Sunday, July 12, 2020

What I'll Be Reading in July 2020

It is unlikely that this July I'll be reading many new publications. With the Black Lives Matter movement resurging in June after the killing of George Floyd, it became clear to me again that I have many books that have been published even decades ago that I need to catch up on. Therefore my pile of books 'To Be Read' turned from a manageable stack of perhaps 5, to a mountain of well over 15.

I have paper copies of Wole Soyinka's Aké and Teju Cole's Open City, both of which my mother purchased in past years, to read. In terms of e-books, I was already reading Wrestling with the Devil by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and have now moved on to Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. In between, I managed a few articles from the Anti-Racist Reading Guide put together by Victoria Alexander, and when those are done there are a lot of books that she has recommended. And aside from paper and pixel texts, I've been watching more videos from African-American YouTubers in the 'BookTube' community.

Of course part of this reading and watching is 'hopping on the bandwagon.' But I'd be foolish to ignore good book recommendations and good YouTube recommendations just because they are also part of the zeitgeist.


On another note, after picking it up in a bookshop yesterday, I have finally read We Should All Be Feminists. It is a bestselling book based on a speech that novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave at a TED conference in the UK, a conference centred specifically on countries in the African continent.

It is not a long book. It is also not a revolutionary book if it's compared to the feminist canon just on the basis of its ideas. But it mixes anecdote with declarations of opinion and purpose, it has refreshingly little jargon (academic or ideological), and it is engagingly presented. And I think it is a brisk, encouraging starting point for the early 21st-century reader.

As an adult, Adichie identifies herself as a feminist. But she has been amused, or surprised, by the reactions to feminism in general of people to whom she has spoken.

As a feminist, people worry she might be ill-tempered, un-African, man-hating, etc. So she jokes that she has eventually needed to call herself a "Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes to Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men."

Cover, We Should All Be Feminists
Design by Joan Wong (website)
Penguin Random House, 2015

In Nigeria and in the United States, Adichie has been confounded by gender stereotypes that persist without a logical foundation. When she pays a tip to a self-assigned 'pilot' who guides car drivers to parking spots, for example, he thanks the man she is with; he presumes that the man is the breadwinner.

Gender roles also strictly define everything from marriage to the types of careers we undertake. But she wants "A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves." This begins with how we raise children.

What would happen, she wonders, if teenage girls and boys can go out on a date, and the teenage boy is not expected to pay — whoever has more money can pay? (I don't really know how dating etiquette is in practice in Nigeria or in North America, to be honest; so I wasn't sure if she was speaking more of gender roles in Nigeria, where some of her anecdotes take place.)

"[I]f we start raising children differently, then in fifty years, in a hundred years, boys will no longer have the pressure of proving their masculinity by material means."

If men are not raised to feel that financial muscle is part and parcel of their masculinity, it reduces the pressure on them. It even reduces pressure on women — women no longer feel that they need to earn less, if they do not want to 'intimidate' men.

A passage from Adichie's speech that people like to quote on Goodreads is:
The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves if we didn't have the weight of gender expectations.

One of the weaknesses of her speech is in ignoring lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and people with infertility. "Men and women are different," she declares. "We have different hormones and different sexual organs and different biological abilities — women can have babies, men cannot." I don't know if this is purposeful, but I presume/hope not; maybe she just hasn't devoted much time to thinking of this aspect as other aspects interest her more.

At the end of We Should All Be Feminists, Adichie writes that her definition of a feminist is a person
who says, 'Yes, there's a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.' 
All of us [...] must do better.
I hope that we will also do better by exploring the nuances of gender: related (or integral) problems like racism, prejudice against people with disabilities, transphobia, ageism, and classism.


We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
New York: Anchor Books (2014)

The speech itself:
We Should All Be Feminists | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | TEDxEuston [YouTube: TEDx Talks] (2013)

No comments: