Award winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has fired up yet another storm after former US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton sat down to an interview with the novelist on Sunday after a lecture at the PEN World Voices festival. Clinton, whose bio reads ‘Wife, mom, grandma, women+kids advocate, FLOTUS, Senator, SecState, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, 2016 presidential candidate,’ was asked why the title “wife” was put up first despite other achievements, and its absence on her husband’s page.
Clinton deftly replied that women should be free to celebrate their professional successes as well as their personal achievements. This she added after saying, ” When you put it like that, I’m going to change it.”
Adichie has been forthright with her views on politics, women’s rights and gender equality, refusing to shy away from topics that cause backlash in societies that have adopted patriarchal norms. Disagreements with the novelist’s comments are therefore not uncommon, and many routinely air their opinion of her on social media, especially back in Nigeria, where some have even written open letters to express their thoughts on this new ‘issue’.
According to many, the question contradicts the argument for feminism that the novelist has advocated in her books and public engagements. If feminism is about freedom of choice then some women should respect other women’s choice to identify as wife, they say. A sentiment Blessing Abeng elaborated on in an open letter to Adichie, where she said, “Being a housewife is a job in itself! It is a strong role … I believe that if a woman chooses to be a housewife, she should not be dragged.
“If she wants to put wife in her bio, we can respect it. Mother is fine too. Obama did it too. I think it’s Hillary’s choice to arrange the order of her roles how she deems fit. In all, she is Hillary, she is all of those things and she is still powerful,” she said.
While all of these things are fine and there’s nothing wrong with stating the spaces one occupies outside of career environments, a closer look at the fuller text of Chimamanda’s speech shows some disconnect between what is implied and what is being reacted to, as is the case with many debates carried out in the era of quick dissemination of information.
Here, once again, most people fail to see that the question in itself wasn’t condescending but one that seeks understanding and clarity from a place of concern.
Understanding, given that as a global leader and the first woman to secure a major party’s nomination for the President of the United states, Clinton holds a platform that many young people look up to. And Clarity, knowing that the politics that come with gender often require a woman, often in relations that involve a man—intimate or otherwise, to take up domestic roles or titles or to de-hype their accomplishments in order not to seem like she has passed the level where she cannot be subdued.
As stories of women continue being shared on social platforms, we see examples where a woman invited for a meeting is more often than not, regarded as more suitable to serve beverages to her colleagues whom she may be on par with or even more accomplished than.
It doesn’t matter whether one is with colleagues, family members, or random strangers, the job of domestic work presents itself time and again in forms including cutting cakes, sharing food and serving guests.
This isn’t to say that the act of cleaning or cooking or any domestic work in itself should be condemned, but the politics whereby its relegation is seen as something beneath the male gender is, as expected, lost on the majority.
Did Clinton, one of the world’s most powerful women, still subscribe to this restrictive ideology that requires a woman, no matter how accomplished she is, to show her femininity for the world to see and validate that yes, she is indeed still a woman, no matter all her accolades, who knows her place and caters to her husband and children?
Following Adichie’s comments during the interview at the PEN World Voices festival, she expressed how invested she was in the life of the former Secretary of State, and her irritation for reactions to her personal life from the media.
You’ve made many choices for love. In reading about your life, I was thinking about what if you hadn’t gone to Arkansas very very young.
I should say that I spend lots of time being very protective about you, and in my mind I call you my auntie. I get very protective of my Auntie Hillary, and when people talk about your personal life, I find it very irritating. And having read quite a bit of your own writing about your personal life, I think that you have a remarkable love story. I really do. It seems to me that you have this wonderful friendship.
However, I have to say that I’m guilty of being very interested in your personal life. And the one question I have about that is about your Twitter account.
So your Twitter account first of all describes you as a wife. And then it’s mom, and then it’s grandmother. And when I saw that, I have to confess that I felt just a little bit upset. And then I went and I looked at your husband’s Twitter, and the first word that he used to describe himself was not “husband.”
I wanted to ask if this was your choice, if it was something that you wanted to do, or maybe something that somebody thought would be good for the campaign. And if it’s your choice, whether you think it’s fair for me to have been a little bit annoyed by this,” the author concluded.
The “if a woman want to be a wife, let them be” refrain, now seems far fetched considering the clarification being requested.
Back tracking a bit to Coachella where Beyoncé headlined as the first black woman on the show, dissatisfied responses mixed with sarcasm to Jay’s presence showed that Beyoncé’s choice to remain with her husband after his infidelity still doesn’t sit well with some regardless of the fact that she is still revered.
Considering the fact that more women than men tolerate cheating in their partners, and the fact that the onus of fixing up a marriage has long settled on the neck of the woman-partner, although it would be personal as she is not obliged to explain or defend her decision to anyone, it wouldn’t be far fetched to ask, in an interview with Beyoncé, why she made her choice.
Hilary’s response highlights that choice of wanting to depict what matters to her heart as achievements, which is great and what Adichie was probably hoping for.
She continued by saying she loved the picture of Sen. Tammy Duckworth coming onto the floor of the Senate with her baby. “She is both: She’s a mom, she’s a senator, she’s a combat veteran,” Clinton said. “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.”
Adichie has replied to some of the comments, expressing her disappointment at how her words have been misconstrued. “I am tired of Nigerians who read a headline and, without bothering to get details and context, jump on the outrage bandwagon and form lazy, shallow opinions,” she said. “Feminism is indeed about choice. But it is intellectually lazy to suggest that, since everything is about ‘choice,’ none of these choices can be interrogated.”