We should all be feminists

Adaobi Ezeodum

The above title for this column was taken from a TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned author and writer who many have heard speaking in Beyoncé’s “Flawless,” but few know. I am mostly drawn to her because she is a Nigerian woman like myself, who until she was 19 had not lived in the United States, yet she has a variety of convictions that the average Nigerian woman might not share.

By its most basic definition, a feminist is one who advocates for equal social, political and economic treatment of the sexes, but when it comes to being associated with the term, most women, including myself until recently, shy away from the label.

The image of a single, middle-aged, bra-burning woman who is cold toward men comes to mind and most women don’t want to be seen in that light. Has gender equality improved over the centuries? Sure it has, but gender relations in the United States and abroad still have to be greatly improved.

This semester I am taking a feminist philosophy class co-taught by Lucy Schultz, assistant philosophy professor, and Nathan Jun, associate professor and philosophy coordinator, and though we number only 12 in the class and I am the only person of color in the class, it is impressive that these professors discuss feminism dating back centuries and manage to cut through cross-cultural boundaries. It is a class where discussions expose stereotypes that are hidden in societal “norms.” I was also surprised, as well as impressed, that there are men in my class.

We are a product of our environment. Whether we accept it or not, we conform to the society around us. Something becomes normal because society deems it normal. In other words, what is seen as normal and abnormal lies in our discretion to label them as such. This is important to note because, yes, it is no easy task to oppose such longstanding “norms,” but it means that these norms were created, and therefore we can change them.

Two hundred years ago, it was not the norm for a woman to get a degree and have jobs outside the home, yet today almost every woman is in college or has been given the right to attend college.

The reason why gender equality is moving at such a slow pace is because most people today are satisfied with the way things are, most of them being men. For some, facing the fact that a woman might be equal to a man in every aspect is somewhat intimidating. Men don’t take all the blame though. In the words of Chimamanda, “Men are brought up from childhood to have very fragile egos, and women are trained to cater to those egos.” All around the world you see men doing various things to display their masculinity and it’s almost always applauded, but when a woman does the same thing—that is, show and take pride in her femininity—she is looked at as being weird or different.

Yet, ironically, women share much or even most of the blame for feminism’s slow crawl to normalcy. It is indeed a great paradox that the gender being oppressed is often guilty of basking and glorifying its own oppression. All over the world, women of various races and ethnicities make conscious efforts to bring each other down. When a female goes against the “norm,” she is faced with constant criticism, mostly from other women, instead of praise. It is highly hypocritical that in a society that encourages individuality over conformity, women are constantly put down for expressing themselves and their womanhood.