Laker Notes: Feminism is for everyone
As a seventh-grader and an avid Beyonce fan, I was fascinated by the rich voice and the deep accent that appeared in Beyonce's "Flawless" and altered the flow of the song — one of my favorites at the time.
"We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, 'you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man,'" the voice said. Later it continued: "Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes."
Beyonce's 2013 bop, besides earning her a place on that year's Billboard's "Hot 100" list, was pivotal in my political awakening. I had heard of feminism before that point, but it had been presented as a somewhat controversial issue, reserved just for women. That one song, four minutes and ten seconds, contained more empowerment than I had ever experienced. The ominous voice in the song, coupled with the thumping dance beat, made it so simple: someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. What would be wrong with that? Why was that controversial? After more reading and thinking and conversations, I continued to open my eyes and I became the person I am today: someone who believes fervently that the sexes should be equal, socially, politically and economically.
In that period of discovery, the voice from the song revealed itself to belong to Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The excerpt from the song came from her essay and TED Talk, "We Should all be Feminists," an essay I have now read maybe ten times over.
Last week I had the good fortune of being able to see Adichie speak live while she toured through Portland, and she didn't disappoint. In addition to describing her upbringing in Nigeria and the importance of her family, her faith and her reading and writing, she responded to a variety of questions during a portion of the evening.
The last question she answered was about what advice she had for young feminists. Although she had made references to her beliefs which emphasize female empowerment, she had not directly discussed feminism up until that point. It was worth the wait.
Although she touched on a variety of topics, varying from how she tries to raise her daughter without imposing gender roles (such as not exclusively playing with dolls) to reminding the women in the audience that love should not necessitate pain or giving up on aspirations as a sacrifice in a relationship, her final statement has stuck with me the most.
She concluded the evening by saying: "You are not an object to be liked or disliked [by others]. You are a subject who can like and dislike."
I find so much beauty in this statement. Not only do I love that it acknowledges the complexity and multifaceted nature of every woman, but I love that it objects to passivity. Feminism can mean a lot of things, but for me, it means not being afraid to be loud, to be opinionated, to take up space, to be active.
Being active is so much of what Adichie encourages. She told us that as feminists (both women and men who believe in feminism), it is our job to continue pushing for equality and insisting that women not be stifled. It is our job to empower women, because when women hold back, the whole world loses. When women hold back, we miss the opportunity to prosper from the ideas they might have shared, had they not been afraid of using their voices.
Above all else, seeing Adichie speak was an important reminder, for me and for everyone else in the audience, that there is more work to be done and that it is our collective responsibility to do it. As she says in her essay "We Should All Be Feminists" — which I recommend that every person read — "Culture does not make people. People make culture." So, in the spirit of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her incredible writing, here is to continuing to push, to being not only subjects, but active subjects.