Transcript – We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at TEDxEuston
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Novelist
My brother Chuks and my best friend Ike are part of the organizing team, and so when they ask me to come, I couldn’t say no. But I’m so happy to be here. What a fantastic team of people who care about Africa. I feel so humble and so happy to be here.
And I’m also told that the most beautiful, most amazing little girl in the world is in the audience. Her name is Kamzia Adichie and I want her to stand up… she’s my niece!
So, I would like to start by telling you about one of my greatest friends, Okuloma.
Okuloma lived on my street and looked after me like a big brother. If I liked a boy, I would ask Okuloma’s opinion. Okuloma died in the notorious Sosoliso Plane Crash in Nigeria in December of 2005. Almost exactly seven years ago.
Okuloma was a person I could argue with, laugh with, and truly talk to. He was also the first person to call me a feminist. I was about fourteen, we were at his house, arguing. Both of us bristling with half bit knowledge from books that we had read. I don’t remember what this particular argument was about, but I remember that as I argued and argued, Okuloma looked at me and said, “You know, you’re a feminist.” It was not a compliment. I could tell from his tone, the same tone that you would use to say something like “You’re a supporter of terrorism.”
I did not know exactly what this word “feminist” meant, and I did not want Okuloma to know that I did not know, so I brushed it aside and I continued to argue. And the first thing I planned to do when I got home was to look up the word “feminist” in the dictionary.
Now fast forward to some years later, I wrote a novel about a man who among other things beats his wife and whose story doesn’t end very well. While I was promoting the novel in Nigeria, a journalist, a nice well-meaning man, told me he wanted to advise me. And for the Nigerians here, I’m sure we’re all familiar with how quick our people are to give unsolicited advice. He told me that people were saying that my novel was feminist and his advice to me — and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke — was that I should never call myself a feminist because 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 and that feminism wasn’t African, and that I was calling myself a feminist because I had been corrupted by “Western books.” Which amused me, because a lot of my early readings were decidedly unfeminist. I think I must have read every single Mills & Boon romance published before I was sixteen. And each time I tried to read those books called “the feminist classics” I’d get bored and I really struggled to finish them.
But anyway, since feminism was un-African, I decided that I would now call myself “a happy African feminist.” At some point I was a happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high-heels for herself but not for men. Of course a lot of these was tongue-in-cheek, but that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage. You hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, that sort of thing.
Now here’s a story from my childhood. When I was in primary school, my teacher said at the beginning of term that she would give the class a test and whoever got the highest score would be the class monitor. Now, class monitor was a big deal. If you were a class monitor, you got to write down the names of noise makers, which was having enough power of its own. But my teacher would also give you a cane to hold in your hand while you walk around and patrol the class for noise makers.
Now of course you’re not actually allowed to use the cane. But it was an exciting prospect for the nine-year-old me. I very much wanted to be the class monitor. And I got the highest score on the test.
Then, to my surprise, my teacher said that the monitor had to be a boy. She’d forgotten to make that clear earlier because she assumed it was… obvious. A boy had the second highest score on the test and he would be monitor.
Now what was even more interesting about this is that the boy was a sweet, gentle soul who had no interest in patrolling the class with the cane, while I was full of ambition to do so. But I was female, and he was male and so he became the class monitor.