As an Afroyinbo, one thing I found fascinating about Nigerians is their capacity for communal amnesia. One minute they place someone on a pedestal; they can do no wrong, the sun rises out of and sets on their backside.
Then, before you know it, one foot wrong, and the wheel of fortune has turned 180 degrees.
They are now the persona non grata. However, just like any paragon of virtue can overnight turn into a pariah, the villain can also turn a victor in years to come, and collectively Nigerians forget their less than rosy past.
Hence, the collective outrage on social media as Nigerians went up in arms over an innocuous question posed by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to former American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
The author had interviewed Hillary Clinton at the PEN World Voices Festival lecture in Manhattan on Sunday night and one of her questions had been on why the former First Lady of the United States made her Twitter bio begin with “Wife.”
Adichie wanted to know if it was Clinton’s preference to first be identified in relation to her domesticity, and, if so, why. “In your Twitter account, the first word that describes you is wife. And then I think it’s mom, and then it’s grandmother,” Adichie said, “And when I saw that, I have to confess that I felt just a little bit upset. And then I went and I looked at your husband’s Twitter account, and the first word was not husband.”
Amused, Clinton simply responded, “When you put it like that, I’m going to change it.” She then added that women should be able to celebrate both their personal and professional achievements.
After that, all hell broke loose on Nigerian Twitter; debate stirred around the definition of feminism and whether Adichie’s brand of feminism was a toxic man-hating.
Isn’t feminism based on the principle that women can be whatever and whoever they choose to be? That women have the agency to define and own their own narratives?” asked a Facebook user. “So if an almost all-conquering former Secretary Of State (who almost became the most powerful woman in the world) also sees herself as a wife, what’s wrong with that?”
Another ranted, “When did Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie become a voice for a woman’s identity. The danger of the feminist narrative is when we start telling women what they should be. Isn’t that what patriarchy has been doing for decades. How about misogyny? Don’t confuse young women please? This is why some women are utterly lost…”
“You can run the world, or run your home.. There is no box to be fitted in… Stop shaming women! If a woman chooses marriage or motherhood as her identity then so be it,” they continued.
Within hours, Adichie responded through her Facebook page, defiant: “I completely stand by my question and by my conviction that it is a subject that matters.”
I was still shocked by how the darling of Nigerian literature was being vilified right, left, centre stage because of a question that had completely been taken out of context. As she explained in her post, “considering [Clinton’s] personal history, it just didn’t seem to fit.”
As she posed the question, the author had considered Hillary Clinton’s past as the target of vicious criticism when she chose to keep her last name, when she stood by her husband, when she resisted the status quo, dared admit “she wasn’t planning on “staying home and baking cookies”’ and of course, when she was expected to account for the policies of her husband’s administration – during her own presidential campaign
“Feminism is indeed about choice. But it is intellectually lazy to suggest that, since everything is about ‘choice,’ none of these choices can be interrogated. Choices are never made in a vacuum. And sometimes, for women, choices are not always real choices,” Adicihie responds to her critics.
If feminism is about choice, as much as Clinton is entitled to define herself in relation to her domestic role over her professional accomplishments in her Twitter bio, Adichie is just as much entitled to her opinion about the matter.
If feminism is about freedom of a woman’s self-expression, why is Adichie vilified for expressing her opinion as long as this is done in a sensitive, considered, empathetic manner which was the case with her question? She never attacked Clinton for her choice, but merely expressed her own feelings in the context of Clinton’s past struggles.
As for those who accuse the author of hypocrisy over her decision to get married and have a baby, I struggle to see the logic in their argument. I do not recall ever hearing the author speak against marriage or motherhood.
She has always been steadfast in her opinion that a woman should not be defined by her domestic role, not that a woman should never get married or have children.
She has been adamant that as a married woman she wouldn’t drop her pen in favour of the frying pan, she has often reiterated that she would expect her husband to input just as much into raising their daughter.
“I think we need to stop giving men cookies for doing what they should do,” she said in a 2017 interview promoting her book Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, and explained that her husband, who needs less sleep than her, tends to get up in the night to tend to the baby. “On the one hand, I realise that my husband is unusual; on the other, I feel resentful when he’s overpraised by my family and friends. He’s like Jesus.”
For anyone who has taken the time to read, or even Google excerpts from Dear Ijeawele, where she writes, “Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood” it is not hard to see why she may have felt upset by Hillary Clinton’s choice of the ‘wife’ tag above all else.
This most recent attack on the author reminds me of the backlash she received in 2016 after appearing in a beauty campaign. The sentiment behind the attacks then was centred on what her attackers felt was her hypocrisy as a feminist who promotes make up.
If we claim we understand feminism then surely we would know it does not rule out having opinions on another woman’s choice or looking pretty? Isn’t it time we dig deeper into the context of concepts and ideas before attacking people, denying them the right to express their opinions.
Then again, why worry? This is Nigerian social media after all; today’s vicious vitriol will tomorrow turn into prattling praise – just wait till Ms Adichie drop her next bestseller.