Beyonce and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Make Feminism Go Viral

| December 16, 2013
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Despite her celebrated status within the writing community (honors include a MacArthur Fellowship and being one of The New Yorker‘s “20 Under 40″), most people hadn’t heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie until Beyoncé surprised the world with her visual album last week. A snippet of “We should all be feminists,” Adichie’s TED talk on feminism, was sampled on a song called “Flawless” in an attempt to finally pin down the definition of feminism. You might not think that this is necessary, or maybe you even believe that Beyoncé isn’t one to be lecturing about the topic, but, despite the tireless work of everyone from Gloria Steinem to Tavi Gevinson, there is still some confusion surrounding the term.

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’

Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?

We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.

Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When asked whether they are feminists, famous women too often distance themselves from the idea either because they think being a feminist somehow means they hate men (“I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men.” — Lady Gaga), or they think the term has a negative connotation (“I think when people hear feminist, it’s like, ‘Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.’ I love that I’m being taken care of and I have a man that’s a leader.” — Kelly Clarkson), or they think being a feminist means you’re a negative whiner (“I think [considering myself a feminist] would isolate me. I think it’s important to do positive stuff. It’s more important to be asking than complaining.” –Bjork), or that it means you’re a lesbian (“For me, feminism is bra-burning lesbianism. It’s very unglamorous.” — Geri Halliwell a.k.a. Ginger Spice), or they suffer from cognitive dissonance (“I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” — Katy Perry, while accepting Billboard’s Woman of the Year award). The list sadly goes on.

When misogyny is so deep-rooted that even women are led to believe that feminism is a dirty word, and when feats like the one Wendy Davis executed this summer are still necessary,  it becomes abundantly clear that the struggle for gender equality is far from over. Which is why the Adichie sample in “Flawless” is such an inspired Trojan horse move on Beyoncé’s part. A pop song is arguably the most viral form of communication that exists in our culture. By placing the actual definition of feminism in what is bound to be a hit song, Beyoncé guarantees that millions will not only hear it, but memorize it. The power of this, the youth of the world chanting the definition of a feminist, holds the potential for changing the world. Some might argue that pop music is hollow, worthless fluff, but Beyoncé with Adichie’s help is proving that pop music at its best can be a dialogue, a place of activism, a vehicle for change. Together, they’re proving that what’s more infectious than an earworm is an idea.

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About the Author ()

Emmanuel Hapsis studied creative writing at University of Maryland, College Park and went on to receive his MFA in the field from California College of the Arts. After a few years of odd jobs, he landed at KQED, where he worked his way up from an intern to being the lead producer of a literature podcast and then the creator and editor of KQED Pop. In his free time, he teaches yoga and sings his heart out at karaoke.
  • http://ouchimoo.blogspot.com/ Ouchimoo

    It’s not that feminism is a dirty word because misogyny is so deep, it’s because there are a class of women who are misandrous or have such terrible ideas of what equality are. Yet like any group of people with a stand, the loudest and most out front tend to be the ones that are the most off base. That paints terrible caricaturization of what a feminist is to the point where a lot of people don’t want to be associated with the word any more.

    • Bridgette Rodriguez

      You understand it well. I have never been a feminist and never will be, despite the definition given, because for many years so many feminists have exhibited that they only care about things that affect women to the point of excluding men and harm that may come to them, too. (For example, boys/men are also victims/survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, including by women.) While I have certainly had to fight discrimination against me before (by men) because I am a woman, it doesn’t mean I can’t also see how feminism, itself, has become discriminatory in so many of its approaches and it doesn’t prevent me from caring about all genders/people, including males.

  • Cheryl

    Fantastic article, though I am biased, because I have the same perspective. Thank you for having the talent and drive to verbalize what I’ve had difficulty saying. I’m sure you know this already, but Ellen Page once stated similarly that we know we’re living in a patriarchal society when the word ‘feminist’ has a bad connotation. Thank you again.

    • Kunninglinguist

      The word feminist has a bad connotation because of bad women hijacking the concept and tainting it

      In fact if we did still live in what could be deemed a “patriarchal society” they wouldnt be allowed to preach the sane and balanced version of feminist rhetoric never mind the bitter vengence driven version of it and yet not only is it quite widelypushed but is so commonplace that many men and women have to do a double take before they recognise how it differs from anything even vaguely resembling equality

  • Kunninglinguist

    I think there are two main streams of feminist nowadays though,one of which undermines the entire concept of feminist but both of whom claim to be “feminists”

    Feminism is, or was a quest for “equality” for the sexes, but as some label as the post modern feminist movement been hijacked by more extreme and even quite misandrist people and viewpoints to come across as looking move for a complete reversal of any power inbalances rather than an equalisation or for some people actually sounding like they are seeking some for of payback for sexism
    These self proclaimed feminists dont only harm the concept of feminism and the movement itself but have caused many women I know to avoid using the term because they now see it as tainted by what I have heard other women describe as “man haters” claiming their views are feminist ideals
    The problem though is that with any type of organisation seeking any type of equality the more success they have the more “reasonable” people leave as things reach the level of equality that they wanted, which then by reduction means that the extremist views start to become a larger percentage of the whole over time
    If we look around nowadays there are quite clear signs of things that are anything but “equal” either being sought, or which are already in place that were sought under the guise of “equality” and because their are so many amoral people in power willing to follow any cause to prolong their political careers these ridiculous concepts gain traction
    I have to admit that even being aware of these two almost diametrically opposed versions of “feminism” I have seen I have to work very hard to objectively hear the views from any woman I know is a lesbian because they do seem to make up the majority of the more extreme viewpoints that I have seen thusfar, so the ones that are genuine feminists are that much harder to spot as a result

  • Kunninglinguist

    What should also be noted is that the misandrist version of self proclaimed feminists dont seem to like women that much either
    Their version of feminism isnt about women being able to “choose” what lifestyle they want whether its motherhood, being a traditional wife/partner, a career, or variations of those
    They come across as quite antagonistic to any woman who wants a more traditional role and make it sound almost like they are letting the team down, and tend to only push the view that having kids is optional, a career isnt and men,,, well why bother at all after impregnation
    And as most, maybe 80% or more of the women with that type of view seem to be gay I suppose the last bit really isnt surprising lol
    But for the women gullible or easily enough led to try and adopt that sort of mindset it can be hell, because not that many people can comfortably or happily try to have both a career and be a single parent, Its great if youre rich, have a degree and a high paid job, are a celebrity, or did well in a divorce settlement
    But for many normal everyday women they find themselves struggling under the pressure of trying to do two things which both are better suited to being a full time pursuit and often find themselves not being able to do either as well as they would like
    So it now seems that women dont only need to try and avoid the oppressive views of men, but maybe to a greater extent nowadays also need to push back against harder to spot oppressive views of other women too