Unless you’re a Nigerian without access to social media, or really any kind of media, you’ve probably heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The only contemporary black literary icon who has as much political and social influence as Adichie is probably Warsan Shire and both have collaborated with Beyonce, the biggest contemporary popstar in the world. But Adichie was already conquering the world with her speeches long before her carefully enunciated words on the ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ Ted Talk to Beyonce’s suddenly visible feminism in 2014.
Several events have happened in the intervening years that have polarized the world when it comes to Beyonce, splitting them into clearly defined groups of increasingly vocal supporters comprised primarily of African feminists and women of colour, vocal antagonists made up of ‘traditionalist’ African men and men of colour alarmed that Adichie’s gender politics throws ‘African’ values right out of the window and those who remain undecided.
As the woman who helped millions of young Nigerian women see and embrace feminism from their own personal perspectives, Adichie achieved almost god-like status. And it is this status that has inevitably led to her very own, if very contained scandal. As part of an interview with British press about her personal work and her latest book, a series of essays addressed to a young Nigerian woman ‘Ijewele’ she was asked about trans women and if their lived experiences somehow separated them from comfortable in skin (cis) women*.
“Transwomen are transwomen…Gender is not biology, gender is sociology” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pic.twitter.com/WwYgf4wNPr
— Hi. Watch This! (@HiWatchThis) March 11, 2017
That was her response.
It clearly divided the global feminist community into two distinct lines; comfortable in skin women and their allies (which include some transwomen and most cis male activists) and trans women and their activists. But generally the vibe was that Chimamanda was a TERF (a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) whose views were only open and inclusive except for when it came to trans women. The TERF is second only to the radical misogynist in feminist circles and is often vilified instead of educated.
I cannot speak for Chimamanda and adequately decipher what her motives were for her statements, though she did give this press statement via her official facebook after the interview.
Chimamanda after her interview said this today. pic.twitter.com/NKhG5VcuNU
— Letlhogonolo (@Mr_Mokgoroane) March 11, 2017
There is no easy way to say this; whether it was miscommunicated or intended, Chimamanda’s response came off exclusionary and divisive instead of intersectional. So instead of pontificating; I will share my personal thoughts.
- Perhaps it is time for the feminist community’s cis women to defer to trans women when it comes to trans issues and trans identity. Asking a cis woman if a trans women is ‘real’ or not perpetuates the idea that trans women cannot speak for themselves, and are invisible. They are not. If cis women defer to trans women, the way white women are learning to defer to black women and women of colour when discussing their lived experiences, perhaps the discussion will move on a lot faster.
- Chimamanda is human and fallible, Feminism, as with all other forms of social justice is a constant recalibration and reevaluation. This is an opportunity for Chimamanda, and all of us to reevaluate ours.
- Intersectionality requires that we face the extant world as a single entity and fight for equal rights where feasible. But it also requires us to acknowledge our differences internally, so when we fight the extant world for rights, we are fighting from a place of understanding of all women’s issues, and can best fight for rights that ‘intersect’ with all our unique problems.
- Cancelling people is over, it is time consuming and pointless.