The Feminist Diaries,  Thoughts

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Conversation

I posted last week about International Women’s Day and how there are some people who will take every opportunity to tear down a day that celebrates women from all walks of life. I included a quote from Maya Angelou, “I’m a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.” But what makes me a phenomenal woman?

If I boil it down simply, the supportive women in my life. My mother has always been a leading figure in my life, alongside my grandmother. My best friend, Mutay. My friends who I have known since secondary school.

Behind every successful woman is herself – and an army of supportive ladies. Without these important people in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today. But it has taken a long time for me to see myself as a phenomenal woman. It has taken a long time for me to see myself as strong. Independent. Fine as f*ck. Feminist.

I haven’t always been a feminist. Growing up, it wasn’t a word I had really encountered before. But as I grew up, I started to notice the inequality that we face. The issues that are merely brushed to the side just because we are women. How we are expected to accept what society expects us to be. Still, feminist was not a word in my vocabulary.

However, I’m becoming more informed. I have to be. I want to be. One of the people opening my eyes is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Thanks to Mutay, who introduced me to her books, she has opened my eyes to a whole new world. Not new, actually, it has always been there. A different perspective to how I viewed the world before. Feminist is not a bad word; it does not mean we hate men, we are not extremists. We just want equal rights for everybody. At the end of the day, underneath it all, we are the same. So, why are women not treated with the same respect as men? The world baffles me and will continue to do so.

As part of Southbank’s Women of the World festival, Mutay and I got to see Chimamanda last Saturday and it was amazing. In fact, more than words can imagine. There were a lot of topics that she covered throughout the conversation that made me think twice and really go over why is it I think that way in the first place.

Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World festival is a global network of festivals which provides a platform for interrogating this question. […]
WOW – Women of the World festival celebrates women and girls, and looks at the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential.

I wish had attended more events at the festival, but by going to this talk it has opened up this conversation about what feminism means to me and what I can do to speak out and raise awareness. We’re really looking forward approaching this topic, and sharing our views!

Feminism like many -ism’s is very subjective. To me, feminism is the opportunity to have a choice. I have the privilege of being around a strong feminist from birth, my mother. My mother taught me my core values, especially as she did it all on her own. She taught me to own my shit and I definitely ‘don’t need no man’ (I am not saying men are redundant but the way patriarchy is set up you would think we would die without men…).

I must start by saying I am not a white woman. So, as you can expect, I have found that not all material on feminism is relatable to me. This was the case before I found Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2009. I was quite late off the mark but I thank the universe for my zest for reading and my continuous hunger for more knowledge. Chimamanda shaped me in a way that has only become apparent to me when I looked back. The first author that I had read who spoke about my ancestral land, Nigeria, in a positive light. The first author who taught me the realities of colonialism. The first author who taught me that there were other Nigerians, beyond my own circle (family and friends), who saw themselves as equals and not just submissive beings who are to cook, clean and cater to men.

This wasn’t the first time I had seen Chimamanda speak at the Southbank Centre, but this was probably more special to me. The first time I saw her, it was more of a fangirl moment. This time it was more personal. I’ve had time to adjust and align my thoughts, I’ve had a look back at my experiences and picked out the points where I realised that issues such as casual misogyny and being seen as less of an individual (because I am black AND a woman) have truly impacted my life. I have also started reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – everyone should read this book, both men and women! The issues she spoke upon resonated with me deeply.

Chimamanda has just published a book which is a response to her friend who asked for advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ will set the premise for a new series on this blog which explores feminism and what feminism means to us. Women’s History Month finishes at the end of March but for us, it’s for life.

We hope you engage with us throughout this series, and we would love to hear your stories!

11 Comments

  • Nancy

    You are a phenomenal woman, Chynna! The older I get, the more I see about how us women are sometimes held back because of our gender. We can actually do more and make the world a better place. There are some parts of the world where they are not as fortunate to have the same rights – and that’s something that needs to be taken care of. It’s great that you’re trying to take the initiative to become more informed!

    I do agree that we want equal rights for everybody! Your mom is a gem for teaching you how to be a proper woman. Kudos to her! Glad that you’re feeling empowered to be educated and educate others about feminism! I’m looking forward to it :)!

  • Gillan

    I love this! I, too, didn’t know about feminism at a young age because we were taught of gender roles very early on. My parents insist I do the chores instead of my brother because they are a “woman’s task.” I had to find out feminism on my own, and firstly through Beyonce’s Flawless, where Chimamanda’s speech was sampled. Since then, I’ve surrounded myself with friends who are feminists/woke too 😊 I’m glad to have found a feminist friend online, since most of my friends irl are too!
    I’m so jealous you’ve heard Chimamanda speak so many times!
    I hope to read more on this series, keep up the great work ❤

  • Tilewa

    I loved this and wanted more.. why did it end??..tell us more! but i will wait and look forward to the future posts x

  • Rezina

    I really should read more of her work! I’ve only read her mini-book, which is really a transcription of her Ted Talk. Do you have a particular favorite out of all the works she’s written? But yeah. I’m so jealous you got to hear her speak! It sounds like it was an amazing experience! It’s great that you’re wanting and becoming more aware of feminist issue and that you’re surrounded by amazing and supportive women.

    I think sometimes it’s difficult to be the ones to start these kinds of conversations (at least in my own personal experience), so it’s awesome that you’re wanting to be able to participate in more of these kinds of conversations with others.

  • Amy

    I didn’t learn about feminism until I was 18 and read Caitlin Morgan’s How to be a Woman, which seems so strange now that it’s mentioned everywhere. I can’t imagine not knowing now.

    I was lucky that I was brought up to think of myself as equal. My dad constantly dressed me and my sister in overalls to help him fix cars, and my parents didn’t ever give me jobs to do based on my gender alone. Sadly, that’s not the same for everyone though.

    I’ll definitely have to read her books. My to-read like is so long (still not got into White Teeth yet) but they sound great. And looking forward to this series. Definitely very important and something that interests me!

  • Cat

    Growing up, I didn’t think I was a feminist either. I think part of it was the people who made feminists look like men-haters (when we’re really not), and the other part was that I was fortunate to have parents that encouraged me in STEM fields. They didn’t see them as “men only” subjects and were supportive of me going into Computer Science. As I got older, I began hearing more stories about women inequality, and now I definitely consider myself a feminist.

    I also see feminism as the opportunity to have a choice and without being shamed for it, and this applies for both men and women. I don’t think some men realize that feminism benefits them too. Men shouldn’t be shamed for being stay-at-home dads, and women shouldn’t be shamed for deciding to work or their work choices. Men shouldn’t be shamed for being emotional, and women shouldn’t be shamed for being confident. Feminism fights for equal opportunity, rights, and treatment.

    I’m glad that you’ve had strong women to support you in your life! I also haven’t heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but now I’m interested in looking up her works. That’s awesome that you’ve seen her speak twice now! I will have to look into her new book!

  • Tara

    What a fantastic post, Chynna! I love how you’ve discovered feminism and what it means to you. It’s great that you have so many supportive people in your life. Females do tend to get the short end of the stick, so it’s great when we stick up for each other. I’m sort of a feminist, and while I can see the injustices faced by women (and men in some aspects) I just want all of us to be equal in the long run. Equal rights is needed for everyone regardless of gender, race, culture, and et cetera.

    For me, feminism also means that we can be who we want regardless of being a girl. I have a long rant about that, but I’ll save that for some other time, haha! Don’t want to flood your comments with my rant XD

    I love how this book has helped you be more aware. Even better that you got to meet the writer at the event. It’s wonderful that you’re being empowered to explore feminism and what it means 🙂 I didn’t even know who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was until you wrote this, so thank you for educating me and the others about her ^^

  • Kya

    This is really amazing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and expressing them in such a special way. I am really glad you were able to hear Chimamanda speak again. It’s wonderful that it was really special this time. 🙂

    If only the majority of people could see that it was all for equality. Not saying, one person, is better than the other. I guess that can be a scary change and adjustment for some. 🙁

  • Georgie

    I really enjoy reading about the experiences of women of colour – women like you, who have a feminist stand in life because of the position of non-white women in society. 🙂

    I personally feel like what makes me a phenomenal woman is not just how my mum brought me up, but the people I have surrounded myself with. It’s so important for women to get the support they need, and you can do no better than having a mother figure and a bunch of supportive friends.

    The opportunity to listen to Chimamanda present/speak sounds like an amazing one, even though it was not your first time. I guess overcoming the “fangirl-ness”, you were able to see her with a refreshed sort of clarity and even more respect. I’ve also found that not a lot of feminism-related material on the internet is relevant to me because, well, as you said, I’m not white. It is so valuable to hear from someone who you can relate to and who can open your eyes in such a way. 💖

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