QotD: “Unsurprisingly, language, for Adichie, is a feminist issue”

Unsurprisingly, language, for Adichie, is a feminist issue, at its most insidious when it comes to pregnancy and parenting, a verb she dislikes. She rages against terms such as “baby bump” as “diminishing”, preventing proper discussion of serious issues such as the gender pay gap and maternity leave. “There are so many women for whom pregnancy is the thing that pushed them down, and we need to account for that. We need to have a clause in every job that a woman who gets pregnant gets her job back in exactly the same way. It’s wrong!” For her, gender is a social construction: “I don’t think I’m more inherently likely to do domestic work, or childcare … It doesn’t come pre-programmed in your vagina, right?”

Although she put on “the feminist hat” quite happily, she never intended to become a voice for feminism, “then it happened”. She expected a degree of hostility – “Feminist is a bad word, everywhere in the world, let’s not kid ourselves, but particularly where I come from.” But she was not prepared for the furore that followed an interview on Channel 4 last year when she sparked controversy by arguing that the experiences of trans women are distinct from those of women born female, which was interpreted by some as “creating a hierarchy” and implying that “trans women were ‘less than’, which I was not … I don’t think that way.”

She was “genuinely surprised” by the outcry, “because I thought I was saying something that was obvious”, she says and remains defiant on the importance of acknowledging difference (the final, heartfelt message of Dear Ijeawele): “The vileness that trans women face is because they are trans women – there are things trans women go through that women who are born female will never have to go through … If we are going pretend that everything is the same, how do we address that?” She compares this well meaning wish to be inclusive with claims of colour blindness: blackness and whiteness are different, she told the audience to huge cheers at the event with Eddo-Lodge. “Yes, we are all of the human race but there are differences and those differences affect our experiences, our opportunities,” she says now. “There’s something about it that I find inherently dishonest.”

She was accused of “killing trans women with her words” and, she says, there were calls to burn her books; she was particularly hurt by the online response from some of her former students on her creative writing workshop in Lagos, where trying to break down taboos about gay rights and women is as important to her as the teaching. “I was told, ‘you’re being shamed’,” she gestures the inverted commas of internet shaming. “When somebody is shaming you, you also have to feel ashamed. I just didn’t. I was upset. I was disappointed.” She feels her “tribe”, those “generally of the left, who believe in equal rights for everyone”, let her down: “I thought surely they know me and what I stand for.”

Looking back, she thinks her “major sin” was that she “didn’t abide by the language orthodoxy”. At the Southbank event the author, who is not on Twitter (“there’s an ugliness about it”), expressed her reservations about “a certain kind of youthful, social-media savvy feminism that is not my home”. She is wary of the term “intersectionality”, but is clear as to what it does not mean, recalling an interview with a white actor who, in her anxiety to acknowledge the sometimes racist history of western feminism, claimed it was not about her, but about black women who had been oppressed. “Of course feminism is about her,” Adichie says with exasperation. “I wish she’d said: ‘Here is all the shit I get because I’m a woman, but I think about all those other women who don’t have the white privilege I have, I can’t imagine what that must be like.’ That for me would be perfect.”

While she is frustrated with what she identifies as a “quickness to outrage” among young people – “it’s boring” – her real anger is reserved for the progressive left, especially in America, which she believes is fostering this unforgiving atmosphere, closing in on itself and closing down essential conversations (“Shut up, you are wrong” ) in its haste to assume ill will. Displaying a “fundamental lack of compassion”, it goes against her credo as a storyteller, in which all human beings are flawed: “There’s no room to be righteous.”

(source)

2 responses

  1. What a great feminist Adichie is! Thank you for this sanity.

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