Thursday, November 3, 2016

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how we start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently." (Adichie, 25).

Since the first week of school, Karl and I have spent time each week reading and discussing We Should All Be Feminists with the students. We finished this text last week. Our weekly read-aloud time comes after our all-school morning meeting, each Friday morning, when our class sits together and spends a few minutes reading, discussing, and sharing. I love this time each week.

We Should All Be Feminists is a printed adaptation of a TEDx talk that the author gave several years ago. In it, she shares her own experiences as a woman of color (in her native Nigeria and in the United States) and her ideas for ways in which we, in our actions and our language, can work against gender stereotypes (which, as she explains, can be harmful to people of all genders).

Each week, we read a section from this short book and then discussed what we'd read. Each week, without fail, we ran out of time to finish our conversation.

One student pointed out that the author uses rhetorical questions in the book as a way of forcing the reader to consider the topic in a new way. For example, Adichie asks, "What is the point of culture?" as part of a statement on how "people make culture," not the other way around (Adichie, 45-6). This question is part of a response to cultural traditions that exclude women and led us to think about the intersectionality of culture, religion, and language. We shared our own traditions and our ideas about the origins of culture, religion, and language. A student noticed that, in our class, we often felt compelled to respond to Adichie's questions with questions of our own as a way of trying to answer her initial question.

It was powerful to see the students' responses to this text. It was also powerful to watch them listen and respond to one another based on their own experiences. For example, in a section where Adichie described her tension over what to wear to teach a university course, she wrote about wanting to be herself (and wear clothes that she likes) but being concerned that students might not take her seriously in "feminine" clothes. While our students take pride in the way that they don't feel like they worry as much about being judged based on their clothes here at SK, they still shared experiences of feeling judged based on their appearances in other settings. They talked about how this felt for them and how they would like to live in a world where people aren't judged based on their appearances.

While the work of world-changing is never ending, I continue to feel confident about the young people to whom we are entrusting this task.

P.S. It is worth noting that there are a few sections of the book that we did not read aloud because we did not find the content appropriate for our class.

P.P.S. It's also worth noting that the Swedish government gave a copy of this book to every sixteen year old student in the country.

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