“I really like my Dior t-shirt,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author and feminist icon.
The t-shirt in question, unveiled by Dior artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri last September in Paris, reads “WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINIST.” It’s the title of Adichie’s feminist manifesto, featured in Beyoncé’s hit “Flawless”. Retailing for $710 (“they give the money to charity,” Adichie said, before joking that it would be enough to buy her a house in East Africa), the t-shirt quickly joined Beyoncé’s music and many recent ad campaigns about women’s empowerment as a symbol of the commercialization of feminism, a thing that some feminists aren’t happy with.
Adichie was speaking at New York’s legendary Strand Bookstore on March 7, the eve of International Women’s Day, to present her latest book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. (It’s a print version of an essay she published on Facebook, answering a friend’s question on how to raise a girl to be a feminist.) Saying that she loved the Dior t-shirt was, she said, her—admittedly flippant—reply to the question of whether there is a risk in ”pop feminism,” or exploiting the brand of feminism as a marketing tool.
“What’s the harm, in practical terms?” Adichie asked. Making feminism a part of popular culture expands its reach. And while she conceded that “it’s a fairly reasonable idea that you do harm to an important idea by commercializing it,” with feminism the problem may be more perceived than real with feminism.
“We need to get over ourselves,” Adichie said. Outside of the liberal urban bubble, “feminism is [not] that popular. There are many many people in the world who are not going to buy a t-shirt because it says ‘feminism’.” But, she said, it would be desirable if they did: To be effective, feminism needs to spread as wide as possible.
“The goal of feminism is to make itself redundant, and to get there it needs to be a mass movement,” explained Adichie. Scores of young women, she said, would never call themselves feminists were it not for Beyoncé’s music, for instance. So long as the message reaches people, she argued, there is no wrong way to propagate it.
“Feminism is not an exclusive little party that you go to if you read the right books,” said Adichie, who admitted she feels uncomfortable at times with niche feminist vocabulary. “Is the point to say ‘we are feminist, we are the good ones,'” she asked, “or is the point to change the world?”