We are made to feel as though we can be only one thing, that we can inhabit one space and find fulfillment through one dimension of ourself. Therefore, if you define yourself as feminist, you’re often seen as someone who knows no intellectual fluidity beyond an elementary understanding of what being a feminist entails.
In some regions of the world, people have been socialised to think that a woman ought to be in the kitchen, and a man the breadwinner. It’s as if there is a belief that the skill of cooking – as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie eloquently states – is incorporated in the vagina, and the simple fact that one is born female determines her role within the structures of society. Yet one would think that cooking should be everyone’s skill, as the ability to nourish one’s self is in one’s own interest –for survival, if nothing else. This belief, according to Adichie, stems from the socialisation of our female gender, which feeds into a system of social oppression we often define as patriarchy. Patriarchy describes a social structure that puts male individuals on a pedestal, while putting down female individuals.
This system is reflected in all aspects of social living. Attempts to dismantle this organisation of society comes under the umbrella term of feminism. Some branches of feminism are women-focused, others strive for equal opportunities for all. I often understand feminism to be welcoming of every voice, to be intersectional, although different approaches to contextual variation is important (hence the proposal of an African feminism).
Adichie, strangely, according to her own words, occupies this space of feminist thought, and her actions and words are often measured against the scale of feminism. So it’s not surprising that her thoughts on transgender women caused concern for some. In her defence, she argues that ‘we don’t have to insist that everything is the same in order to support’, meaning we can be different and want the same outcome of equal opportunities for all. In this sense, feminism is a methodology, as argued by Angela Davis, and this is the point of it all: Our differences matter, and we cannot conflate people in one space in order to see their value. We contain multitudes of thoughts, ideas, personhood and desires. Differences are not the issue. That’s why a woman can be a feminist and still desire and enjoy, for example, the company of a man.
There is no one way to be. Subscribing to a particular ideology doesn’t make other approaches to life mutually exclusive.