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In her TED Talk titled “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie discusses contemporary feminism through the lens of her own experiences as a woman and a citizen of Nigeria. During her thirty minutes of speech, she manages to address or at least touch upon several themes that are essential for feminism per se and, in particular, in the post-colonial world. By doing so, she also uses theoretical concepts that permeate gender studies, even though she does not necessarily refer to them directly. Adichie explicitly describes gender as socially constructed rather than inherently rooted in biology and examines how attitudes toward culture in the post-colonial world may reinforce gender oppression, but uses a simplified definition of feminism.
Worth Mentioning Things
The first thing that becomes evident from Adichie’s TED Talk is that the author perceives gender as a social construct rather than something inherently based on human biology. While she recognizes that the rationale to construct different genders comes from physiological differences of sexes, she always stresses that genders themselves are invariably the products of social engineering. Among other instances, this becomes evident in her discussion of a restaurant waiter greeting men and not women and assuming a woman cannot have money of her own, but only those given by a man. Adichie remarks that the waiter acts under the influence of his learned assumptions about gender, which taught him to perceive women as unimportant compared to men. This observation on the author’s part is entirely in line with Lorber’s “The Social Construction of Gender.” Lorber interprets gender as a process of constructing identities that are linked to rights, responsibilities, and, ultimately, social statuses. Therefore, Adichie’s interpretation of her encounter with the waiter who recognizes her as female and assigns her an inferior status as a consequence is a clear example of gender as a social construct at work.
Adichie also approaches the reality of feminism in the post-colonial world – specifically, in Nigeria. She notes that one of the objections against feminism she often hears is that the subordinate position of a woman is an integrated part of Nigerian culture, which is why questioning it is wrong. While Adichie does not elaborate on this topic further and limits herself to a simple observation that cultures change, her example approaches an intricate relationship between feminism and nationalism in the post-colonial world. In “Nationalism and Masculinity,” Enloe points out that the nation becomes especially important for post-colonial states as a source of both legitimacy and a shared identity. To reinforce their importance after the subjugation by colonial powers, which is still relatively recent in historical terms, post-colonial nation-states assume the role of the protectors of their population’s cultural identities that the colonizers suppressed. As a result, a post-colonial nation perceives existing gender hierarchies as a part of its culture to be defended and frowns upon feminist attempts to change them. Thus, a brief example by Adichie offers an insight into the complex interrelation between nation and gender in the post-colonial world.
It is also worth noting how the author approaches the term “feminism” and the concept of feminism. Both the title and contents of the speech suggest that feminism as an ideology and practice is not something limited by gender: just as there are women indifferent to feminism, there are also feminist men. For Adichie, the only thing necessary to qualify as a feminist is recognizing the problem with gender and aspiring to fix it, regardless of whether a person in question is a man or woman. She cements this assumption by revealing at the end of her speech that her brother is the best feminist she knows. However, this approach to defining feminism is oversimplified, as Kimmel points out in “Real Men Join the Movement.” The author of this piece notes that understanding the downsides of contemporary gender structures and aiming to fix them is only one part of being a feminist – another one is the firsthand experience of gender oppression as a woman. Compared to this elaboration, Adichie uses a simplified definition of gender, as calling men who share her ideas pro-feminists rather than feminists would be more terminologically accurate.
As one can see, Adichie’s relatively short TED Talk of thirty minutes touches on many profound concepts in gender studies, even though it does not always elaborate them at length. To begin with, the author consistently refers to gender as constructed to assign social positions rather than objectively rooted in human biology. This approach is entirely in line with the notion of gender as a social construct. Apart from that, Adichie points out that one of the frequent criticisms she receives as a feminist is that her convictions go against Nigerian culture. While not covered in detail, this example offers an insight into how a post-colonial nation as a self-proclaimed culture-bearer may perceive feminism as an alien influence akin to colonialism. Finally, the author also discusses the definition of feminism and offers the audience a simplified version that relies on recognizing and fixing gender inequalities but not necessarily experiencing them firsthand as a woman.
Adichie, C., 2021. We should all be feminists. [online] Ted.com. Web.