Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie whose latest work Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions was published in March, covers the latest edition of The Stylist in none other than the Dior shirt her words inspired.
“We Should all be Feminists” is of course the title of her 2013 TEDX talk which went viral and got published as an essay in 2014 and also got sampled by Beyoncé in her hit “Flawless” the same year. “We Should all be Feminists” is mandatory reading for Swedish school students and two weeks ago inspired the opening speech at a European Parliament Women’s Economic Seminar.
In her interview with The Stylist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about this phenomenal talk as well as feminism.
On why “We Should all be Feminists” continues to strike a chord
“Because misogyny continues to thrive in the world; because gender equality continues to exist, and I think that it speaks to something women all over the world identify with; it gives language to it. I have to say I was surprised by it – I didn’t think that it would have much of a reach when I gave that talk.”
What fans mostly want to say to her
“It’s been a lot of women saying you’ve made me feel better or stronger or more hopeful. I remember one Nigerian American woman in New York, who was pretty much in tears, saying, “Until I read you I didn’t have a sense of who I was, and reading you made me have a sense of identity.” We’ve kept in touch. Then there was a Danish woman in Copenhagen who talked about how I’d given her a name for what she was feeling and that I’d made her feel stronger. And I really had to hold myself; I was like “Where’s the tissues?” I was moved.”
On the Dior fashion show
“A lovely handwritten letter came from Maria Grazia [Chiuri], who is the creative director of Dior, and I was utterly charmed by it. It was long and passionate; about how she’d read everything I’d written, and about her feminism and how strongly she felt that it was important today – especially for young women – to be out there about gender equality. As much as I love fashion, my first thought [about going to the show] was ‘Oh no… I’ll be bored.’ But I’m so glad I went because it was interesting; I felt like an anthropologist. And Maria Grazia was as lovely in person as her letter, and we had the most animated conversation. Then when the models who were frighteningly skinny were walking [the catwalk], I heard my voice from my talk. I didn’t know that would happen, so I was sort of taken aback, like what the hell? But there was something really nice about it, you know?”
On the benefits and downside of being quoted by a fashion brand
“I think what Maria Grazia wanted o do was obviously symbolic, so I don’t think that putting that on a T-shirt is going to change the world. But I do think symbolic things start conversations. Actually I remember after the show standing outside and hearing a man say: ‘I don’t know why that should be on a T-shirt.’ And I was kind of amused by that. It made me think: maybe that’s why it’s on a T-shirt. Because you could tell there was a hostility about it. Do I think there’s a downside? No. I don’t. When it comes to feminism, it has to be mainstream.”
On being the face of Boots No. 7 last year
“It’s my way of saying this is absurd: we cannot say that a woman who is interested in make-up, for example, is automatically frivolous. So I was constantly asked: isn’t it surprising that you are a feminist and you would do this, and I’m like, no! Because I’m a feminist and I wake up some mornings and just want to put the brightest colour on my lips and it makes me happy and it doesn’t make me any less intelligent or any less intellectually curious. This is a conversation that is about misogyny; the idea that the things considered traditionally feminine have to be degraded and diminished.
On the African women she admires
I admire Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who used to be the finance minister in Nigeria. I admire Ama (Ata) Aidoo, a Ghanaian writer. I admire Graça Mahel who is a total babe and used to be married to Nelson Mandela.
On what it is like living in America currently
“It’s strange. I wake up every morning and think, ‘What’s happened now?’ It’s almost like the idea of what is real is something that you can contest and we’re somehow arguing facts. It’s like a bad novel. Disappointment is now the norm.”
On words levied at women that irk her
“When I hear a woman described as arrogant – I think because I often am – it annoys me because a woman who does not apologise for occupying her space very quickly becomes arrogant, in a way that a man doesn’t. ‘Polarising.’ Oh lord. That word was used so often for Hilary Clinton and I remember thinking, ‘What are you really saying when you say this?’ Then on the other hand, words like ‘virtuous’ bother me. And not in all contexts, but also ‘humble.’ To apply it to women is often to say there’s something about her that doesn’t threaten and I’m always wondering what’s behind that.”
Read the full interview over at The Stylist