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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says likability is bullshit—and she’s 100% right

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
Though she’s hard not to like.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

That women care about being liked because society rewards them for it is hardly news. Women who push for what they want are routinely judged for it and called bossy. Being liked and being successful just don’t appear to go hand in hand.

Or perhaps being liked doesn’t matter. As Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out, in her acceptance speech for a Girls Write Now award, changing one’s behavior to conform to expectations is a form of dishonesty.

I think that what our society teaches young girls, and I think it’s also something that’s 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.
So what I want to say to young girls is forget about likability. If you start thinking about being likable you are not going to tell your story honestly, because you are going to be so concerned with not offending, and that’s going to ruin your story so forget about likability. And also the world is such a wonderful, diverse and multifaceted place that there’s somebody who’s going to like you, you don’t need to twist yourself into shapes.

It’s not just in their careers—every aspect of women’s lives is subject to a level of scrutiny over likability. The expectation to be beautiful, proper, polite, and loving—it’s all about being likable, which is essentially another word for inoffensive.

Adichie isn’t the first to point this out, Tina Fey writes about Amy Poehler contesting likability in Bossypants. Yet Adichie’s reminder is important for two reasons: It points out that it’s not only okay to not be likable, it’s actually preferable. And, women don’t need to be likable to actually be liked, or loved, by the ones who matter. Only by owning the most unlikable part of ourselves can we be truly loved for who we are.

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