Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book 6: We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As I've mentioned, I teach AP Language and Composition at the high school I work at. For those unfamiliar, AP Lang is an all nonfiction, rhetoric-based class, as opposed to AP Literature, which is for the fancy readin' and theory learnin' to raise future English majors. I took Lit in high school because my very small rural middle-of-nowhere school didn't offer anything else, but I have a feeling Lang is the more useful of the classes (says the modest AP Lang teacher). Anyway, I focus on issues of social justice in my attempt to turn all of my students into screaming leftists, and for the most part I've been very happy with the results.

I've got race and class covered, but I've had a very hard time finding what I felt to be an accessible, intro-level text on feminism or gender rights in general. I've made a concentrated effort to address this in my reading the past year, but have run into several dead-ends. I think, however, Adichie's (very) slim volume is going to help me finally fill out this part of my curriculum. Adapted from a TED Talk that it's likely you've heard, We Should All Be Feminists is conversational, engaging, covers a wide variety of issues, and puts out a call that all can understand and take steps to answer. Adichie humorously traces her "labeling" of her feminism early on, going from a Happy Feminist to a Happy African Feminist to, eventually, 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. That paragraph alone opens avenues for all sorts of conversations about the perception of feminism in our culture. (I read this for the specific purpose of bringing it to a high school classroom, so much of my review will be written with that in mind.) While the African bit of the equation gives the feminist-resistant in the audience an easy out ("we're not Africa - we're a much more equal society!"), I feel like the Women's March this past weekend provides enough of a window into the mindset of America outside of the Brooklyn bubble. (To wit, Slate had the reaction of some Trump supporters who witnessed the March, and said things like, “I just don’t understand why they are marching. I don’t know what rights they are losing or what’s being threatened... The only thing I can see that might be threatened is abortion rights, a little bit. Most of this is not necessary at all.”)

Adichie ends with, "All of us, women and men, must do better." Since so much of, um, the conversation right now focuses on getting the conversation started, I feel like that is appropriate, useful, and, most importantly for my purposes, actionable. A lot of my kids realize that feminism is good, because they believe in equality, but they just don't know all the things that go into feminism. As one of the speakers at the March this weekend said, criminal justice is a woman's issue. Income inequality is a woman's issue. Healthcare is a woman's issue. Looking at society through that lens, I hope, will be an easy and useful leap for my kids (says the white, heterosexual, cisgender male who will be teaching his students about feminism). 

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I use a chapter from Lois Tyson's Critical Theory today as an intro to feminist theory. It's not appropriate for every HS student but it's helped me get a better sense of the shape of feminist thought beyond the cliches.