The Feminisms of Feminism
The Feminisms of Feminism
On May 29, 2015, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a stunning commencement speech at Wellesley College, a small but powerful women’s college in Massachusetts. Adichie is an inspirational writer, speaker, and woman. Adichie’s speech was filled with cute anecdotes, amusing add-ins, and motivating stories from her and her mother’s lives. Of course, as she was giving a speech at a women’s college, Adichie could not get by without discussing feminism. But her approach was well versed and thought-provoking and left students, faculty, and others tuning in much to mull over.
The main focus of Adichie’s speech was the emphasis on how different people have different viewpoints and interpretations of feminism and what it means to be a feminist. Adichie shared an experience of her mother’s in which she chaired her first university meeting. A sign that said “Chairman” headed the table, and noticing the error, a clerk went to remove the sign with apologies. “All the past meetings had of course been chaired by men…The clerk apologized and told her he would find the new sign, since she was not a chairman.”
Adichie’s mother refused this offer. “Actually, she said, she was a chairman. She wanted the sign left exactly where it was…She didn’t want anybody to think that what she was doing in that meeting at that time on that day was in any way different from what a ‘Chairman’ would have done.”
Many, including Adichie herself, find this story to be a very moving and feminist example. However, Adichie commented that a feminist friend of hers did not agree with the praise. “‘Why would your mother want to be called a chairman, as though she needed the man part to validate her?’ my friend asked. In some ways, I saw my friend’s point.”
In this simple story, Adichie addressed what many people so often ignore when it comes to feminism: that there is no one feminism. Of course, there is the definition of feminism that a simple Google search will display as “the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” But within that one definition are hundreds of viewpoints, experiences, and opinions—not all of which flow together. Anyone who identifies as a feminist should take care to note that other people’s feminisms are still feminism*.
Some feminists are quiet feminists. Some are louder. Some enjoy being called a “chairman” instead of “chairwoman,” because to them it represents doing the exact same job as a chairman. Some much prefer to be called a “chairwoman” because it represents their gender while they do the same job as a male counterpart. This goes far beyond chairpeople, obviously, but the example still stands.
What is important is that feminists recognize that they will not always see eye-to-eye with other feminists, and that’s fine. As long as they are both supporting feminism, they are free to support it in their own varying ways.
One of her most striking statements to me personally was her response to the notion of feminism being “an elite little cult, with esoteric rites of membership.”She said, “Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms.”
Often times, when we find a cause we are passionate about, we become so engaged with our own perception that we fail to note that others see things differently. This is why many women do not support feminism. They see the cause differently. It can be frustrating at times to have a notion in your head and realize that so many people around you do not see or understand that viewpoint.
But instead of getting defensive, angry or frustrated, we should do our best to share our thoughts and beliefs, while listening to and supporting others. We’re not supposed to all think the same way, but whether we are talking about chairs, life, or feminism we should aim to coexist peacefully.
The best way to practice tolerance is to practice love. It makes sense, then, that Adichie ended her speech by commented about love. “To love is to give and to take. Please love by giving and by taking. Give and be given.”
Take Adichie’s speech and take over the world, feminists--inclusively, of course.
*A necessary disclaimer is that non-inclusive, hateful, and discriminatory feminisms are not true depictions of feminism. Advocating for the equality of women to men means advocating for the equality of all women to men. Feminists who refuse to acknowledge the struggles of women of other races, sexualities, body types, abilities, etc. are not representing true feminism and are instead further discriminating women, thus invalidating the cause.
A link to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech and transcript, provided by Wellesley College, can be found here
Kimberly Wolfie Roe is 17-year-old college first year with too many hopes and dreams. She aspires to one day find them all a happy reality. Until then, she can be found reading, writing, producing and participating in theatre/film productions, learning about languages and cultures, social media managing, and generally existing to the best of her ability.