In April 2012, a Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a speech entitled “We should all be feminists” at the TedxEuston event in London. TEDx talks are regular events across the world that invite speakers of various backgrounds, from philosophy to medicine, to share their experience and expertise. By 2012, Chimamanda Adichie has become a renowned novelist, writing about her experiences as a woman, a person of color, and an immigrant. Wearing a bright patterned shirt, red pants, and African braids styled upwards, she remarked how women often have to worry about their choice of clothes, at the fear of not appearing credible. Representing her African heritage through her clothes and hair, she proudly stood alone in front of the podium, addressing a large TedxTalks audience.
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Adichie began her speech with an anecdote about a childhood friend, Okuloma. She recalled that one time, as they passionately argued, Okuloma suddenly looked at her and said: “You know, you are feminist.” “It was not a compliment.”, Adichie adds with a smile, “I could tell from his tone, the same tone that you would use to say something like ‘You are a supporter of terrorism.’” Her ironic tone and the look of genuine concern as she pronounced those last words evoked laughter. The audience immediately understood her main argument – being a feminist is often perceived as a negative act, almost equal to terrorism.
With this introduction, the speaker achieved multiple goals that set the tone for the rest of her speech. Firstly, she summarised the main idea of her talk. Secondly, she signaled to the audience that her talk would contain humor, rather than being strictly serious or preachy. Thirdly, she gave the public a clear understanding of who she was as a person, gaining its trust. From the beginning, Adichie put the listeners at ease by employing humor. Showing that the subject matter was personal to her increased her credibility in the audience’s eyes as if saying, “I am one of you.” Both techniques kept the audience engaged for the duration of her speech.
Adichie did not use visual aids or a microphone, as her speech alone was enough to keep the public’s undivided attention. Being a good writer does not always mean being an effective speaker and vice versa; Adichie manages to be both. An effective speaker can engage the audience by presenting one’s ideas with confidence, determination, and passion. Adichie spoke confidently and determinately, pacing appropriately, and varying her tone throughout. What made her an effective speaker is how seamlessly she weaved humor into serious, often painful topics.
Adichie argued that people raise girls as competitors for male attention and police them for trying to be as sexual. She enunciated “police” in a firm tone, slightly raising her voice to emphasize the undue strictness imposed on young girls. Society often regards unmarried women as failures, but men as “not yet ready,” praising virginity in girls but not in boys. ‘It always made me wonder how exactly that was supposed to work out as the process involves…’ – she paused, comically buffed, and spreading her hands in an ironically questioning gesture.
The audience’s laughter and applause ensued before she swiftly interrupted by stating that a young woman had been gang-raped at a Nigerian university. Many Nigerians responded to the rape by questioning the girl’s intention to be in the company of four boys, shifting the guilt from the rapists to the victim. Pairing the comment on the gender differences in upbringing with this vile act emphasized the logical connection between the two. Moreover, the shift in tone from light to serious amplified the emotional effect that this realization had on the audience.
Adichie’s message was loud and clear: society raises girls to feel inherently guilty and shameful about their desires while excusing men’s “savage” behavior. The use of the word “savage” highlighted how unacceptable this behavior truly was by comparing it to animal-like impulses. Young girls grow up to feel ashamed, powerless, and silenced. Adichie commented that young boys also suffer from imposed gender roles. Telling boys that showing vulnerability and emotion is a sign of weakness ensures that they grow up with fragile egos. Meanwhile, girls are taught to accommodate the boy’s egos as not to emasculate them. Society tells girls to aspire to marriage, citing motherhood as the greatest joy. Boys are told to aspire to wealth and power, citing success as a confirmation of their masculinity.
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Adichie urged the audience not to resist the conversation about gender. She called to stand up to sexist behaviors and reminded the public that they should all be feminists, regardless of gender. Adichie simultaneously captivated, educated, and encouraged everyone to challenge their own internalized sexism. She barely glanced at her prepared manuscript as her life served as the basis for much of the content. Despite the visible notes, the speech did not feel rehearsed due to the speaker’s evident passion and experience.
Adichie paused after every point, giving the audience time to process it, and her vocal variations made the speech persuasive and motivating. Whenever the camera panned to the public, it appeared moved. The talk likely would not have had the same effect delivered by someone without a personal connection to the subject matter. The choice of the audience felt appropriate as it included people of different ethnicities, gender, and ages. Moreover, Tedx Talks are available on YouTube, meaning that they have a broad outreach.
The speaker’s strengths included her tone, confidence, and wit, all of which contributed to the effective delivery of the main idea. Her weaknesses correspond to the changes I would make to improve the speech. I would include statistics on sexual abuse for emphasis, present without the aid of a manuscript, and conclude on a more inspirational note. Adichie’s final statement about her brother being a feminist was heart-warming and fit the main idea but was not sufficiently dramatic to leave the audience with a stronger emotional response.
As someone who feels passionately about feminism, the talk consolidated my thoughts rather than changed my mind on the matter. It inspired me to stand up for women’s rights more diligently and call out sexist behavior. Adiche’s speech motivated me through the emotional and illustrative examples of her experiences. I would pay to watch her speak, although I am unsure how to assess the exact value of such significant ideas.
Although much of Adichie’s talk focused on misogyny in Nigeria, it was strikingly similar to the behaviors encountered in western culture. The perceived notions about the roles of women and men in society are significantly outdated. Women’s inferiority likely consolidated out of the fact that superior physical strength that men undoubtedly possess was of a great advantage at the dawn of society. Unsuitability for war and the constant childbearing made women unable to participate in the building of society for many centuries. Today, however, superior physical strength is no longer a status-defining asset. Therefore, it is unreasonable to suggest that women are not as capable, intelligent, or worthy as men. It is time people reflect this notion in their attitudes and behaviors and remove the negative connotations associated with the word “feminist.”
We should all be feminists | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | TEDxEuston. (2013). [Video]. YouTube.