I was simply walking around inside one of my favourite book shops, wondering what to buy when I thought back to Eyra, and a conversation I had with a teacher in college and decided to try and educate myself on Feminism as a concept. So after some preliminary research on Google, I found a book titled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, written by an author I recognised, which was lauded online as a book that was feminist gospel. With a title that you could consider borderline clickbait, I found myself looking for the book at the store, and when I found it, imagine my surprise when I realise the book was small enough to fit cleanly into the palm of my hand.
So I bought the book.
At the beginning of the previous decade, African author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave an infamous Ted Talk, that over a period of time, has come to be lauded as one of the most progressive and well-rounded sermons on feminism in the twenty first century, and after reading the book, you realise, the book is pretty much exactly what was the half an hour talk that was given by the author at Ted.
Over the fifty or so pages of the book, Adichie touches upon various facets of the feminism. It does not dwell on the historical intricacies of the movement, instead, it resembles a playbook of sorts for society today – drawing from real time examples, of people the author knew and came across, the book touches on intersectionality, social conditioning, stereotypes and mindsets with effortless ease, almost making it look easy to talk about weighty concepts. But in the end, what it seemingly achieves is the creation of a very accessible, easily comprehensible book, or even a pamphlet of sorts, advertising feminism in all its glory, which resulted in my coming to a conclusion that labeling the book as feminist gospel is not a statement drawn out of proportion.
Before plunging into what I found the book talking about, I think it’s important to refer here to the prologue which ends with ‘I suspected that it might not be a very popular subject, but I hoped to start a necessary conversation. And so that evening as I stood onstage, I felt as though I was in the presence of family – a kind and attentive audience, but one that might resist the subject of my talk. At the end, their standing ovation gave me hope.‘
I would call myself a feminist without thinking twice, but it left me gobsmacked when one of our teachers, in the middle of a classroom lecture, asked us a question – ‘How many men here consider themselves to be feminists?’ – the number of hands that went up (which I assumed would be a larger number than what it actually was) was a meager three people (yes, including myself). I found this very hard to believe, and as I started thinking about it, I realised that if the question was worded differently, i.e. if she’d said instead – ‘How many men here believe governments should be more gender inclusive, or should be more egalitarian, giving women rights and privileges,’ or something of that sort, ten more hands would definitely have gone up. Because the truth here is that there is, to a certain extent, stereotypical taboo, or stigma associated with the term ‘feminist’, and it perhaps translates in people’s heads to the typical urban woman who wears pink all the time, picks fights with everybody, disregards everything anybody says that she doesn’t agree with herself, and harbours a certain hatred for men in general, is against anybody wearing brassiere, and tends to consider herself a proper revolutionary – who shall save the world by tearing apart the patriarchy.
And while it might be such for men in general to draw such a parallel to the label of feminism – a fringe definition of the term that men find it impossible to identify with, it immediately results in them denying calling themselves feminists – which explains how few hands went up in the air in my class. Now the book, right from the very title, proceeds to demystify this definition of feminism, lending it a certain sense of clarity, and I feel this is the first important observation I made, which keeps coming out in tiny little hints across the entire book. That ideally, we should all be feminists.
A second observation is the subtle stories, tiny anecdotes that express stereotyping, especially in the case of the man outside a parking spot that thanked the author’s male friend when it had been the author herself that had tipped the man, and the friend had just been walking alongside.
This stereotyping is immediately connected to social conditioning, where she expresses how it wasn’t that man’s fault, it was a very valid assumption to make in the socio-political climate of the place we live in. Perhaps as society grows, social change shall precede legal change, and hence lend fuel to efficient translation of legal enforcement into society (cue Sabarimala), but the point here is simply that this isn’t going to happen in a single day. And hence, we should all be feminists. That’s the only way. The moment we see that our perception of an issue is dictated by a label we give ourselves, it immediately makes us seem progressive to ourselves. Shouldn’t we men (who consider ourselves progressive and inclusive – if you’re a bigot you can go jump in a well, I really don’t care), think about this social conditioning, whether via religion, whether via societal structures, whether via the patriarchy (that even the blindest of men can see), and think of how to set these things right?
Maybe our customs and practices were once based on some logical expression of thought, but today, with the genders being as close as ever (legally), only if we consider ourselves feminists can we slowly allow ourselves to change, and build a more egalitarian society. As the author points out, we’ve evolved from a survival of the fittest and strongest, to a survival of the smartest and most intelligent. Our perceptions of gender, on the other hand, are still archaic. We have to all be feminists.
Speaking about perceptions of gender, and the assigning of gender roles, any self respecting individual would agree that the assignment of roles to gender, on the basis of sex and biology, itself is flawed, especially in a libertarian society that believes everyone has a right to be the way they want to be. Freedom is derided by social constructs, and this sucks, to be very honest. This comes out again in the pages of the book. If we have to gradually break out of these constructs, we should all be feminists.
Another important conversation would be how she answers the question of how when we’re talking about equality and upliftment of sexes, why attach a gender specific label when we could simply say we’re pro-human rights? Her response to this is simply that acknowledgement of a section of society that has for years been denied equality of opportunity, now necessarily needs preferential treatment, to achieve equality of outcomes. She talks of people who ask her – ‘Why does it always have to be of your experiences as a woman? Why not of your experiences as a human being,’ to which she replies ‘Why do you talk of your experiences as a black man, then? Why not talk of your experiences as a human being?’ – a simple analogy, a real eye-opener. In India, when the law indicates that Dalits come on the lowest rung of societal structure, and then try to bring them up via preferential legislation, when it’s not gender specific, it ignores the Dalit Women, who fall below that very category too, when we try and think about it. Hence, gender specific approaches are primary, and inseparable from any sociological point of view. Hence again, we should all be feminists.
Lastly, it’s superb how simple the book is. Reading my review of the book, would probably result in your turning a blind eye, and it’s probably true because her explanation is a lot simpler to digest than my analysis. Right from the most progressive of men, to those that stand on borderline bigotry, would be able to read this book and take something away from it that would change their perception of feminism, specifically because of how simple it is. It is a very easy read, and hence, also, a very powerful statement, because it finds its way into the hands of many more people than simply that tiny percentage that call themselves ‘intellectuals’. And this, I believe, is this book’s most powerful contribution. It didn’t just start a conversation eight years ago, it also made millions of tiny little kids, men, and even women, muster up the courage to boldly stand up and call themselves feminists, and if a bunch of kids in my class decided to pick the book up, they’d walk away twenty minutes later (that’s how long it took me to read it completely) armed with the new knowledge that they could now call themselves feminists.