Recently, in a truly welcome move, coming less than a month after the UK government’s decision to drop feminism from its politics A-levels, the Swedish Women’s Lobby has decided to distribute free copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous Ted Talk-turned-book, We Should All Be Feminists to Swedish 16-year-olds. Launching the project at Norra Real High School in Stockholm this week, they said that they hoped the book would “work as a stepping stone for a discussion about gender equality and feminism“.
In a world where feminism is steadily becoming a “dirty word”, and a label that celebrities and other influential people are increasingly shying away from, this introduction of young, impressionable minds to the work of Chimamanda Adichie is an immensely important step in a positive direction. In fact, Adichie comments on this particular phenomenon—of people refusing to subscribe to the term “feminist”—in her essay, and says: “Some people ask: ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.” She further adds: “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.'”
And really, we should all do better. We should all do better and be more fearless and more fierce with our feminism. We should push towards a world which is equal, where there is more awareness surrounding the fact that gender is, ultimately, a construct and nothing more—a world where no one should be afraid to be themselves. Personally, this is what reading Adichie has taught me—to acknowledge the various nuances within gender identity and expression and to revel in our own, unique selves.
In We Should All Be Feminists, Adichie emphasizes how she’s a “Happy Feminist“—challenging the common stereotypes that come with the term, which include man-hating, being “angry” or “resentful” because one identifies as a feminist. She is also critical of how masculinity is commonly interpreted, calling it a “hard, small cage” that forces men to hide their emotions. “We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability,” she says. “We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak – a hard man.”
Adichie’s essay was published in English last autumn. The 2012 TED talk has been watched by more than 2 million people on YouTube and was sampled by Beyoncé in her single ‘Flawless‘, including the lines: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.'” The essay has inspired millions like me to be unapologetic in our feminism, to be “happy”, to “do better”; and its timeless influence is now being proven even further by this initiative by the Swedish Women’s Lobby.
At the Stockholm launch of this campaign, Adichie, through a video message, talked about how her feminism “is about justice“. “I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world that is more just. I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world where a woman is never told that she can or cannot or should or should not do anything because she is a woman. I want to live in a world where men and women are happier. Where they are not constrained by gender roles. I want to live in a world where men and women are truly equal. And that’s why I’m a feminist,” said Adichie, who has authored multiple award-winning novels such as ‘Half of a Yellow Sun‘ and ‘Purple Hibiscus‘. She further went on to say: “When I was 16, I don’t think I knew what the word ‘feminist’ meant. I don’t think I knew the word at all. But I was a feminist. And I hope that the 16-year-olds that will read this book in Sweden will also decide that they’re feminists. Mostly, I hope very soon that one day we will not need to be feminists. Because we will live in a world that is truly just and equal.“