A Guide to Feminist Critical Thinking Featuring Should Have Been President Hillary Clinton and Auntie Chimamanda Adichie
It is highly troublesome that majority who call themselves feminist are so dependent on the thoughts of specific individuals in our societies like Chimamanda and can’t form their thinking independently or from outside learnings and through personal research. So, until Chimamanda says something, nothing about feminism is worth discussing or being. Let us call this, #feministslikethesundaysonlychristians.
If you came here, expecting me to pick a side between Hillary Clinton and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie based on the interview, I will suggest you exit this article and find something else to do. I love and support both women and I am only here to improve your thinking and provide a different perspective of the situation.
If you have also come here thinking that I will destroy feminism or hate it, you are sleeping on a bicycle, turn it elsewhere. Regardless of anything you read here, one thing you should know is this; just like Roxanne Gay said, I will rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.
Second lesson you should learn before diving in.
“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”
― Hillary Rodham Clinton
I have been a fan of Chimamanda Adichie for so long, not because I always agree with her all the time but because I can reason with whatever she says and form conclusions from it. I try my best to ensure that there are learnings in the conclusions I form.
Unlike many other expressions of feminism that are mere opinions which have effected little or no change in our thinking and communities, Chimamanda's criticisms and perspective comes from a place of knowledge and critical thinking. I admire Chimamanda’s authenticity in her thoughts and the intentions of it.
However, in these recent years, I have found that Chimamanda’s feminism and criticisms of patriarchy unknowingly attracts a set of knowledge and thinking-crippled feminists. These are the types of feminists that depend on emotions and empty anger to drive their thinking of women’s progress. These are the so-called feminists who can’t sensibly respond to criticisms against feminism itself and acknowledge the defects or even declining progress of feminism in our communities. These are the feminists or people who won’t call themselves one, who benefit from feminism but refuse to recognize it’s strive. Some of these people recognize feminism’s strive but diminish it rather than work to fix it. These are the feminists that I have written a diss track on my blog for. The diss track is titled: “My Pro-Feminism, Anti-Feminism or Feminism Can Be Better Diss Track.” Perhaps if Beyoncé catches a sneeze or if Rhianna songs get a hiccups on your phone’s playlist, you can slot in one of the songs from my diss track.
This article titled; “Catch Sense Not Feelings: A Guide to Feminist Critical Thinking” Featuring Should Have Been President Hillary Clinton and Auntie Chimamanda Adichie is a bonus to the previous diss track.
Not to waste time, I will skip past the situation that caused the fuss but if you are interested; watch it here.
I think this unnecessary fuss about Chimamanda Adichie's question and Should Have Been President Hillary Clinton’s response shows how problematic our feminism is becoming. It is highly troublesome that majority who call themselves feminist are so dependent on the thoughts of specific individuals in our societies like Chimamanda and can’t form their thinking independently or from outside learnings and through personal research. So, until Chimamanda says something, nothing about feminism is worth discussing or being. Let us call this, #feministslikethesundaysonlychristians.
And the moment that Chimamanda Adichie or the likes say things that we don’t like or agree with, we get offended at them rather than creating or evaluating our thinking based on what they have said. It is excellent to share Chimamanda’s thoughts, but it is problematic to be dependent on her thinking before you can identify as a feminist.
In defense of Chimamanda who has declared that she is not a brand, we need to recognize that she is a human being with opinions like us. She is not an idol, and if we are putting in more effort to discuss feminism and women’s progress like she does, rather than just swallowing every tiny thing that dresses in feminism, perhaps women’s progress will be faster and better.
Additionally, I think that to understand the content of what is said, we need to understand the speaker and her intention. We have unrealistic expectations from women who talk about women’s liberation and equality, and we often mistake their statements and stance as one seeking for attention and likability.
Dear Chimamanda Adiche’s public and social media atmosphere disowners, if you have been really paying attention long ago, you will remember that she said;
“I think of what our society teaches young girls, and I think it’s also something that is quite difficult for even older women and self-professed feminists to shrug off, is that idea that likability is an essential part of you, of the space you occupy in the world, that you’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likable that you’re supposed to hold back sometimes, pull back, don’t quite say, don’t be too pushy because you have to be likable. And I say that’s bullshit.”
In one interview that Chimamanda Adichie did in France, I think, she expressed her joy at a book signing event she had for “Half of a Yellow Sun.” She said that she derived pleasure when people started having discussions and arguments about Igbo history and the Biafra war based on her writings.
I am recalling both latter statements because it makes me imagine Chimamanda Adichie, smiling somewhere, at all of us right now. Her aim was achieved the moment we responded to the discussion between her and Hillary Clinton, not necessarily when we agree with her or like what she says.
Many criticisms against Chimamanda Adichie say that she is no longer worthy of being a feminist because by questioning Hillary Clinton’s biography, she has disrespected Hillary’s choices. Additionally they say that, if feminism is known for one thing, it is the right and freedom of women to have choices.
Well, if indeed you are a feminist, who believes in choices, we may turn the tables around a little bit. By insulting Chimamanda for her question, haven’t you disrespected Chimamanda’s choice to question Hillary Clinton’s choice of words in her Twitter biography? Read it ten times if you don’t get it by the ninth.
More so, if you watched the interview very well, the question was supposed to lead to a light-hearted joke when Chimamanda Adichie suggested what should be written on the biography and said, it can start with; “Should Have Been President Hillary Clinton, then wife, mother, grandchildren…” I see it as a knock-knock joke. If your impatience to jump on the public wagon did not allow you to see the end of the interview, go back to watch it with a new perspective. Chimamanda never enforced Hillary to change the biography, and totally remove her relationships from it, she simply made a suggestion on the arrangement of words.
That we should have choices, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question it. If the 20th-century men’s choices of women’s treatment and perspective of gender equality weren’t challenged, I wonder if we women will be educated. I imagine that Should Have Been President Hillary Clinton wouldn’t even have had a chance to run in the last American presidential election. I guess that most females who are demonizing Chimamanda’s feminism won’t also have a social media account to tweet their thoughts. Oh, just in case you forgot, feminism happened because men’s choices about women’s abilities were questioned in our societies.
I may be taking this case slightly more severe than it should be, but it is amusing to me how the same feminists that encourage women to speak up, criticize women for speaking up. I am forced to think that these for-face feminists don’t want women to speak up; they want women to say what they want to hear, in the ways that they want to listen to it.
The same feminists that want change, criticize anything that threatens their current position. One of these past days, I posted this quote on Instagram;
“Feminism is there to liberate women. Feminism is there to make women who think that they are free, rethink their liberation and make decisions from their new thought. Feminism is not there to only provide answers but to create questions that provoke thinking. Feminism is not here to say what women and all of us like to hear, about freedom, it is here to project what needs to be heard by all. If we do not question our current position, thoughts, and stance, we will not be able to create reasoning and authentic stories that push for change and rebirth of women’s equality and human equality for all.”
Additionally, we are as much of a solution as feminism poses to be, to many problems that women face in our communities.
Fallacies; Feminism’s best frenemy
Let’s use fallacies to understand how messed up this situation and feminism is. This is also a summary of a book titled; Asking the Right Questions by Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keely (Chapter 7) if you care to read it.
Fallacies are tricks used to convince an audience to accept a conclusion or agree with the speaker or the author. Feminism’s biggest fallacy is that it is the only cure to make women’s liberation happen and anything that questions feminism, is a threat.
Three common tricks to identifying fallacies:
The more questionable the assumption is, the less critical the reasoning will be. Fallacies bring up irrelevancies and distractions to support conclusions.
Understanding fallacies in light of Hillary and Chimamanda’s interview:
Ad Hominem fallacy: This Latin phrase means “against the man or person,” and it refers to arguments that attack the messenger rather than address the message. For example, Chimamanda questioned Hillary’s Twitter biography. The majority turned to attack Chimamanda Adichie instead of addressing the whole point of what she was discussing. These people are as dangerous as the ones who picked up magazines and newspapers about Hillary Clinton’s height of the heel, color, and price of the suit during her presidential campaign rather than listening to her points for change in America, if she were to be the president.
Slippery Slope Fallacy: This is when someone assumes that one event will cause an uncontrollable repetition of other unfortunate events. An example is concluding that feminism is crumbling because Chimamanda Adichie questioned Hillary’s choice of words.
Searching for perfect solution fallacy: This is when a person assumes that because a solution does not meet all the problems, the solution should not be adopted at all. An example will be when people say that we should not use feminism to address women’s issues because it is faulty. For goodness sake, feminism is not Christ!
A good follower recently commented on my Instagram rant saying:
“Until you settle for an objective definition of feminism, you feminists will continue to be at daggers drawn against one another.”
“Feminism is a human-made idea, and it is somewhat dependent on human nature and thinking as a guide. Our nature is constantly changing, so is our thinking. For feminism to sufficiently support women as it intends, it needs to change, and things can’t change if we don’t question them or have arguments like these in our communities. I will rather go for a non-objective feminism. We created it, and its creation is still in progress. It is a journey rather than a destination. Just when we reach equality in one area, there will be another area to address. It is somewhat impossible to separate ourselves from something that needs to evolve and effect changes through us. So, I don’t expect feminism to be perfect. We are not drawing daggers at ourselves; we are just reevaluating the way we think of ourselves and so many people are uncomfortable changing their thinking, let alone their environments. I like the imperfect feminism because it gives room for continuous learning like this.”
Additionally, I would say that the feminism that catered to women 20 years ago, is almost ineffective today. Regarding the topic of rape and domestic violence, as at 50-100 years ago, when women were victims of these unfortunate circumstances, the problem was that their voices were not heard at all. In the 21st century, the problem is not that women’s voices are not heard, it is that the stories of women whose voices have been discovered are not believed. This is why the #MeToo is essential and needed because for the first time in women’s history, women are believed. That is why people like Larry Nassar and Bill Cosby can face the consequences of their actions. It is because through feminism, women’s stories are discovered and believed for the first time in a long time. Even with that, I think it is still a shame to our communities that there are only convictions when 5 or more women come out to say something about 1 man. When it is only one woman and her word, there are more odds to fight.
In the 21st century, the problem is also that although women speak, they are often told that what they say is invalid, just like many have shamed Chimamanda regarding this interview and told her to be quiet. With outcomes of shame and silence, I think those people who tell Chimamanda to be quiet are no different to Buhari and his sexist comments about his wife; Aisha. Do you remember when Buhari said Aisha has no space in speaking about political affairs and that her place is in the kitchen? Do you remember the public’s response? Do you remember your own response?
Appeal to popularity fallacy: This is the assumption that because a larger population agrees to something, it is true. An example is how many so-called celebs that I am ashamed to name have jumped on the bandwagon of blog titles and followed popular opinions or have agreed to the popular discussions without actually seeing the video.
Appeal to emotions: This is when a speaker uses languages of emotions to distract the audience from thinking, to see if the information is reasonable or not. An example can be seen from the constant anger that many comments that the interview is emitting. Shake most comments, and all you will find in them, is hate, anger, and little or nothing that shows critical thinking about the conversation.
There are more fallacies that I could point out, but, to save time, get the critical thinking book and read it.
In recognition of the decision-making process that goes into a political campaigns, I am sure that any reasonable person will understand that even something as minute as a biography is a decision made by campaign managers and social media strategists of the political figure. The long-term effect is how the general public can better relate to the individual and their potential impact when they gain the position.
I think that Chimamanda Adichie's criticism is indirectly for all of us, rather than Hillary Clinton alone. Women for so long have been criticized for being bad mothers if they refuse to publicize such aspects of their lives and choose to advertise their careers only. They have also been criticized for being bad feminists if they don’t publicly acclaim their career titles and accomplishments or even place priority on it over everything else. The interview reveals both sides.
However, before, the question used to be why can’t women have both? But for women who have both, the question is; what should they place priority on? I think, this is similar to writing a resume/CV. When you are submitting a resume for a job application, you place priority on what is directly relatable to the job position.
Chimamanda did not question Hillary’s stance of having both, she questioned the priority in which Hillary placed her political career on her biography, despite the fact that at the heat of American politics, people wanted to see and vote for the Hillary Clinton who was a leader, a political activist and a revolutionist not Hillary Clinton as a mother or as a wife. If anything, especially with Bill Clinton’s presidential tenure and his sexual affair, Hillary and her campaign managers should have considered putting wife at the bottom of that list because, putting it first, allows people to have a negative perception of her, during her campaign for presidency. If we were to turn tables and Hillary Clinton had the sexual affair, do you think, people will encourage Bill Clinton and respect him as a husband to be the president of the United States? Somehow you are inferring that women are only strong and respectable when they can take men’s bullshit well.
The life and presentation of a woman like Hillary Clinton who is a political activist is different from most of us. In many presidential campaigns I have seen, most of which were of men because of gender inequalities, women have been forced to become political accessories. So, I am questioning why Bill Clinton couldn’t become an accessory and someone who could compromise everything including his biographies for Hillary Clinton, the way she was and is doing for him now. We don’t see the problem with women being presidential accessories to men, until it is the other way around and men have to do it. When Hillary Clinton ran for presidency, she had to be her own accessory because she is a woman. Regardless of her arguments, most news outlets were focused on her dress, her shoes, her motherhood etc. In some American presidential debate I have seen, when men run for presidential position, the media will turn a light to Michelle Obama’s brouch, Melania’s hat, and their motherhood etc. while the only topic for men will be their leadership. But when Hillary Clinton ran for presidency, no one talked about the color of Bill Clinton’s suit or his shoes, or his fatherhood. They talked about his leadership, and influence. Then they turned to Hillary Clinton and instead on focusing on her leadership and influence because she was the one running for presidency this time, they talked about her shoes, her suit, her hair and her motherhood. Do you see the problem?
Additionally, many times I think that the problem of women in our communities is bigger than equality and having choices. Women’s perception of each other is a more significant issue that needs to be solved. I hope that you are judging your judgment of Chimamanda’s question as much as you are judging Chimamanda’s understanding of Hillary’s Twitter biography. I think it’s not true feminism when we intentionally diminish one woman and her perception as a route to praising another woman, if indeed feminism is for uplifting all women. All of us could do better. People who are insulting Chimamanda by saying that she needs to achieve what Hillary has achieved before she can speak about Hillary’s biography need to understand that in feminism, we are not raising a woman up by pulling another woman down!
Lastly about this game of choice.
In case you forgot, about 50 - 100years ago, women didn’t have many choices. But now we do. So, as women we should not take these choices for granted by using it to tear each other down. We should use this liberty of choices to ask questions, have reasonable and well-thought answers and love each other well.
That being said. Much love.
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© Oyindamola Shoola 2020