One time someone wanted to know my thoughts concerning roles in the marriage institution. How I thought couples should share responsibilities, especially with regards to either sticking with what tradition defines or embracing more unorthodox ways. I replied by saying each couple should determine how they would like to “run” their marriage. If they wanted to conform to the traditional African narrative that says the man should bear all financial obligations while the woman takes care of the kids and domestic chores, good for them. If on the other hand, they opt for a more unconventional approach or turn tradition on its head outright by switching roles, then, good for them also.
Recently, I was also invited to speak at a seminar. The host had gone ahead to describe me as an entrepreneur, in the flyer designed for the event. This did not really sit well with me and I immediately mentioned I would prefer to be tagged “Writer” instead. Not because being an entrepreneur is in any way condescending, but because “Writer” is what I want people to see when they think of me in relation to my career.
At the Pen World Voices Festival lecture that held in Manhattan last Sunday, celebrated writer and author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie court controversy during her interview with former US First Lady and presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton. Chimamanda revealed she got a little upset when she observed the leading word on Clinton’s Twitter bio to be “Wife”. She couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that as accomplished as the former Senator is, she chose to label herself with a word that reduces her to the appendage of a man. “How shockingly mundane.” she must have thought.
There have been disapproving remarks in response to what has been widely perceived as a gutsy and misandry-induced question from the Nigerian writer. Some have tagged Adichie’s brand of feminism as toxic and intolerant. Why should it bother her that another woman chose to wear the toga of wife proudly? What right did she have to attempt to foist her views on feminism and marital relationships on others? It’s safe to say those who feel the renowned author goofed on this one far outnumber those who think otherwise.
After watching the clips of the interview, what I found unsettling was Adichie’s choice of words. I kept wondering why the word “Upset” should feature at all in her comments. Why in the world would anyone be upset about how another person (especially when they aren’t family or a close friend) chooses to describe or qualify themselves? Beats me hollow!
When Chimamanda started trending for the controversial question, I wasn’t too moved by the responses and the amount of flak she was getting. I am well aware that people are often irrational and quick to jump on a bandwagon on social media. A post or comment is only one reply away from being misinterpreted and then someone would go off on a tangent with their criticism without attempting to understand the context of what was said.
Aside from this, Chimamanda has found herself on the wrong side of the Nigerian online community a couple of times. Because she holds unpopular views on sensitive subjects like patriarchy and feminism, a good number of people already have a bias towards anything she stands for.
I am an unapologetic Chimamanda fan. I have never made any pretences about my love for her work and some of her views, even though I’ll admit I do not necessarily agree with everything she says. I also believe she is super intelligent and it is undeniable that she is one of the shining lights for the younger generation.
However, on this issue, Chimamanda goofed. Her remarks on Sunday portrayed her as one who has a problem with women identifying with their men. Even though she tried to buttress her point by referring to the contrast between Hillary’s bio and that of her husband, Bill, it didn’t do much to compensate for the “out of line” query.
There’s no rule that suggests there must be a correlation between how the two individuals in a marriage choose to define themselves. Public figures like Barrack Obama and John Legend also described themselves as husbands in their bio, yet, it’s undeniable they made a more than a decent president and artiste respectively.
My understanding of feminism is that women should be accorded the same rights as men. The cause is premised on how our common humanity should see us enjoying the same privileges. Feminism seeks to advance the cause of gender equality. It really is that simple.
However, these days, the feminist movement has devolved into many fragmented parts. Different versions are being sold to young ladies and if one fails to critically examine where they stand in the midst of the cacophony of voices, they’ll have their head spinning from the diverse narratives.
One time my friend and I were in a discussion about what really counts as an achievement in life. I had opined that I didn’t consider marriage an achievement because one didn’t need to be intelligent, interesting or even beautiful to get maried. I mean, every Tunde, Naomi, and Brown get married every day, what’s special in that? However, I had a rethink when someone made an interesting point that if in this vast, often confusing cosmic, one was able to find that special person who complements them in every way and really does make them happy for the rest of their life, then marriage could indeed be deemed an achievement.
It also occurred to me that the definition of achievement (like many other things) is personal. What I would tag an achievement may be considered as unspectacular as the sun rising during summer by another. If someone had always aspired to be married… If they had hoped and prayed to build a happy home with someone else… If marriage was top on the list of their priorities while growing up and somehow, they were able to pull it off. They not only found a significant other but one who proved to be all they have ever dreamed of, pray tell, how’s that not an achievement?
To suggest that Chimamanda is a misandrist like some have labelled her is taking things too far. After all, she is not only married, her husband has stepped out with her to a few events. I honestly believe she was only intrigued by how Hillary chose to identify herself. I believe it was sheer curiosity and maybe “curious” is the word she should have employed instead of upset.
Nevertheless, this latest furore has once again thrown up the discourse on what feminism really preaches, because currently, the dividing opinions on the subject are not only tiring, they are making a mockery of the essence of the cause.
Frontline proponents of feminism need to make up their minds about what they actually stand for. Are they truly about society allowing women to be who they want to be without judgement or victimisation or is there an underlying motive to topple the current status quo and have a matriarchal society instead?
This is a pertinent question they should be willing to answer. If the former is the case, as should be, they need to focus on strictly advancing gender equality rather than stir up an unwanted battle of the sexes.
P.S: If there’s anything that confirms Hillary Clinton was only being diplomatic in her response, it is in the glaring Twitter bio that remains the same after she had mentioned she would change it following Chimamanda’s question.