How the word “Wife” Got Many Thinking, “How Far is Far Enough?”
Nigerians love CNA. Yes, I’m talking about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americans love her too. She’s almost like our favourite Nigerian-American these days. She’s strong-willed, as unapologetic as unapologetic can come when she writes (just read any of her novels or essays), and is, to me, the world’s foremost proponent of feminism.
I’ll pause here and say this: I am a big skeptic of the ideals of feminism, the “secular feminism” if you may. I, however, am a big advocate for gender equity and free speech for women. The sad truth is that the world has simply refused to limit their definitions of feminism to that; gender equity and free speech for women. This is what CNA fights for, and I’m solidly behind her.
However, recent events got me (and more than half of Nigerians who do care about things like this) asking, “how far is far enough”?
[CAVEAT: I asked that question when, sadly, I joined the bandwagon of eager Nigerians who – it seems like they’re being paid to do this stuff all the time or something, relentlessly – attacked the brand that is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and gave all sorts of thoughtful opinions and shrewd advices on how she must portray herself in the public, and what she should and shouldn’t ask, and to whom.
I have since taken my time to do what these Nigerians most probably haven’t done, and gone ahead to read the entire transcript of the interview with Hillary Clinton, and now I get it. I have my answer]
Let’s forget about what I think for now, and look at the matter a little closely.
Firstly, how glad I would be to be granted an interview with a one-time US Senator, FLOTUS, Secretary of State, and American presidential candidate!! It would just be a dream. The dream would be even grander if said interviewee were a loved icon of mine, so much that I can take time out of my busy schedule to rifle through her twitter bio and gain emotions from what I see, someone I called ‘auntie’, even though I was black, Nigerian-by-birth, and accented, and she was white, from Chicago by birth, and speaks with a full American accent.
This is a very rough way of placing Chimamanda at that interview on Sunday. She was excited to meet her icon, and starting off the interview, pleaded with Mrs. Clinton to be as emotional as she could about the topics to be discussed, seeing as it would be fashionably out of character for the ex-FLOTUS. The truth is that they bonded as friends, persons who share similar passions and see the world from similar points of view. And they discussed, about grievous topics that ranged from Hillary’s opinion on whether she pushed back enough at the 2016 American elections, how the senate and the mugwumps of the political parties keep sending the message that women should remain inferior through their actions, her placing and reactions post-election on the performance, or rather non-performance, of the incumbent president.
The matter brought up later on the placing of “wife” as Hillary’s first description on her twitter bio could easily be assimilated as a non-issue. But, indeed, it was quite an issue with both CNA, and the Nigerian consumers who have tagged her a brand, as a matter to be understood by the former (especially regarding how she still manages to value relationships as that, seemingly, over her career and public activities), and as a matter to be viciously and ferociously attacked by the latter (who feel it really shouldn’t matter how the twitter bio looked, or feel it isn’t at all her business, or who feel she is a noise-maker with her feminism thing).
For me, Hillary gave the perfect reply on the subject:
“Well, when you put it like that, I’m going to change it. [it remains unchanged at time of writing this]
You know, there’s always this — for me, I’ll just speak for myself, but I think it’s broader than just me — there’s always this internal conflict. When you are very committed to your relationships, your family — in my case, parents and siblings, and obviously my husband and my daughter and now my grandchildren — and your own identity, and how you feel about yourself and describe yourself.
Yesterday, I went to Barbara Bush’s funeral. She gave a very heartfelt speech at Wellesley in I think 1991 [ed. note: 1990], in which she said: At the end of the day, it won’t matter if you got a raise, it won’t matter if you wrote a great book, if you are not also someone who values relationships. She got a standing ovation after, [even though] there was a lot of concern and some protest about her being invited to come speak.
I’ve thought a lot about that. Because it shouldn’t be either/or. It should be that if you are someone who is defining yourself by what you do and what you accomplish, and that is satisfying, then more power to you; that is how you should be thinking about your life and living it. If you are someone who primarily defines your life in relationship to others, then more power to you. Live that life the way Barbara Bush lived that life, and how proud she was to do it.
But I think most of us as women in today’s world end up in the middle: wanting to have relationships, wanting to invest in them, nurture them, but also pursuing our own interests.
I loved the picture of Sen. Tammy Duckworth coming onto the floor of the Senate with her baby. I think that sort of summed it all up. She is both: She’s a mom, she’s a senator, she’s a combat veteran. She is somebody who’s trying to integrate all the various aspects of her life. That’s what I’ve tried to do for a very long time, and it’s not easy. But it is something that I’ve chosen to do, and I think is best for me, so I’m going to keep doing it.
But I am going to change my Twitter account.”
In essence, Hillary’s saying, “do you” and keep damning what the world thinks, but most especially, love, while doing you.
The question now is this, if Mrs. Clinton does change the twitter bio, as Mrs. Adichie hoped it would look, have the matters underlying the initial concern been assuaged? Would bringing up “presidential candidate” or some such before “wife” really cause people to understand just how deeply a woman must not relegate herself to domesticity, especially now that it has been highlighted by two global personalities?
What if it remains as it is? Hasn’t the mere pointing it out by CNA brought it to notice that, subconsciously, when women do little things such as identify themselves with titles other than what they are publicly known for, especially titles that suggest suppression by the patriarchy, they are giving in to the forces that insist that free speech and equity cannot be theirs?
Or is this all simply blown out of proportion?
I don’t know. I’m a man writing this. I do not fully understand what women go through daily in society. I cannot ever claim to. But I do appreciate some level of “wokeness”, if you may, among women. It will make the world a better place. I’m sure of it.
A CANDID CONFESSION: I, personally, would not go as far as questioning Hillary’s twitter bio, though.
To end things off, here is Chimamanda’s reply to the barrage of counterpoints she has since received on her rather benign question during the interview, on her official facebook page.
It was definitely directed to a Nigerian, however resented anonymously.