Every so often, somebody comes along and says something so honest, so inspiring, so mind-explodingly wise, that there’s nothing left to do except stare at them unblinkingly, while letting the bottom halves of our mouths fall to the floor.
Chimananda Ngozi Adichie is totally that person.
The author of Americanah (currently being made into a film starring Lupita Nyong’o) has given a speech to the graduating class of Wellesley College – a women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts – about what it means to be a woman. Talking about everything from lipstick to what it means to be liked, her advice is so brilliant that we recommend printing her words out in their entirety – before sticking them next to your computer screen so that you can see them every day.
You can scroll down to the bottom of the article to watch Chimamanda give her speech in full. But in the meantime, here are our highlights:
ON BEING LIKEABLE…
All over the world, girls are raised to be make themselves likeable, to twist themselves into shapes that suit other people.
Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Dont do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are.
Write television shows in which female strength is not depicted as remarkable but merely normal. Teach your students to see that vulnerability is a human rather than a female trait.
Commission magazine articles that teach men How To Keep A Woman Happy. Because there are already too many articles that tell women how to keep a man happy. And in media interviews make sure fathers are asked how they balance family and work. In this age of parenting as guilt, please spread the guilt equally. Make fathers feel as bad as mothers. Make fathers share in the glory of guilt.
Hire more women where there are few. But remember that a woman you hire doesnt have to be exceptionally good. Like a majority of the men who get hired, she just needs to be good enough.
I wasnt very interested in makeup until I was in my twenties, which is when I began to wear makeup. Because of a man. A loud, unpleasant man. He was one of the guests at a friends dinner party. I was also a guest. I was about 23, but people often told me I looked 12
I argued that it would be better if that honor were based on achievement rather than gender, and he looked at me and said, dismissively, You dont know what you are talking about, youre a small girl.
I wanted him to disagree with the substance of my argument, but by looking at me, young and female, it was easy for him to dismiss what I said. So I decided to try to look older.
So I thought lipstick might help. And eyeliner.
And I am grateful to that man because I have since come to love makeup, and its wonderful possibilities for temporary transformation.
So, I have not told you this anecdote as a way to illustrate my discovery of gender injustice. If anything, its really just an ode to makeup.
ON MAKING AN EFFORT…
After one year of medical school I fled. I realized I would be a very unhappy doctor and I really did not want to be responsible for the inadvertent death of my patients. Leaving medical school was a very unusual decision, especially in Nigeria where it is very difficult to get into medical school.
Later, people told me that it had been very courageous of me, but I did not feel courageous at all.
I could either stay and study something that was not right for me. Or I could try and do something different. I decided to try Now it might not have worked out My writing might not have ended up being successful. But the point is that I tried.
We can not always bend the world into the shapes we want but we can try, we can make a concerted and real and true effort Always just try. Because you never know.
Now girls are often raised to see love only as giving. Women are praised for their love when that love is an act of giving. But to love is to give AND to take.
Please love by giving and by taking. Give and be given. If you are only giving and not taking, youll know. Youll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence.
Watch the whole video of Chimamanda imparting her words of womanly wisdom here: