Throughout this short and insightful book there is one powerful and potent message: Gender does matter, no matter the sex you are born with, the money you have, or where you come from.
The main purpose of this book is to act as a rallying cry, a point of call to use when confronted by someone who is yet to accept that gender is still a major issue in societies across the globe. Whilst addressing the issues that women, particularly those in countries that are too often neglected by other feminist writers, Adichie focuses on an issue which owing to the rise of ‘white European feminism’ is negated: that because of the roles forced onto children from birth, men to are also disadvantaged, because their “humanity is stifled”. Many feminists may take issue with this, arguing that a focus on men’s issues distracts away from the central issues of gender, that is: the inexcusably high percentages of sexual harassment that women face compared to men, the lack of opportunities we are offered because we are taught from birth that we can have ambition, “but not too much”; we “can aim to be successful but not too successful otherwise” we “will threaten the men” and the roles we are expected to take. Their aversion as Adichie argues, is reasonable, however she shows that believing so strongly that men have no role to play in the establishment of equality will only perpetuate gender roles. Thus, when we thank men for taking “women’s roles” we extenuate the culture in which it is incredible for a man to act paternally and take responsibility for child care and where it is incomprehensible that women can achieve highly when the odds are stacked against us. A culture, which Adichie sees as dangerous for everyone.
By putting forward this argument, Adichie highlights the hypocrisies in every society formed by gendered meta-narratives. What I found fascinating about this argument is that despite current attempt to change the stereotypes we as individuals hold, gendered roles that are completely opposite to each are still engrained within our society. Interestingly, unlike so many other feminist writers she does not have or argue from a western perspective. Instead she uses her mixed experiences as a woman in the ‘modern’ world alongside her traditional upbringing she experienced in Nigeria to add a much-needed intersectional perspective to feminist literature. This helps her point on stereotypes and engrained gender biases be even more effective.
I found her analysis of the socialisation of gender differences to be one of the most awakening and thought-provoking points. As someone who avidly calls herself a feminist, the notion that socialisation of gender differences “starts a self-fulfilling process” is something both shocking and disturbingly true. From this argument, any clued-up reader would come to the conclusion that if we keep seeing men as heads of corporations, it will begin to seem “natural” that only men should be heads of corporations. It will become “natural” that men hold positions of power. Many, including some of the most influential and active feminists I know are guilty of seeing the idea of men as leaders of states, CEOs of fortune 500 companies, and leaders in their fields as a “normal” thing, clearly perpetuating the normalcy of the male dominance.
From the basis of Adichie’s argument, if we ‘all’ start normalising the idea that women can be leaders, can make major contributions to science and build a successful company from nothing, rather than printing headlines that focus on how amazing it is that a woman can hold power whilst being a mother, a wife or for that matter single, then we will halt the process which causes many employers to think twice about hiring a woman because of her gender, her chances of going on maternity leave and her “humanity”. After building this argument she concludes that by seeing woman gaining high status roles as natural, the agenda of gender equality will be achieved faster. She doesn’t deny that woman gaining actual power rather than the sexual power she argues men give us, isn’t something to celebrate, but she rightly states that if we normalise the idea of women holding power, there will be less opposition from men. That way there will be less ignorance towards ingrained cultural practices, allowing everyone to work together to achieve feminism.
I would say that this is an excellent read if you are someone who considers themselves a feminist, but it is also a great recommendation to give to someone who has been put off by the notions of white feminism, or by the suggestion that feminists are anti-men. Simply put her definition of a “feminist; a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”, makes this little book a must read in my opinion.
Reviewed by Sophie Minter, Editor