Sunday, January 23, 2011

“Feminism is when a woman wants to be like a man” Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

If you have not read the brilliant novel, “I Do Not Come To You by Chance,” please do everything possible to do so. You will be grateful to the writer for the many delicious passages, anecdotes, humor. Usually, when you’ve been this impressed by a book you’ll watch out for anything written by the author. Adaobi gave a couple interviews here and there. And based on some of her dazzling ideas she won me over.
Then came the Op-Ed piece in New York Times. The essay started out well on a seemingly smart, or perhaps smarty note, refreshingly brash. Not really bad, given that that’s exactly what attracted me to Nietzsche whose foulmouthed attack on all established philosophers from Socrates to even Immanuel Kant was not only refreshing, but solidly backed by profound insights. I thought Nigeria was about to produce a new, fearless writer; one who is finally ready to take it to the establishments. But then after the effervescence of the first paragraph, the essay quickly simmered down to a bland brew. Her jab at Achebe and Soyinka was so simplistic that I thought it was an attempt to puncture the moon with AK-47.
“Achebe and Soyinka are certainly masters, but of an earnest and sober style.” Achebe and Soyinka have no humor? And Adaobi forgot that humor is just an aspect of an important element of good writing. That element is entertainment, and the question that guides that element is this: is the writing pleasing? Does it entertain? Entertainment is, however, not only when I break into whoops of laughter while reading a book. I could be duly entertained by the author’s efficient uses of metaphors, sentence structures, diction, characterization etc. But entertainment is just an aspect of a realistic work of fiction. Indeed, without taking pleasure in the work, we wouldn’t go beyond the first ten pages unless we have to. To apotheosize humor in literature seems a bit off the mark. Of course I do not want to comment on her belief that in order to embrace Nigeria we have to reject our ethnic origins. This has been given due attention by others. I had however trusted that what has been perceived as misjudgment in her NYT piece was a slip of the pen. But then I read the interview in which she said this: “The impression I get when people talk about feminism is when a woman wants to be like a man, and am not interested in that at all.”
Nwaubani’s observation is not malicious. No, not at all; it is wrong. And it reveals a pitiful ignorance in the world of one who has attracted a significant global name recognition.
One thing is to not want to have anything to do with a particular thing/issue; it is another thing to reveal that you don’t even know what that thing/issue is. The idea that feminism “is when a woman wants to be like a man” is as pedestrian as Sarah Palin claiming to have expertise in foreign policy because Alaska is close to Russia. If my 81 year old, illiterate mother says the same thing, I will simply grin, knowing where she got her idea from. But for a winner of Commonwealth prize in literature to reveal ignorance of Virginia Woolf’s main concern (A Room of One’s Own); the existence of Mary Wollstonecraft, Simon De Beauvoir, or Buchi Emecheta (Joys of Motherhood), or Oyeronke Oyewumi etc, that makes me sad.
Should I throw in works by Nwaubani’s own contemporaries that should teach every Nigerian the ABC of feminism? Lola Shoneyin’s (So All the Time I was Sitting on an Egg and Baba Segi’s Wives) Unoma Azuah (Sky-High Flames) Sefi Atta (Everything Good Will Come) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Purple Hibiscus), Sarah Manyika (In Dependence). These are works that have opened (my already opened) eyes to the necessity of addressing the position and dignity of women in our uber-patriarchal African societies. Do I need to give another definition of feminism?
He who wants to write what is to be taken seriously should first read what has been taken seriously. At some stage in our lives the task of acquiring knowledge becomes a moral obligation if not for our private uses, then for the interest of those who may learn one or two things from us.

By the way, here is the interview in Daily Sun: I decided to write before I knew what to write on.
And here, again, is the NYT Op-Ed piece: In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse


  1. I think you're being a bit hard on Tricia Nwaubani! I've written a bit more on my blog:

  2. Geoff,
    I admire your generous interpretation of her opinion. However, remember that she was asked about feminism. Your interpretation presumes that she took issues with how people interpret feminism. Which is not the same as answering the question she was asked. So, she created a straw-man, only to attack it. Which is a fallacy. What then is her understanding of feminism? To supposedly attack other people's putative understanding of feminism is pointless given that one of her contemporaries has just been identified as decidedly feminist in her writings. But I take your sympathetic understanding. That's the nature of knowledge.

  3. I've read Geoff's very forgiving take on Adaobi Nwaubani's interview. Geoff infers that Chielozona Eze "accuses" Adaobi of being ignorant of the work of a long list of feminists who are here contemporaries. But there is no need to infer. The SUN interview quotes Nwaubani saying she has not read and does not read other writers. Wow.

  4. Points well taken. Nwaubani says, "I believe women should have the right to flourish and do whatever they want to so that nobody should hinder another person’s rights." That's certainly a feminist point of view, so her objection must be to a different (probably mistaken) definition of feminism.

    According to the journalist, "Though she has heard about many great books by other Nigerian writers, she can't just bring herself to read them." Does this mean she hasn't read *any* of them? Maybe or maybe not, but it does sound as though that might be the case.