July 29, 2014
Adichie’s Feminism: Vacuums And Fallacies
By A. Gonzaga
There has been much backlash towards Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘feminist’ views, as well as towards her tasteless style of performance. I have, until now, wanted to stay out of the debate, mainly because of her arguments being pathetic as opposed to well-thought-out. But as the conversation has grown on social media—it seems to linger eternally, for Adichie keeps fuelling it with her well-timed, divisive remarks—I realise thoroughly the significance of the debate per se, and the need for me to partake in it. I should mention here that because of certain factors I consider myself well-positioned to examine and to present opinions on the matters in question.
1) The first is that the Igbo culture of south-eastern Nigeria, which Adichie constantly attempts to exploit to support her positions, is equally mine.
2) I left Nigeria to study and settle overseas at about the same age as Adichie. I left Nigeria for Finland at the age of 20, in 2005, and she left Nigeria for the US at the age of 19, eight years before. She’s currently 36. I’m 29. Indeed, one might wonder why leaving Nigeria as a young person is pertinent, and I’ll explain as we proceed.
3) I have since been an integrated member of a society, country and region where the goal of feminism was first realised, and where it has thrived the most—in short and in fact: where it originated and has achieved its ultimate goal. I’m talking of Finland and the larger Scandinavia. (I should state clearly that I live in Finland, visit Nigeria often, and now write to you from Finland.)
I intend to tackle this issue supporting my points with ‘the age factor’ and ‘the fact that I can claim a better practical knowledge of feminism than Adichie can.’ I’ll make references where necessary, however, to the first factor of ‘the Igbo culture being equally mine’.
Adichie said we should all be feminists, backing that call with a series of shallow points—the most controversial of which was her argument that ‘Nigerians raise girls wrongly and in ways that make them feel guilty for being born girls’.
I heard this and it troubled me. I had to wonder which societies she speaks of: were they the southern Nigerian ones of the Igbo and Yoruba, or the northern ones? For, as most Igbo adults know, women are today better educated in Igboland than the men. And even when it comes to employment after graduation—there isn’t much to be had in the country in the way of career opportunities, irrespective of one’s gender. Folks are being trained for economic areas that do not exist in Nigeria. But even so, the few employment opportunities in Nigeria today favour women—I speak from experience, and can safely argue that I know more employed females than males of my generation, despite their attending the same schools.
And so one wonders which Nigeria Adichie speaks of with regard to girls being suppressed and raised wrongly. Unless she’s referring to the Muslim north, in which case she should know to be specific with her accusations.
The general tendency of Adichie spitting out her half-baked opinions on just about every subject is worrying for reasons much more serious than their mere shallowness. It’s always a shameful thing to see Internet users—who don’t pretend to be intellectuals—submitting in the comment sections of publications counter-opinions that make mincemeat of those presented and promoted by the ‘intellectual’. This has been my experience with Adichie’s proposals, and I now wonder whether she has any friends at all who are smart and kind enough to help her find balance?
Unquestionably, Adichie has been everywhere with her opinions in recent years—ill-conceived as they are doomed to be—plus ever-willing to present them in manners that confirm a thorough lack of tact and class.
Yes indeed, it’s OK to have strong opinions, but nothing confirms Adichie’s lack of a full integration into her American society—despite having spent many years there—than her consistently unashamed display of words betraying a lack of class.
Before advancing, I should pose this question: Is this Adichie that the people get on the media the real one, or is it the professional one? I should also like to add that my presentation is targeted purely at the professional Adichie—the one that thinks herself a goddess and mocks novelist Pa Chinua Achebe’s philosophy while so tactlessly looking down on Nigerians as lesser beings—for I’ve no way of knowing who she is in her private existence.
To make sense of this oh-so-messy phenomenon—I reckon I need to go a little deeper. Certainly not the deepest I could delve, just deep enough for the occasion. I mentioned the lack of a full integration into her American society as a contributing factor in Adichie’s lack of class, and I think so for the simple truth that nothing teaches the immigrant about class better than a full integration. By ‘class’ I mean ‘elegance, polish, refinement, sophistication’. And of course with ‘class’ comes ‘tact’. It’s no secret that Nigerians can spend years and even decades in the UK and the US and still end up never mixing with white people and the mix of cultures present in those societies. The superficial reason is the presence of large immigrant communities in those two nations—and among which the newcomers could comfortably hide and exist, avoiding the hassle of a full integration and cherry picking on the question of how they should interact with their new society. In addition to this unfortunate reality, unlike here in Scandinavia, the black and white divide in the US is major! And that’s to say that by remaining culturally and mentally on the peripheries of the American society, Adichie—as not I but her work substantiates—is torn unevenly between the Nigerian and American worlds. This dilemma is a major source of influence as far as her opinions go.
Does Adichie really need to tell Nigerians and the world that ‘We should all be feminists’? Does she really have to state so aggressively and needlessly in the public space that ‘Nobody can force her to change her last name’? Is it necessary to tell the world of her relationship with cooking, and is she supposed to be so unenviably troubled by what other persons would make of her relationship with the kitchen? These deeds all point to the existence of a vacuum—a vacuum that only class and good advisers could rightly fill.
Obviously, Adichie has been making more enemies than friends in recent years, and more people than she can imagine are asking if she’s OK. I’ve just mentioned one vacuum, but more are likely to be revealed as I progress. Ergo, let’s call this vacuum number one.
A brief return to the subject of a full integration. I present another Nigerian author of Adichie’s Generation X, one who now enjoys the full and priceless benefits of total integration: his name is Teju Cole, and he left Nigeria for the US at the age of 17. In my opinion he’s a refined human being, and the best writer Nigeria has produced since Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and his followers on social media, unlike Adichie’s, are mainly intellectuals and readers capable of higher thought and who follow Mr Cole because he offers that mental stimulation. To put it rather bluntly: where Mr Cole offers necessary mental stimulation, Adichie can only offer gossip.
This isn’t the same as saying that I do not respect Adichie’s enthusiasm. I think she has come a long way, and while I can’t say I admire her work, I certainly respect her professional energy.
But why, despite the Nigerian generosity toward her, does she continue down this unnecessarily controversial path with regard to her relationship with Nigerians and their beliefs? A person commenting under one of the articles about Adichie’s scorching opinions stated: ‘She comes across in all her interviews as if in a state of permanent intellectual rage.’
Nigerians have delivered more bitter counter-thoughts about Adichie’s professional ways than they have about any other foreign-based Nigerian artist. Only home-based movie actresses and actors with questionable characters have been condemned similarly.
Consider Adichie’s supposed penchant for invention. Tackling unworthiness is not quite the same as dealing with value. For unworthiness requires a stoop and value doesn’t. But unworthiness achieves the status of a discussion topic, and the question must arise: To stoop or not? Action or passivity? Sad has been the silence of those who today may call themselves Igbo or Nigerian intellectuals—all of whom have hitherto chosen to allow Adichie get away with her invented facts, fallacies, and absurd misrepresentations.
The Nigerian Internet space or social media being what it is, the risk of the critic being labelled ‘jealous’ or even ‘sexist’ can’t simply be ruled out. Quite a pathetic reality laughable in its backwardness—and self-destructive in its way of ensuring the absence of intellectual discourse while promoting sheer mediocrity.
Adichie is a writer of novels, with false cultural premises likely to influence surely not sensible adults but teenage women at the very least. But this is a world of men and women, when all’s said and done, and those teenage women will one day grow up to deal with both men and life. They will approach both with either good or bad heads, and then winning, or losing. And that, quite simply, is the chief danger of allowing Adichie to own this narrative with her false notions.
She self-identifies as a feminist whose idea of feminism concocts imaginary Igbo-society problems. She would like to smash men (her invented oppressors), and emancipate women (her co-victims). It’s a whimsical charade. And I refer once again—if in new words—to that major claim of hers, that the Nigerian society only teaches girls how to shrink themselves, limit their goals and learn not to threaten the male societal dominance.
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Dora Akunyili, Oby Ezekwesili, Chinwe Obaji, Kema Chikwe, Stella Oduah, Arunmah Oteh—these are all accomplished women of Igbo descent, with professional biographies most women of other continents would envy. It bears noting that women of this echelon can equally be found among other ethnicities of Nigeria. Even within the younger generation there are household names like Tiwa Savage, Genevieve Nnaji, Linda Ikeji and many others—influential by virtue of the free expression of their talents and opinions. Nigerian women have always chased their dreams while enjoying their rightful societal place even before the trees became squirrels’ land, and surely in advance of Adichie learning how to read and write.
Given that this is the same Nigerian society that Adichie attempts, desperately, to lecture on the emancipation of women, one could state explicitly that: the need doesn’t exist because the problem doesn’t. Current divorce records in Nigeria prove that most of them were filed not by men but women. And if that alone doesn’t nullify Adichie’s claim of Nigeria being a land of emasculated women, then let this be food for thought: emasculated women have never been known in any society to initiate divorce; they instead put up with their partner’s hubris, conform to the whims and caprices of their husband, and in essence accept their subjugated lives.
Adichie continues to miss the fact—or so it seems—that if anything, in today’s Nigeria women are increasingly empowered at the expense of the male population. It’s more likely that women, not men, will be hired for a job, and that’s even if they are neck and neck with regard to skills and qualifications. The bank cashiers, managers at major retailers, office desks at insurance companies, at the Nigerian civil service—one easily detects a higher female ratio, often of six women to one man. Sure as shooting, this isn’t to clamour for an equal male-female representation but merely to point out how Adichie’s claims are sorry figments of her own imagination and therefore deserving of no serious attention.
Culturally and even politically, women have always been involved, elevated and venerated, in the Igbo world. The institution of Umuada—the peace-making and unifying daughters’ guild of the Igbo which still exists to this day—is turned to many a time, but very tellingly especially where efforts by the men-folk have proved futile. This is widely documented in the literature of the academia. In his Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe says of it and of the general status of a woman in the Igbo world: ‘It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme.’ (Chapter 14, page 32)
It’s sadly preposterous that Adichie examines this same culture and finds nothing else but its imaginary disregard for girls and women. There was the 1929 Aba Women’s Riot—famous for its cause as for its unprecedented timing—during which Igbo women repudiated the high taxation by the British imperialists, as well as sacked the puppet Warrant Chiefs. It would take another fifty years for most European women to exercise any political right or vote in an election. It is therefore factually wrong and intellectually misleading to think of these as disempowered women. The history books are available and these facts stand on their own.
Adichie’s attack on fellow African females with regard to their use of western-inspired artificial hair was expected to provoke, and in turn help, book sales. But her feminist speech was also expected to soothe and boost the egos, not only of those same wounded African females, but of an entire category of women the world over, again stimulating book sales. The game being played here cannot escape detection by one with a decent, sensitive mind. ‘I hurt you with my hair attack. Here’s a feminist speech to prove my remorse.’ It doesn’t matter which of these cards—‘the hair’ and ‘the feminist’—was dealt first. What matters is that both cards were crafted by the same business-oriented mind-set, and at right about the same period.
At any rate, it seems evident that Adichie does not enjoy a lot of personal peace and happiness. This bug might reveal its presence by turning its host into a pointlessly petty and compulsively argumentative human. And that’s where the second vacuum comes in. Writing is a solitary and compulsive work. The writer should therefore be wise enough to realise the need to find personalised ways to stay emotionally and mentally balanced. The lack of balance is impossible to conceal, although Adichie doesn’t seem to have realised this. Her writing, speeches, interviews, all come together to give her away as lacking personal peace and happiness, i.e. balance. It really doesn’t matter how many times she says with emphasis that she’s a happy feminist. Humans know happiness when they see it, and therefore need not be reminded or cajoled. This is a vacuum of ‘personal peace and happiness’, and as with the first vacuum, good friends and a partner could help her find a solution. Not those that would do her bidding, but who are fulfilled and intelligent and would advise her sincerely.
In the global male camp it is widely believed that a womaniser or player is very often—not always but more often than not—a natural romantic so unlucky to have found himself in a wrong society, with regard to courtship culture. By the same or similar token, one is tempted to think that feminists—African ones particularly—tend to resemble not the most physically attractive of women, and therefore not the most chased and glorified by men. There are tens of reasons to authenticate my thesis, but I’ll submit one and advance: African feminist writers of these times all have this thing in common—the obsessive creation of weak male characters, whom they perversely ridicule with their writerly skills, and then defeat. One senses the urgency of this desire when reading their work, to beat the male figure down, trample on him, and then spread their legs and pee upon him. This is a favourite tactic of Adichie in her writing, and two other African female feminists come promptly to mind; one from Zimbabwe and the other from South Africa. It’s for them a natural goal. And when Adichie nags, endlessly, that ‘the light-skinned female’ is always chosen over her ‘dark-skinned equal’ in the pop culture, it becomes all but obvious why there is all the anger and hatred. A sizeable amount of black women argue that it’s the white community which forced them—through brainwashing—to hate their natural hair and prefer artificial extensions. It now seems like we have another group of black women eager to propose that the pop culture—apparently white-funded as well—be held accountable for the fast-growing epidemic of skin-bleaching, damaging many a black woman body-and-soul.
Enter the third vacuum—having to do with an identity crisis stemming from an early migration. In other words, this is where Adichie’s moving from Nigeria to the US at 19 becomes germane. As a person who moved to Finland at age 20, I can sympathise with her struggle to balance between both worlds. The aforementioned writer, Teju Cole, is a perfect example of how a young Nigerian emigrant could rediscover home in an ideal manner and with the priceless help of a full integration in one’s adopted home—in this case the US. He’s able to articulate such challenges with better prose, more depth, and an enviable honesty. Unlike Adichie, you can sense that Mr Cole is sensitive and genuine, and therefore fully human. Where Adichie tries to appear tough and mannish and anything else but sensitive and feminine, Mr Cole enlightens with humility and asks for nothing in return.
And here’s a mini moment of bliss: The thing with a full integration is that while it may distance you from the peoples and ways of your original homeland, it equally forbids you to export nonsense from your new homeland to your original homeland—because you know better. And it’s worth noting that the West always chose its colonial officers taking into account the abilities of the candidates to read, correctly, the black man’s psyche and culture! Or else the words of Frederick Lugard and the like, in describing Africans, wouldn’t remain so timelessly disquieting.
I should like to conclude this presentation by dealing conclusively with the feminist component of the bulk. I open by observing that Adichie’s assault on our Igbo culture has been anything but appealing.
I know for a fact that African feminists qualify as the worst globally—the least informed, specifically. And I’m not very surprised by this truth, given that they try to copy a Western ideology they know practically nothing about. Not long ago I tried having a conversation on feminism with a black South African feminist—herself a writer just like Adichie. She was incapable of submitting a single point that was valid. In the end she gave a miserable example of a girl in rural South Africa who, on her way to school, has to stop at a river to wash herself because she isn’t furnished with sanitary pads by her parents. When I asked whether this was a case of gender inequality or plain poverty, she responded by exiting the conversation.
Although I never took Adichie seriously from the get-go, a certain reaction of hers did put the final nail in the coffin as far as my assessment of her opinions goes. That ultimate event took place very close to where I live, in Sweden precisely. Adichie was visiting a gathering there, and when a member of the audience asked for her judgment of the Swedish society and people, she answered that she hadn’t been very impressed. Her reason was that as she struggled with multiple bags in a hotel elevator, citizens stood by and watched who could have helped or simply offered to assist her. Such a thing wouldn’t have happened in her beloved Nigeria, she said.
The guests were unimpressed with her reaction, and I quickly discerned her misguided belief in eating her cake and having it too. Adichie is ignorant of the unnerving truism that in the genuinely feminist countries, like up here in Scandinavia, women and men cater to their own needs and nobody gives a real damn about anybody. How does she expect to be a hard-core feminist and still want other humans to assist her in carrying her bags? Seeing that particular video clip, I knew immediately of her unfamiliarity with the fact that at the very core of the idea of feminism, lies the most advanced form of selfishness the world has ever known.
Feminism has been my reality for all of my adult life. Well over ninety per cent of Scandinavian females are inherently feminist—it’s our rule, not the exception—so I do know what I speak of. And so if we agree that feminism typically starts out as a journey, then it’s accurate to indicate that Scandinavia has long reached the final destination of that journey. The simple facts of life up here, which I’ll now present and of which Adichie and her fellow African feminists appear to be unaware, should enable the very same Africans, who’ve been under her constant onslaught, to envisage their society’s future if they should be gullible enough to toe the feminist line.
The women of Finland were the first in the entire world to be granted the ballot. The year was 1906. Norway followed in 1913. And then Denmark and Iceland in 1915. But one can always juxtapose for the purposes of clarity. On August 26, 1920—fourteen years after Finland did it—the 19th Amendment granted the ballot to American women. In February 1918 British women over the age of 30 received the right to vote, but suffrage rights for men and women were not equalised before 1928 in that country my Nigerian compatriots think is their God—that’s 22 years after Finland took the step. France was in 1944. Belgium, Italy, Romania, and Yugoslavia were in 1946. Switzerland was only in 1971—and that’s six years before Adichie was born—while Liechtenstein, a country in the very heart of Europe, had to wait until 1984, my year of birth.
Approaching independence, both the men and the women of Nigeria voted jointly in 1951—and it was the first time for each of the sexes. In other words, there was never a time in the history of Nigeria when only men were allowed to vote. I should also emphasise that Nigerian women were 20 years ahead of their Swiss equals.
As a people who initiated feminism and have finally arrived at the journey’s final destination—a state of existence completely unimaginable to the likes of Adichie—this is how we live as Scandinavians:
1. There is no chivalry left in the land. Men open doors for themselves. Women open for themselves. Anything other than that is foreign and the exception, not the rule.
2. Men pay their bills. Women pay theirs. A couple visits a café, the man pays for his coffee and the lady pays for hers. Anything other than that is foreign and the exception, not the rule.
3. Men do not compliment women. Instead, because men and women are engaged in an eternal battle for equality, each party expects to be complimented. Anything other than that is foreign and the exception, not the rule.
4. Like the French and the Germans jointly told Britain when that island nation pushed to renegotiate its EU membership conditions: The European Union as an organisation isn’t an à la carte setting where one enters and decides what to take and what to omit. You either are fully in, or fully out. Put differently: there’s no such thing as cherry picking when attempting to adopt feminism. You can’t say ‘I want that aspect of it, but not the other one’. It is and will always be a chain of realities—imperceptibly linked—and once you try securing an element, be sure to welcome the rest which will inevitably follow.
5. We Scandinavians have championed the feminist cause since time immemorial. Still, our women over here have yet to invent anything beyond roadside hair salons. The national innovation coffers are accessible to both sexes equally. But it’s the men who continue to invent and innovate and help this region maintain its spot as the leading innovator globally. That’s to say that there is no proof that feminism could turn women into the world’s top inventors of things and founders of top companies. The reality in Finland, after one hundred years of feminism and equal opportunities, is that men alone still found the major companies whose taxes take care of the nation, and when such firms employ women it isn’t purely for their skills but also for the sake of diversity.
6. Unfortunate rivalry or war between the sexes is big in our homes and workplaces.
7. Our families are often broken and passionate love is now foreign or the exception.
8. It’s not uncommon for our children to be victimised by battling parents, and for them to be eventually raised by the government.
9. We no longer make enough offspring to perpetuate our civilisation.
10. And finally: there is little to zero love, kindness, and humaneness left around here. We seem to have stifled all of it with the warring energy we’ve been emitting for the past hundred years. This was the reason nobody thought it necessary to assist Adichie in carrying her bags in Sweden. Any citizen who argues the opposite is either delusional or merely lying.
I’m wrapping up and probing: Do I enjoy having such a gloomy reality as a member of the Finnish society? I certainly don’t. Can I live with it? I have been living with it and am now very used to having it as my reality. But would I like to see the same system replicated in Nigeria—my first country? The answer is a strong no. Tellingly, when Adichie was then asked in Sweden about how she sees Nigeria evolving and the sort of society it might eventually become; she answered that she hopes it evolves into its own kind of society and doesn’t resemble the Swedish one. Rather shamefully, this was the same Adichie who fights tooth and nail to export Scandinavia’s feminism to that same beloved Nigeria—her only refuge, my only refuge, from the madness of our joint Western existence. And she’s eager to wreak havoc over there in Nigeria with her tireless presentation of impulsive sermons, keen to upset the balance, and one suspects it’s also because she’s desperate to sell more books—at the expense of her own people’s lives and happiness now and later.
Another mini moment of bliss: Books like ‘The Twilight series’, ‘The Harry Potter series’, ‘The Fifty Shades trilogy’, ‘PS, I Love You’, were all written by women of our times. But how come we rarely hear of these women and their socio-political opinions? It surely has to be for the truism that a sophisticated human is first and foremost humbled by their success. And such humbleness (which in essence is ‘sincere gratitude’) is best expressed by one’s actions as opposed to their potentially bogus words. Therefore these women—despite their individual top tier achievements dwarfing Adichie’s rather seriously—lead their private and professional lives with a grace that compels the stranger to reckon, even from afar, that these achievers are surrounded by the right set of people.
As I indicated in my subtitle, this is not a politically correct presentation. And so I’ll go ahead to remark that according to my Igbo culture, when a woman goes about town or country acting out of control and spewing sheer arrogance as has been the case with Adichie the writer, sensible adults tend to point fingers of blame at one ultimate culprit—a vacuum—and it specifically has to do with the absence of a real man in the woman’s life, either as a strong father figure, or as a strong and influential brother or partner. One could say ‘husband’ instead of ‘partner’ if they will. (And I add that this fourth is also the final vacuum.)
Of her name-changing declaration—i.e. ‘Nobody can force me to change my surname’—a Nigerian commented thusly on social media: ‘I have known Adichie to be an idiot! I don’t blame her; her husband’s name doesn’t open doors.’ Indeed, faceless strangers could be more sensitive and sharp-eyed than we give them credit for. But how Adichie has brought herself so low would baffle any observant mind. Because Nigerians are now logically tearing her apart, and I should add, in a style they very much relish.
Otherwise stated: the Igbo, my people of south-eastern Nigeria, understand that nature abhors a vacuum—a favourite philosophy of my good friend, Mitterand Okorie. It’s also a universal knowledge that a woman is, by nature, ever ready to become exploitative once the man slacks. The relationship between a man and a woman, for those who know better, is therefore a never-ending game of the mind and emotions. I hasten to add that the urge to take advantage of a man or of the vacuum he allowed when he relaxed and stopped being the man, is even larger and much wilder in a black woman’s frame. An African-American comedian once joked that ‘Once a sister makes 9 dollars an hour, she thinks she’s Oprah’—id est she becomes impossible to handle or be with. Meaning that it’s hard, evidently, for most black women to be both successful and classy. Again, since most Nigerians wrongly understand ‘class’ to mean ‘fancy and flashy physical appearance’ I should mention for a second time that in the international sense—the correct sense—‘class’ stands for ‘tact and sophistication of the mind’. I speak here of that correct meaning of class. Can you be equally successful and humble? Can you be successful and still recognise the value of class, embracing it fittingly? Can you be trusted? It seems the temptation of acting crassly and harshly never ever vacates the black woman’s space—more so once she has had a taste of some professional success.
Why else did Adichie choose to address the grown men vying for the Caine Prize as ‘my boys’—with no pun intended—the very height of arrogance and tactlessness! And we all saw the writers, to whom she referred, fighting back. The decisive verdict is this: In the international field of courtship, the Black woman is purely not the most attractive option, because Asian women, White women, Arab women, Hispanics, would fare much better. It’s no wonder then that black men—where they are presented with options—may increasingly feel tempted to date outside their communities. These are interesting times. And happy people with class don’t explain their choices to the world.