Recently, writer cum feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently caused a furor with her remarks on Beyoncé Knowles and feminism. In an interview with de Volkskrant, Adichie said:
“In the first place: of course Beyoncé asked permission to use my texts, and I did give her permission. I think she’s lovely and I am convinced that she has nothing but the best intentions. In addition, Beyoncé is a celebrity of the first order and with this song, she has reached many people who would otherwise probably never have heard the word feminism, let alone gone out and buy my essay.
“But I was shocked about how many requests for an interview I received when that song was released. Literally every major newspaper in the world wanted to speak with me about Beyoncé. I felt such a resentment (laughs loudly). I thought: are books really that unimportant to you? Another thing I hated was that I read everywhere: now people finally know her, thanks to Beyoncé, or: she must be very grateful. I found that disappointing. I thought: I am a writer and I have been for some time and I refuse to perform in this charade that is now apparently expected of me: ‘Thanks to Beyoncé, my life will never be the same again.’ That’s why it didn’t speak about it much.
“Her style is not my style, but I do find it interesting that she takes a stand in political and social issues, since a few years. She portrays a woman who is in charge of her own destiny, who does her own thing, and she has girl power. I am very taken with that.
“Still, her type of feminism is not mine, as it is the kind that, at the same time, gives quite a lot of space to the necessity of men. I think men are lovely, but I don’t think that women should relate everything they do to men: did he hurt me, do I forgive him, did he put a ring on my finger? We women are so conditioned to relate everything to men. Put a group of women together and the conversation will eventually be about men. Put a group of men together and they will not talk about women at all, they will just talk about their own stuff. We women should spend about 20 per cent of our time on men, because it’s fun, but otherwise we should also be talking about our own stuff.”
In the resulting uproar, I was opportune to come upon a Facebook post by Ladan Osman, where a resounding point was made about the writer’s remarks. Check on it below.
“There are more than a few funny things here:
“ONE, Chimamanda has no need to ‘explain herself.’
“TWO, Adichie suggesting that “books are unimportant” because “a celebrity of the first order” created a media frenzy around her work stinks of elitism and interdisciplinary insensitivity. One can read an image, and one can receive an album as a text. We’re also long past tome-worship eras. The image-makers are the idol-makers. Critics and artists have a responsibility to learn to read text, image, and performance. Beyoncé engages all three. The subtext is a question of (real) art, of valuing. This is extra confusing following Adichie’s (joking) “resentment” that this system of signs doesn’t recognize she’s been a writer for “some time.” Is it a system whose recognition is valuable or not, then? Beyhive disease is real. HBIC disease is real.
“THREE, shade often supports patriarchy. Sly insults and their plausible deniability are not good foundations for discourse. It’s a hand over the mouth to whisper or to cover a laugh. Beyoncé has taken “a stand in political and social issues, since a few years.” She has “girl power.” What is the physical and metaphorical distance between Adichie ascribing “some time” to her craft, and “a few years” to Beyoncé’s public politics? Why does something inside me cringe at this apparent praise of “girl power” in a critique of a feminism that may attack Beyoncé’s ideological maturity? When will we stop using girls to shade women? What does a girl feel when she receives this message? I remember always disliking the so-called protective “women and children.” When a girl, you are a child who will one day be a woman. In this conception, you’re double-weak. To use biology or time (girl+hood) to sneak-attack philosophical or ethical maturity seems sexist. I hope to move towards an exit of this temporal and physiological harem. (Recall Chimamanda “boyed” a [yes, problematic] writer in 2013, also framed as kind or playful)
“FOUR, Adichie’s feminism is definitely not mine (whatever that means). It’s pleasant that she postures as evolved enough to accept other feminisms. That’s a modern feminist’s key pivot in commentaries like these. I certainly understand and agree with critique on the content of many Beyoncé lyrics, associated imagery, etc. But what’s really interesting is even as Chimamanda resists Beyoncé’s focus, she uses the example of men to direct women’s conversational orientation! We should be more like them? What? If the critique is the focus, or more accurately the point of origin, how does it work to make men the model? Isn’t she doing the thing she’s attempting to undo? This is also a relational conception engendered not in a multitudinous humanity but in a reaction. Any orientation that is essentially an effect is not empowering. The shade isn’t masterful but the circuitous logic (both in Adichie’s words and this platform’s excerpts of the interview) is: disdain the values of popularity and male-centered thinking, even while using these as the bases to argue for your positioning as a worthy artist, as a feminist so evolved, you can tell women what percentage of time they should spend talking about men.
“To be clear, I don’t vibe with the so-called Beyhive, with trickle-down feminism, HBIC/drag-a-bitch feminism, status quo maligning yet upholding politics. That way says: Hey I’m hollering cuz you’re standing on my head, then bows down again over and over. That way *describes* (I mean that geometrically, too) a problem, disguises it as a kind of solution.”