Analysis of Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston Talk

Categorical influences including gender, social class and race, dictate the quality of life. Considering that individual experiences alter, it is imperative to acknowledge the localities and social location of an individual in order to determine their needs and their respective forces of inequalities. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie focuses on the localities and social location in Africa, and specifically, Nigeria. She reveals many experiences in her life, and in her surrounding African, cultural society wherein there are problematic injustices associated with gender inequality. In order to provide a credible argument, she uses radical, multiethnic/multiracial, social constructionist, liberal, marxist and socialist feminist theories, ideologies relating to feminist studies of men, and terms pertaining to postmodern feminist and third-wave feminism. In Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston Talk, We Should All Be Feminists (2013) (00:30:15), the many feminist theories are used to emphasize the need for feminism in everyday life. Although a few gaps in her presentation will be discussed throughout the discourse of the essay, Ngozi Adichie successfully makes her argument as to why we should all be feminists

Among the first theories introduced in her TEDxEuston talk, Ngozi Adichie uses radical feminism to emphasize the impacts of misogyny, meritocracy and sexual violence towards women as contributions to inequalities existent in Nigeria and Africa. Misogyny is exemplified through the negative responses towards Ngozi Adichie identifying as a feminist. She highlights 3 major encounters wherein she was advised to not readily identify with feminism because feminism was either ‘not their culture’ or it was ‘for women who are angry because they cannot find a husband’(TEDx Talks 00:01:15-00:03:20). Then meritocracy becomes evident when Ngozi Adichie’s friend Louis suggests that gender inequality does not exist. Contradictory, he shows confusion when the waiter thanks him instead of Ngozi Adichie although she was the one who paid. Irregardless, Ngozi Adichie suggests the need to grasp the systemic privileges by the roots in order to combat gender inequalities.

In addition, Ngozi Adichie uses multiethnic/multiracial feminism to highlight the impacts of outsider within, womanist and the establishment of hegemonic ideologies. Ngozi Adichie exemplifies the concept of outsider within when referring to being told that feminism is not African. To combat the criticism, she identifies as a “happy African feminist” (TEDx Talk 00:02:25-00:03:38). Since multiethnic/multiracial feminist theories contribute to “(…) reclaiming the ‘power of a free mind’ [, it] constitutes an important area of resistance. Reversing this process whereby intersecting oppressions harness various dimensions of individual subjectivity for their own ends becomes a central purpose of power” (Hill Collins 236). Feminist theory allows Ngozi Adichie to apply a womanist standpoint in order to dismantle the oppressions in Nigeria and Africa, yet the reinforcement of hegemonic ideologies indicates that “to maintain their power, dominant groups create and maintain a popular system of ‘commonsense’ ideas that support their right to rule” (Hill Collins 234). 

Furthermore, Ngozi Adichie uses social constructionist feminist and liberal feminist theories to challenge the gender inequalities faced during her youth when attempting to become the class monitor, and challenge the difference in values concerning breadwinner/caretaker gender positions. She emphasizes the impacts of a gendered social order and structuration, which relate to social constructionist feminism, and gender stratification, the glass ceiling and the glass elevator, which are liberal feminist contributions. Primarily, Ngozi Adichie reflects to her childhood experience wherein her teacher said there would be a test at the beginning of the year to determine who would be the class monitor. Ngozi Adichie remembers being eager to patrol the class for noise-makers and thus she studied hard. She got the highest score on the test, but “then, to [her] surprise, [her] teacher said that the monitor had to be a boy. She’ve forgotten to make that clear earlier, but she thought that had been obvious” (TEDx Talk 00:04:02-00:05:24). Thus, the boy who earned the second highest score became the class monitor even though his character didn’t fit the job like Ngozi Adichie’s did. In the past, the person in power was the strongest in order to secure survival, but presently, survival is not dependent on strength (TEDx Talk 00:08:00-00:08:45). It is dependent on intelligence which is not inherently gendered, yet “our bodies, personalities, and ways of thinking, acting, and feeling are gendered. Early and constant gendering gives us the illusion of inborn sex differences, but social construction feminism argues that gender differences are not sex differences” (Lorber 208).  Also, as a result of inherently believing that the character between women and men is biologically different, gender roles are reinforced. Women are reliable for caretaking while men are the breadwinner. Ngozi Adichie tells a story where a friend thanked her husband for changing their child’s diaper (TEDx Talk 00:21:35-00:22:00). Ngozi Adichie is surprised by the nature of a woman thanking her partner for being a father, whereas “gender flexibility in breadwinning and caretaking helped parents and others meet children’s economic and emotional needs” (Gerson 41). 

Similarly, Ngozi Adichie uses marxist feminism and socialist feminism to challenge the injustices faced in the workplace while bringing attention to the Lilly Ledbetter Law. Primarily, in terms of marxist feminist theory, Ngozi Adichie contributes to dismantling the phenomenon of the gender wage gap, the expectations regarding social reproduction, and suggests consciousness raising as a tool to critically analyze the inequalities because “a single woman’s occupation and income level are devalued by her gender. A married woman’s class status is defined by her husband’s occupation, income, and education” (Lorber 72). Ultimately, Ngozi Adichie brings light to a society where women are paid less for the same job as a man, and she witnesses her friends pretending to like women’s work/household work for the sake of marriage (TEDx Talk 00:18:40-00:19:10). Considering the Lilly Ledbetter Law, the Act is supposed to amend the wage gap and combat the lack of women in positions of power because “the higher you go, the less women there are” (TEDx Talk 0007:35-00:07:58). The gender segregation in the workforce versus housework is due to the gendering of abilities. For example, socially, we believe that men are more suited for the workforce while women are suited for caretaking. Consequently, women’s work is devalued, yet Ngozi Adichie suggests that consciousness raising can prove that “in their ways of thinking and feeling, men and women are different, not because their brains are wired differently, but because their life experiences give them diverse demands of family on women are an additional aspect of complex inequality, with marital and social penalties” (Lorber 80). Women are taught to aspire for marriage and care for her husband, while men are not taught the same (TEDx Talk 00:14:20-00:14:30). The initial establishment of the preconceived notion of gender roles is introduced during childhood, and thus, it is a belief that is carried through life. 

Continuing on the notion of gender roles and marriage, Ngozi Adichie incorporates theories of feminist studies of men in regards to masculinity and undoing gender. Aforementioned, Ngozi Adichie states that in Nigeria, we “raise boys to be ‘hard man’, while we raise girls to cater to the needs of men and aspire for marriage” (TEDx Talk 00:11:20-00:14:30). Raising boys to be “hard man” results in the reinforcement of hegemonic masculinity that can manifest through toxic masculinities. Men reject traits of caring to separate themselves from the woman, but that also rejects their ability to openly feel emotions (TEDx Talk 00:11:20-00:00:12:50). Thus, Ngozi Adichie suggests that “the research and critiques of feminist studies of men could be used for a political movement that rebels against the current gender order, but it would need a concerted effort that includes hegemonic men who are willing to give up their dominance” (Lorber 276). An imperative step in accomplishing the paradigm shift includes the cessation of the term ‘emasculation’; as Ngozi Adichie notes, once we rid ourselves of emasculation, a woman’s success does not need to threaten a man (TEDx Talk 00:13:20-00:13:40).

Lastly, Ngozi Adichie uses postmodern feminism to bring our attention to performativity and third-wave feminism to highlight the effects of slut-shaming, victim blaming, and gender roles. Ngozi Adichie recalls an event where she felt imposed to dress in an ugly pantsuit in order to be taken seriously at a business venture, meanwhile she dearly wanted to wear a femininely-styled skirt (TEDx Talk 00:22:30-00:23:15). The performativity reflects a form of gender control; through the storytelling, Ngozi Adichie “ focuses on gendered identities, body displays, and sexualities, showing how they are shaped and manipulated by individuals and can be used to transgress the social order (Lorber 285). In terms of third-wave feminism, Ngozi Adichie uses the feminist theory to combat the cultural ignorance towards the negative impacts of slut-shaming, victim blaming, restricting sexual desire for women, forcing them to hold onto their virginity, and reinforcing gender roles/norms through texts. Specifically, Ngozi questions the cooking gene. It appears that women carry the supposed gene, yet the genius chefs are all male (TEDx Talk 00:19:45-00:20:10). Gender prescribes how we should behave, and “by occupying female subject positions in innovative or contradictory ways, third-wavers unsettle essentialist narratives about dominant men and passive women and shape new identities within the interstices of competing narratives. There is no one way to be a woman. …” (Snyder 309). Women can be sexually liberated, hold positions of power, be valued as a caretaker and be the genius innovator. 

Thus far, notably, Ngozi Adichie has made several contributions to feminist theories in order to emphasize the need for feminism in quotidian life. Although her presented argument is strong, provided with credible evidence, there are a few gaps in her presentation. Ngozi Adichie mentions that “we have evolved, but it seems to [her] that our ideas of gender have not evolved” (TEDx Talks 00:08:42-00:08:52). It is not the statement that becomes problematic, but rather the notion in which she recognizes the evolution of gender ideologies, meanwhile she continues to make her argument through heteronormative examples. As noted throughout the essay, she provides arguments that are based on heterosexual relationships and the binary. As exemplified previously throughout the discourse of the essay, Ngozi Adichie establishes scripts wherein gender impacts the roles of marriage between a man and woman, the concept of virginity versus a man and woman, the success of an individual in the workplace limited by the glass ceiling or encouraged by the glass escalator, or treatment in hotels and bars as a woman alone or accompanied by a man. Although the examples are validated and weigh-in on gender inequalities, they omit the experiences of non-binary gender identifications and dynamics that are not heteronormative. 

Nonetheless, Ngozi Adichie shows the viewer the importance of theory in quotidian life through her use of many feminist theories and connections to personal stories. The importance of the incorporation of feminist theories ultimately aids in dismantling the lack of respect towards women and subordinate groups. Ngozi Adichie acknowledges the lack of respect in society and targets the source of inequality. Pedagogies and agents of socialization become primary sources, wherein “we teach respect as something that a woman should show a man, but often not something that a man shows a woman” (TEDx Talks 00:15:30-00:15:44). Consequently, the lack of respect results in injustices such as gender wage gaps, the reinforcement of gender stratification, sexual harassment and violence, the devaluation of women’s work/housework, and the lack of safety for a single woman. Consequently, in Lagos, one cannot go into bars and hotels alone as a woman; they will be taken as a sex worker (TEDx Talks 00:08:50-00:09:50). Similarly, a young Nigerian woman was gang-raped by 4 classmates and she was questioned as to why she was alone with 4 men (TEDx Talks 00:17:30-00:18:00). The epidemic of inequality, due to lack of respect, is transnational. Recently, a young woman was murdered in New Zealand. The media coverage exposed the horrific norm of victim-blaming; she was questioned as to why she was traveling alone, her reasonings being up with a male stranger late at night was questioned, and yet no one was quick to ask ‘why did the man take advantage, and kill her?’. Hegemonic men tend to lack awareness of the social disposition of women, and the lack of understanding results in a lack of respect which results in problematic behaviour. Respect is not reciprocated, and thus inequalities are produced. Ngozi Adichie shows that feminist theories provide a platform where reciprocated respect can be established with the understanding of social location and the needs of women.

In conclusion, although there were gaps in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s presentation, her TEDxEuston talk, We Should All Be Feminists, successfully emphasizes the positive impact of incorporating feminist theories into quotidian life. Through feminist theories, women are acknowledged and there inequalities are validated. The problematic exclusions can be fought, and when many men don’t question, “why don’t you greet her?”, the exclusions are reinforced (TEDx Talk 00:24:25-00:24:50). The major influences to gender inequality rely on the notion that many men don’t try to change or view the inequalities. As a solution, Ngozi Adichie suggests focusing on undoing gender, while focusing on talents, skills and abilities (TEDx Talks 00:20:35-00:20:50). She states that society has evolved to a point where the person in true positions of power is no longer the strongest, but they are the most intelligent and creative (TEDx Talk 00:08:00-00:08:50). Attributes of mind power are not determined by gender, yet cultural beliefs have the tendency of affirming the notion that it is. More importantly, Ngozi Adichie notes that “culture doesn’t make people, people make culture…” and thus we must make culture more inclusive for women (TEDx Talk 00:27:90-00:28:16). Women need to make culture and feminist theories are accessible tools that make the cultural shift possible .


Works Cited

Gerson, Kathleen. “Children of the Gender Revolution”. Gender Inequality, 5th ed., 2012. Pg. 

38-45.

Hill Collins, Patricia. “Black Feminism, Knowledge, and Power”. Gender Inequality, 5th ed., 

2012. Pg. 234-237. 

Lorber, Judith. Gender Inequality. 5th ed., Oxford University Press, New York, 2012.

Snyder, R. Claire. “What is Third-Wave Feminism?”. Gender Inequality, 5th ed., 2012. Pg. 

307-313. 

TEDx Talks. “We Should All be Feminists: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: TEDxEuston.” YouTube

12 April 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg3umXU_qWc&t=283s. 

Footnotes

  1. Roth, Jennifer. “Week 5: Radical Feminism”. Theorizing Equalities. Lakehead 

University, 4 Sept.-3 Dec. 2018, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture note. 

  1. The Afrolegalise. “Radical Feminism.” YouTube, 2 May 2016, 
  1. Roth, Jennifer. “Week 10: Multiracial/Multiethnic Feminism”. Theorizing Equalities. 

Lakehead University, 4 Sept.-3 Dec. 2018, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture note. 

  1. Roth, Jennifer. “Week 9: Social Construction Feminism”. Theorizing Equalities. 

Lakehead University, 4 Sept.-3 Dec. 2018, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture note. 

  1. Roth, Jennifer. “Week 1: Liberal Feminism”. Theorizing Equalities. Lakehead University, 

4 Sept.-3 Dec. 2018, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture note

  1. Dent, Georgina, et al. “Backpacking Did Not Kill Grace Millane.” Women’s Agenda, 10 

Dec. 2018, 

womensagenda.com.au/latest/backpacking-did-not-kill-grace-millane/?fbclid=Iw

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