I have just finished reading ‘Why everyone should be a feminist’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The book was given to me by my boyfriend’s sister as a Christmas present. It is only a short book and I read it in the bath on a Sunday night. The book itself is a transcription of a TED conference speech that Chimamanda made in December 2012 at TEDxEuston, a yearly conference focused on Africa. Whilst I was reading it, I was struck by a memory with my ex-boyfriend when we were discussing equality. I asked him if he would consider himself a feminist. He thought for a while and replied: “No. I’m an equalitist”. I asked him what made him say that, after all, the definition of a feminist is someone who believes in equality, to which he replied: “feminists think that they are above men”.
We all remember the famous feminist argument that rocked the Love Island villa two years ago and turned things sour between Camilla and Jonny. Jonny said that he believed in equal rights, but not really in feminism. He said: “Real feminists believe in a slope towards them, rather than men,” and that, in fact, he thought that women “almost have more opportunities than men” these days. There it is again, feminists supposedly feeling superior to men, rather than equal to them.
I couldn’t help but think that both my ex and old Jonny from Love Island had the definition of feminism completely wrong.
I acknowledge that we are miles ahead of other cultures, such as the one Chimamanda descries in Nigeria. But even though we are not “as bad”, does not mean that our society is equal.
How do we compare globally?
The Global Gender Gap Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum measures 149 countries on gender parity across four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The 2018 report concluded that it will take 202 years for women around the world to obtain full economic parity with men. The report concluded that we are 68% of our way to global gender parity in these areas – so we have 32% left to go. I was proud to see Sweden, my place of birth, ranked third-place in the global index for gender equality. Iceland is ranked first, with Norway in second place. Guess where the UK is? It ranked 15th, behind Nicaragua, Rwanda, the Philippines, Namibia and Slovenia. Does this surprise you? Rwanda has more women in political power than we do here in the UK. I don’t know about you, but there are certain countries mentioned above which I would have thought would be behind us in terms of gender parity. That’s embarrassing.
The Global Gender Gap Report only measures quantifiable data such as salaries and seats in parliament, rather than perception of equality or sexism in society. But I still feel like women are not treated fairly by our society. Whether that is via slut shaming, body shaming, groping in nightclubs, “lad culture” or cat-calling. I feel like on the whole women are still valued most for their looks, rather than what lies within. When you are growing up you are quite naïve and immune to things, but as I have grown up, I feel that there are some things that women have had to accept as the norm, such as the things I have mentioned above. Everyone has their own story to tell, one of my own includes being on holiday with my parents in France. A man walked past me in the street and said “nice tits” so only I could hear it. We sat outside at a restaurant and the man stood across the street from the restaurant and stared at me for a couple of minutes before walking off. I was fifteen and too scared to say anything to my parents about what had happened. Of course, most men are not like this. Once when I was walking down Oxford Street in the early hours of the morning alone, I had to pass a group of three guys who standing together. I approached them with trepidation. One of the guys moved away from his friends to the other side of the pavement so that I had to walk through the group, rather than past them. One of the guys got really angry at his friend and reprimanded him, saying: “What are you doing? Why do you have to try and make her feel intimidated?” We need more guys like this, who are willing to speak up about the behaviour of the other men in their friendship group.
The feminist label
After encountering a few people who wanted to avoid labelling themselves as a ‘feminist’, I thought I would take the question to my female friends on Whatsapp. “Nooo why have you started this on a Sunday night? 😫” complained one friend.
I was disappointed to hear one of my friends say that she “doesn’t really care” and that she was not passionate about women’s rights. I couldn’t help but wonder if this very friend was in a different life (perhaps similar to the one Chimamanda describes) where women’s rights are not as advanced, and she was not allowed an education or was not allowed to earn money. Would she feel the same? She said that she wished things were more “old-school” and that she didn’t have to work, but if she did not have the choice and she had to cook, clean and rear children, would she still like it then? That is what we are lucky to have, the choice to educate ourselves and earn money.
Society’s idea of a feminist is someone who refuses to wear makeup and deodorant and doesn’t shave their armpits or vagina. Some people seem scared of the word and I do not understand why. There are many celebrities, men and women, who call themselves a feminist, like Beyoncé , Emma Watson, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lawrence, Harry Styles, Chris Hemsworth, Will Smith, Tom hardy and Jason Momoa. So, if it’s good enough for Beyoncé then it’s good enough for everyone! There are many different types of feminism out there and Chimamanda even conceded that Beyoncé’s feminism was not her own. But if the goal is the same, then in my opinion we should allow others to be.
What I thought was so powerful about Chimamanda’s speech was that the differences between Nigerian society and our society are so big and the prejudice that she has suffered in her society is so shocking to us that it really gets you thinking about feminism and what you are entitled to as a woman. It is a brilliant, light introduction to feminism for young women and men.
I have a strong group of strong, career-driven, talented and intelligent friends, and I know that we are very lucky to have had the opportunities that we’ve had, as I know others are not so lucky.
And that is why I think you should buy this book, read it and give it to your sons, daughters and friends to read. We should all take an interest in feminism as it concerns us all.
“Be as pissed off as you want to be. Don’t hold back because you think it’s unladylike or some such nonsense. We shouldn’t be shamed out of our anger. We should be using it. Using it to make change in our own lives, and using it to make change in the lives around us. (I know, I’m cheesy.) So, the next time someone calls you emotional, or asks if you’re PMSing, call them on their bullshit.”—Jessica Valenti, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know