Weighing Chimamanda Adichie and her feminism
Feminism is a theory that emphasises equality. In other words, it confers social, economic and political rights on women in order to eradicate all forms of oppression and subjugation that women experience in their daily life. Feminism, a common concept in departments designated as ‘English Studies’ or ‘English Department’ or ‘English and Literary Studies’ in colleges or higher institutions, has cloned such terms as Lesbianism, Womanism, Ecofeminism, etc.
Not only has feminism given birth to other concepts, its pioneers – Mary Wollstonecraft, Jeanne Deroin, Margaret Sanger, Voltairine de Cleyre, Charlotte Perkins, etc. – have won such disciples as Nawal El Saadawi, Shulamith Firestone, Margaret Fafa Nutsukpo, and of course, Chimamanda Adichie.
Each of these women has a common goal and assignment: to correct the age-long, negative stereotypes that men have labelled women. This assignment has been adequately executed in their writing. For instance, by creating a swashbuckling fictional heroine called Firdaus, the Egyptian radical feminist, Nawal El Saadawi, leaves no reader in doubt as to the trajectory of her themes.
Chimamanda has consistently handled the issues of gender, race and identity with cleverness in some of her novels, a feat that has put her in the limelight. Her personality pales in comparison with Flora Nwapa, Nawal El Saadawi or Buchi Emecheta’s yet she has gained more recognition than each of these women. She has shot to fame overnight for one to begin to unearth the secret of her spiralling success. Here are some important facts about her: Her opportunity to live in the late Professor Chinua Achebe’s house is a strong factor. She grew up in an academic environment, that is, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Adichie studied at Drexel in Philadelphia on scholarship, and two years later, got a degree from Eastern Connecticut. Not tired, she got two more M.A degrees: one from Yale, the other from Baltimore.
Right there in the US, specifically Eastern Connecticut, she wrote her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was published in 2003. Before October 2018, Adichie had received some awards in the US. On the 9th of October 2018, she was given 10th PEN Pinter Prize in the same US. In New York in 2018, Andrea Tamburini, the CEO of an award-conferring organisation, decorated Adichie with the Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award. In that same year in North Carolina, she was bedecked with another honorary award by Duke University.
On April 22, 2018 in Manhattan, the Democrat Hillary Clinton had to take Adichie’s advice by recasting her (Hillary’s) infelicitously-worded biodata even though the social media eventually did a hatchet job on Adichie. I believe that if Adichie resided in Nigeria, she would not be in a position to have the former First Lady of the US tweak her biodata. At Annenberge on February 7, 2019, she got another feather in her cap when she received 2019 Everett M. Rogers Award for her stance on race, gender and identity.
Adichie remains in the United States of America while she preaches feminism to women who live in crisis-ridden Africa. Undoubtedly, the US is a catalyst for her increasing fame and success: she has access to the best facilities, she finds peace, the right atmosphere, the right frame of mind, and all that she needs to aim higher. Her global recognition hinges largely on the conducive atmosphere in the US where she ensconces herself and plies her trade. Her United States of America contrasts markedly with the present-day Spartan Nigeria and only insignificant number of people around the world will be familiar with the author of Americanah if she happens to hone her writing skills in Enugu or any other state in Nigeria.
Most feminist fictional protagonists I have known always escape into the city, or flee abroad just as some of their creators do, in order to be fulfilled: Amaka, Sisi, Efe, Ama, Nneoma, Adah, Firdaus, Ifemelu, Ebla, etc. Adichie’s recent claim that ‘women don’t need preferential treatment’ will be dismissed as twaddle by a good number of African women/ladies/girls who daily contend with the challenges posed by insecurity, unemployment and poverty in their countries, and who are in dire need of help, marriage and ‘preferential treatment’, from men. For this set of Africans, feminism is nothing other than an urgent quest for marriage, security and daily bread. Adichie’s idea of feminism consists in treating women the same way men are treated and urging women to also reject patriarchal dominance. That is okay.
Some feminists see marriage as desirable but not necessary. For them, marriage is a patriarchal trap meant to restrict the women’s liberty and perpetuate their oppression: a fact that makes some radical feminists stay out of marriage; but they need children. These women are rich signares, who are not ready to take nonsense or receive preferential treatment from men. They know love; they are romantic, educated and healthy but find it absurd to give their heart to irresponsible men. Feminists who find themselves in marriage merely do so to burnish the culture of their society. It should be pointed out that Adichie’s feminism does not preach celibacy.
Feminism demands that women should have the same rights as men. Efforts ramped up by women writers have paid off. On May 21, 2019, President Donald Trump appointed a woman, Barbara Barrett, 68, as Head of US Air Force. In Nigeria today, women hold public office. Adichie’s rejection of preferential treatment need not be subjected to withering criticism by the reading public, for there is much sense in her assertion. For the non-initiates who really do not get it, Adichie’s controversial assertion marks her out as a committed feminist. To her, women are not weak and feeble-minded but strong and resourceful. By presenting the image of women in the best possible light and by handling the sensitive questions of race and gender with finesse, Adichie inspires. However, her present environment restrains me from acknowledging the authenticity of her avowed philosophy.
In conclusion, Adichie weighs maximally on the intellectual and literary scales but much still needs to be said about the authenticity of her feminism. She visits Nigeria yearly, that is not good enough; she needs to relocate to Africa and establish offices in Nigeria, where she will identify fully with the plight of her fellow African females. With prestigious awards already hoovered up, the talented young writer should bring her feminism to the grass roots because her closeness to us here in Nigeria is going to turn the lives of many people around. If not for Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Right of Woman published in 1792, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would not have boasted equal opportunities and education as men. Now that she does, she should leave the United States of America for Nigeria, where she can contribute to national development, and of course, women development.
• Sola writes from the Department of English Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.