Chimamanda Adichie says Beyonce’s kind of feminism isn’t her kind of feminism

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and speaker. A MacArthur genius grant recipient, she has spoken in front of the United Nations about the global refugee crisis, advocated for underrepresented cultures, and talked about the need for feminism in Nigeria and around the world. Yet the question she gets the most during interviews is about Beyonce, who sampled from one of Adichie’s TED talks in the song “Flawless,” released three years ago.

“I was shocked about how many requests for an interview I received when that song was released. Literally every major newspaper in the world wanted to speak with me about Beyonce. I felt such a resentment,” Adichie told the Dutch daily de Volkskrant in an interview about the upcoming Dutch translation of the essay version of her speech “We should all be feminists.”

In the song, snippets of Adichie delivering her TED talk in 2013 are played between verses. In the music video (around 1:25) Beyonce dances and glares at the camera as Adichie says, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.'”

Adichie, who has deflected questions about Beyonce in the past, said that she admires the pop star but has always chafed under the suggestion that the song marked beginning of Adichie’s career. “I thought: I am a writer and I have been for some time and I refuse to perform in this charade that is now apparently expected of me: ‘Thanks to Beyonce, my life will never be the same again.’ That’s why I didn’t speak about it much,” she told the paper.

Adichie also has questions about the kind of feminism that Beyonce promotes. In the past, Adichie has defended the singer from critics who argue that Beyonce’s overt sexuality should discount her as a feminist. (“Whoever says they’re feminist is bloody feminist,” Adichie said in 2014.) In her interview with de Volkskrant, the author also credited Beyonce for taking a stand on social and political issues over the last few years.

Still, Adichie admitted, “[Beyonce’s] style is not my style.” She continued:

…Her type of feminism is not mine, as it is the kind that, at the same time, gives quite a lot of space to the necessity of men. I think men are lovely, but I don’t think that women should relate everything they do to men. Did he hurt me? Do I forgive him? Did he put a ring on my finger? We women are so conditioned to relate everything to men.

Put a group of women together and the conversation will eventually be about men. Put a group of men together and they will not talk about women at all, they will just talk about their own stuff. We women should spend about 20% of our time on men, because it’s fun, but otherwise we should also be talking about our own stuff.

Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief — the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search