Following the controversy after a Channel 4 interview broadcast on 10 March, Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie has reiterated she has nothing to apologise for.
Adichie came under fire when she suggested in an interview last week that the experiences of transgender women, who she said are born with the privileges the world accords to men, are distinct from those of women born female. She was criticised for implying that trans women are not “real women”.
Following backlash, Adichie followed up with a Facebook post on 12 March but described it as a clarification rather than an apology.
Defending her stance during a public appearance in Washington on Monday night, Adichie said, “This is fundamentally about language orthodoxy. There’s a part of me that resists this sort of thing because I don’t think it’s helpful to insist that unless you want to use the exact language I want you to use, I will not listen to what you’re saying.
“From the very beginning, I think it’s been quite clear that there’s no way I could possibly say that trans women are not women. It’s the sort of thing to me that’s obvious, so I start from that obvious premise. Of course they are women but in talking about feminism and gender and all of that, it’s important for us to acknowledge the differences in experence of gender. That’s really what my point is.”
“I didn’t apologise because I don’t think I have anything to apologise for,” she added, “What’s interesting to me is this is in many ways about language and I think it also illustrates the less pleasant aspects of the American left, that there sometimes is a kind of language orthodoxy that you’re supposed to participate in, and when you don’t there’s a kind of backlash that gets very personal and very hostile and very closed to debate.
“Had I said, ‘a cis woman is a cis woman, and a trans woman is a trans woman’, I don’t think I would get all the crap that I’m getting, but that’s actually really what I was saying.
“But because ‘cis’ is not a part of my vocabulary – it just isn’t – it really becomes about language and the reason I find that troubling is to insist that you have to speak in a certain way and use certain expressions, otherwise we cannot have a conversation, can close up debate. And if we can’t have conversations, we can’t have progress.”
Speaking of the vitriol she received following the interview, Adichie said, “It was unpleasant, and I think it was unpleasant not because of the sort of criticism and vitriol and hostility – which I’m used to, because I think if you make the choice to label yourself feminist publicly it just comes with the baggage – but in this case it came from my tribe, my tribe being women who believe in equality.
“But really, my position remains: I think gender is about what we experience, gender is about how the world treats us, and I think a lot of the outrage and anger comes from the idea that in order to be inclusive, we sometimes have to deny difference. I think that because human difference for so long, in all its various forms, has been the root of so much oppression, sometimes there’s the impulse to say let’s deny the difference, as though by wishing away the difference we can then wish away the oppression.”
This echoes over-optimistic claims of a post-racial society, the award-winning author continued. “In some ways it’s like the idea of colour-blindness, which is, I think, just a really hollow idea that if we say we don’t see colour, then somehow all the oppressions will disappear. That’s not the case …
“I think there were people who felt I was somehow making a point about the Oppression Olympics: you haven’t suffered enough. It’s not at all that. It’s simply to see that if we can acknowledge there are differences, then we can better honestly talk about things.”by