Some Thoughts on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


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So, in yesterday's Good Stuff, I included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's newest book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. And then, while I slept, a good friend posted this to my Facebook page.

And that's when I began muttering "goddammit" under my breath like it was my job.

Because, goddammit, I was not expecting this kind of Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) bullshit to be coming from this particular source. Granted, I haven't yet read Adichie's books and have only listened to her interviews and TED talk, and so my anticipatory inclusion of her latest book under the heading Good Stuff might have been a huge mistake. I hope not. I hope it's as useful as I assume it is, and for all readers and all parents - cis and trans, male and female, privileged and marginalized.

But there's no way I can read it now without defensively looking out for transphobically dismissive logical fallacies. This, frankly, is a good practice when reading any book dealing with gender, but, shit. I didn't think I'd have to be on the lookout with Adichie's work. What a goddamned disappointment. Goddammit.

And you know what's really disappointing about this? in the above clip, she's assuming that she can decide who is and isn't a woman, who does and doesn't have gendered privilege, much in the same way as, say, an old white southern man can decide what is and isn't racist. Which, in this interview from last year, she convincingly argues that he can't.

Seriously, this BBC interview from last year was first goddamned thing I thought of while watching her deny that transwomen are women and posit the nonsensical claim that a closeted or pre-transition transwoman has the same privilege as a cis male and more privilege than a cis woman. Basically, as a cis woman, who the fuck is she to say a thing about what the experience of trans people is, what the experiences of transphobia or trans-denial or trans-exclusion or trans-elimination are? For her to assume the authoritative privilege of determining who is and isn't a woman is absurdly hubristic and obscenely disdainful, to say nothing of being logically inconsistent to her insistence in other contexts that it is the marginalized who determine what constitutes a violation of their margins. It is identical to R. Emmett Tyrell trying to tell a Black woman what racism is and isn't. It is bullshit. It is goddamned bullshit, and it is goddamned disappointing.

And I still want to read her book, perhaps even more than before knowing of her trans-exclusionary beliefs. At the same time, I surely don't want to pay her to read her written words when her spoken words have so hurt and denied the validity of the trans community. So I'll take the same half-assed route I took when I wanted to see Cate Blanchett's performance in Blue Jasmine, but I didn't want accused child molester Woody Allen to directly profit from my consumption of his media: I'll wait for the book to become available at the library or hope to find a copy at Goodwill. Adichie's are ideas I want to read, understand, possibly apply to my own practice of feminism, or possibly critique and dismiss. But I'll be goddamned if she gets a cent from me for the effort.

I do hope this is a learning moment for her. I do hope that she issues a stronger response than she already has to criticism of her saying that trans-women are not women, one that acknowledges that, while trans-women and cis women may have different experiences of womanhood, they are all women in the end. I do hope that she can learn from the mistakes of her worst words so that I can learn without reservation from her better ones.

But, until then, goddammit. God-damn-dammit.