Last weekend, award-winning author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and some young people were gathered in Lagos, where they discussed issues ranging from feminism, tips for writing, dealing with backlash, bride price, toxic masculinity among other things.
From their discussion, tagged, “An Evening with Chimamanda” which was broadcast live on Facebook, we learnt these seven things.
If men can be feminists
Sometimes, men in the name of talking about feminism take up too much space. I think men can be feminists but I also think that there is a sense for you to leave room for the people who experience what we are fighting against to be leading in the conversation. I consider myself as a person who feel strongly about the rights of gay and bisexual people and particularly in this country. But at the same time, because I am not a member of that community, I couldn’t ever lead that sort of conversation, because I have a sense of what its like to be gay in this country but I don’t experience it personally so I will speak out about the injustice but its not my story.
I think that feminist women feel that feminist men should do their part but cannot own the story because they have owned enough. For me, feminism is about justice, its really about, “I want us to live in a world that is fair and just. I want us to live in a world that people are not held back because they are born a particular way.” For that to change, we cannot just change women, we have to change men. You can change women all you want, men remain the same, nothing changes and men have to be part of the fight.
Overcoming fear of perfection as a writer
You can’t. And it comes with the territory and its very difficult. I think that everybody who creates and not just writers, are just not entirely sure and I think its part of the creative process. And I think that if you become too sure you become smug and when you become smug, your writing would probably become bad. So, what I would say is that, hold that as a comforting thought because nothing else would be comforting when youre going through that difficult stage. It might be that the writing is not good or that you’re being hard on yourself. Its something that I’ve had from the first day of writing, its something I still have. Find people who love you who will tell you the truth. If you have a friend who cares about you and likes to read, tell them to read your work and tell you what they think but also remember that they may be wrong.
What she would write to her son
We don’t allow boys to have full range of the human emotions. I think the high rate of violence in the world is really men who are incapable of expressing things and then it comes out as an ugliness. I heard a story about a 2 and a half years old boy who is crying and his mother says to him, “you are a man stop crying,” and I’m thinking “how do you do that to a child?” and then when that child keeps getting older you keep saying things like you’re a man. And I think we put on boys, the terrible burden they shouldn’t take on.
So, what I would say to a mother is, from the very beginning, be very aware that the world is going to be pushing all these things on your son, so it will be up to you to push it back. So if they say, “you are a man don’t cry,” say, “no, my darling, cry. When you don’t cry, I will not be happy with you. if you’re unhappy, show me.” Because a lot of ways we raise children is about what we choose to make them ashamed of. Right now, masculinity is about telling men to be ashamed of vulnerability, fear, or any kind of weakness, so you find men having to hide and pretend and I think it must be exhausting. So if I had a boy, I would from the very stages make him know that vulnerability is a very beautiful thing.
Why some women don’t want to identify with feminism
I think there’s a fear of disrupting things that have been. I think women for whom equality will require a sense of responsibility that they are not ready for. It’s a kind of playing to the gallery of likability. Its saying I’m not a threat, I don’t want to disturb the way things are. I don’t understand why feminism is controversial. Surely, its about justice. If we were fighting racism, its not a problem we have in Nigeria. I get ideas about what happens with women but I should also say that women are not feminists because we live in a world that is misogynistic, and all of us grew up in that world and we all absorb those ideas. I think women are just as misogynistic as men. My dream world is where there is a gender justice and where there is gender justice, men and women will be better off it. People will be allowed to be who they are.
4 things for aspiring fiction writers
Read a lot; find a truth teller who loves you; be willing to accept that maybe you haven’t done your best and keep pushing because rejections will come but you have to keep pushing.
If there’s a thing that hurt me, it’s the Hillary Clinton matter because I was confused by it. I didn’t utterly understand why it was noisy. I got back to Lagos after that interview and there was a lot of noise and ugliness. People said they are writing public letters to me. They said “you are a demon, you want to break up marriages,” and that was the first time I started to rethink how I felt about Nigeria.
My parents were staying here with me in Lagos at the time and I come downstairs, I see my mum, she’s reading the news on her Ipad and she’s mumbling and she’s looking very upset. So, clearly, she’s reading something that somebody’s written because I made it a point of staying away from all of that. But watching my mother, I felt close to tears. Because I thought I don’t want this for my parents, I don’t want them to be in a space where….. and I think they too were confused, so, its also the thing where people are attacking your daughter and you don’t understand why she should have been attacked. So, you’re confused but you feel like you have to protect your child.
So, I said, “mummy stop reading them,” but ofcourse, she kept reading them and it made me really feel somehow. And it made me start thinking that self-care may be creating some sort of space between me and my country. Until then, I had been a very dutiful daughter of my country.
I think if you go back in history, the idea of marriage is different from what it is today. There was bride-price where fundamentally, you give things to the bride’s family, but there was also an exchange of gifts. There were things the bride’s family would give the groom’s family. There was an exchange and it was a bit more fluid. Now, there is a commercialism to the whole Idea that I really find disgusting.
I think we really need to rethink the ways that marriages are being done because it is dangerous in so many levels. There are many men who think that, afterall he paid thousands and so she belongs to me and if i decide that she should stop working, she should stop.
I am not a fan of bride-price. When I did my marriage, my father said that he doesn’t want money, he said that he just wants it to be symbolic. What was done was that, they brought one kobo-the old one kobo coin. He said that he wanted to be a symbolic thing. We are not actually going to have an exchange of money because we are not selling anybody. I think these are ways to start to change it. In my opinion, I think we should just get rid of the whole idea.
I gives not just the husband, but the husband’s family, if they are not good people, the feeling that they paid. And it makes the women think that she’s been bought. So, sometimes, you can’t even voice what you really think or be your real self because you think you’ve been bought.
Watch her talk here