Summary of We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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7 min readDec 1, 2021

We Should All Be Feminists by bestselling Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a prominent figure for social change, diversity, and global women’s rights, draws on her personal experiences growing up in Nigeria, as well as her thoughts on what it means to be a feminist, and how gender roles and norms are detrimental to both men and women.

The book begins with a brief introduction, in which Adichie explains that the vignettes were inspired by a lecture she gave during a conference focused on African culture and literature. Admitting that she knew her discussion of feminism and the stereotypes that accompany the word would be unpopular, she hoped that both the lecture and the subsequent book would lead to an important conversation about both African and global feminism.

The book then jumps into a series of vignettes, primarily about Adichie’s childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. In the first story, Adichie recounts a conversation with her friend Okoloma, who died in 2005. She and Okoloma, close friends, enjoyed debating with each other about challenging topics, including politics, books, culture, and religion. In a heated debate, Okoloma had called her a feminist — though Adichie admits she didn’t know what the word meant at the time, Okoloma had said it with malice, as one might say the word “terrorist.” Adichie never forgot that moment.

In another story from her childhood, she and a boy in the class were rivals for the position of hall monitor. Though Adichie received the best score in the class on the most recent test, the teacher selected the boy for the position. Although Adichie knew this was unfair at the time, she didn’t understand that the teacher’s choice came from his own familiarity with seeing men in positions of power. When Adichie finally asked the teacher why she didn’t get the position, the teacher said he thought it was obvious that the position would have to go to a boy. Adichie takes on other moments of sexism common in Nigerian culture when she writes about a male companion who didn’t understand why she was upset when a valet thanked him for the tip she paid. Adichie had to explain to him that despite the fact that she had given the valet the money, he assumed that Adichie’s money must have come from a man, and thus thanked her male companion.

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Discrimination is Everywhere

If you’re unfamiliar with feminism, you may find yourself approaching this book with questions like, “Why do we even need feminism now?” or “Don’t women have it pretty great?” And on the surface, that might appear to be true. After a long history of sexist discrimination, women now have the right to vote, to own property, and to work outside the home. In many cases, women also have the freedom to own their own bodies by having access to abortion, birth control pills, and the freedom to wear what they want. So, given the existence of these multitudinous rights, why do we still need feminism? What else do we need to fight for? The author observes that there are actually a number of areas in which women still face discrimination. The workplace is one of the primary arenas in which inequality is blatantly displayed. For example, many people are aware that the gender pay gap exists. But a recent study conducted by the popular website PayScale has shed some new light on the subject. PayScale’s Gender Pay Gap Report for 2020 reports that “recently, pay equity has been thrust under a glaring media spotlight.

The #MeToo movement of 2018, which began as an outing of sexual harassment and sexual assault, cascaded into analysis of gender inequality in the workplace in 2019, encompassing not only pay inequity but also barriers to advancement and representation of women in leadership. In addition, several high-profile class action lawsuits have made pay equity a hot topic in executive boardrooms across the country. Our research shows that the uncontrolled gender pay gap, which takes the ratio of the median earnings of women to men without controlling for various compensable factors, has only decreased by $0.07 since 2015. In 2020, women make only $0.81 for every dollar a man makes.”

Sexist Stereotypes Create Social Snares

Unfortunately, these are just some of the tactics that are used to hold women hostage. In the previous chapter, we mentioned that women are often penalized in the workplace if they have children. But working mothers are also subjected to a number of social penalties. For example, everyone understands and agrees that a child needs to spend time with their parents. But no one complains when fathers work long hours, miss school plays, or fail to be there for their child. By contrast, when a working mother is running late or brings a store-bought snack to soccer practice instead of a home-made option, she is criticized as a bad mother or accused of prioritizing her job over her child. These criticisms all stack up to solidify the impression that a woman’s place is in the home and that women should devote their lives to being mothers and homemakers. As a result of this unfounded and sexist prejudice, many working mothers and career women lack the support they need

And if you choose not to have children, you haven’t escaped the struggle or the stigma — not by a long shot! That’s because sexism is notorious for creating impossible double standards. If you have children and you work, you’re a bad mother. If you don’t have children, you’re often belittled and treated like a second-class citizen because women are expected to be wives and mothers. No matter what you do, you can’t win! And even if these biases aren’t legally enforced, social stigma is a powerful threat that can make life unbearable for many women. Sexist biases also fail to consider a number of important factors like the fact that not every woman can have children. And likewise, even if they have the physical capability to give birth, many women simply don’t want to! Both of these are completely valid reasons for not becoming a parent and both should be respected. Instead of treating women like breeding stock, maybe we should consider the fact that every woman is a human being with rights, desires, and preferences of her own. And no woman was put on this earth for the sole purpose of giving birth!

Equity vs Equality

Through the course of the previous chapters, we’ve examined a few of the reasons why feminism is necessary and why women still face discrimination. But now it’s time to take a look at some answers. If everyone was a feminist, what would that mean for our society? How would our lives change? The author posits that the answer lies in differentiating between equity and equality. The Equality and Inclusion office at Winston Salem University provides a helpful explanation of these differences when they assert that: “the terms equality and equity are often used interchangeably; however, they differ in important ways. Equality is typically defined as treating everyone the same and giving everyone access to the same opportunities. Meanwhile, equity refers to proportional representation (by race, class, gender, etc.) in those same opportunities. To achieve equity, policies and procedures may result in an unequal distribution of resources. For example, need-based financial aid reserves money specifically for low-income students. Although unequal, this is considered equitable because it is necessary to provide access to higher education for low-income students.” When applied to feminism, this principle would mean that we strike a balance between equity and equality with regard to our treatment of men and women. For example, we could acknowledge that men and women are different, both physically and mentally, and that we should address their differing needs. This might mean that we make appropriate allowances for working women who have children and might need such accommodations as paid maternity leave, child care, etc. Likewise, our society might put an increased emphasis on safety and equality for women that would help to shift our perception of women’s rights. By eliminating victim blaming and slut shaming, we could begin to end rape culture and help women to feel safe, go out, and enjoy themselves without the fear of being objectified or sexualized by men.

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Final Summary

Ultimately, Adichie examines how gender roles and gender norms in Africa and beyond are detrimental not only for women but for men as well — by limiting the roles that each gender can play in society, everyone loses. She makes a plea at the end of her book for everyone, no matter gender, country of origin, race, religion, or sexual preference, to embrace feminism. She encourages men to consider how sexism has forced them to avoid being vulnerable, and how it forces women to appear weak. At the end of the essay, Adichie defines feminists for herself, saying that in her mind, feminism is the act of admitting that there is something wrong with gender as it stands in the world today; feminists are the people who are invested in talking and doing something about it.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of novels, short stories, and non-fiction. She was born in Enugu, Nigeria. Her most recent novel is Americanah. She has won many awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Women’s Prize for fiction.

Feminism has often been maligned and misunderstood. As women have fought for equality, they have been accused of hating men or attempting to create a society that privileges women over men. But nothing could be further from the truth! Rather, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, feminism is simply the belief that women should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as men. And if we were all feminists, we could end discrimination in society and in the workplace. We could cultivate a culture of equity that bridges the gap in gender equality and enables women to feel empowered, safe, and supported. That’s why we should all be feminists: because feminism simply makes the world a better place!

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