still fighting against oppression and marginalization of women.