Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nicola Sturgeon Discuss Equality in the 21st Century

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nicola Sturgeon Discuss Equality in the 21st Century

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nicola Sturgeon took to the stage at the Book Festival last night to discuss equality in the 21st century – a conversation that ranged from literature to race to their self-identification as ‘unconventional women’.

The respect was mutual, with Sturgeon saying she finds Adichie’s work ‘inspirational’ and declaring Americanah one of her ‘all-time favourite novels’, while Adichie admitted to being a huge ‘fangirl’ of the Scottish First Minister.

In their discussion of gender equality, the Nigerian novelist said that, for her, feminism is not about theory but practice and action. “I’m a feminist because I watch the world. Being a feminist isn’t about having a theory, it’s about changing the world.” She went on to say that one of the most important aims for feminists should be to remodel masculinity: “we should praise men who show vulnerability, who are in touch with their emotions – if masculinity could be redefined in that way, maybe some of the things happening in the world wouldn’t be happening anymore.”

On last year’s US election, Sturgeon said she was ‘enraged’ at Hilary Clinton’s treatment from the press and public, expressing confusion and disbelief at how a nation could move so quickly from electing Barack Obama – the first African American President – to Donald Trump. 

Meanwhile, Adichie said that the standards held to female politicians (including Sturgeon) are completely different to men, adding, “if the standards are not the same, then we don’t have equality.”  She was, however, quick to clarify that she doesn’t believe in ‘sisterhood’, supporting any politician simply because they are a woman, but rather wants them to be judged to the same standards as men.

“We need to talk about this idea that women are somehow morally better than men. They are not. They are normal. They are ordinary. This notion that they are morally better just means they are judged more harshly in everything they do.”

On the issue of race, Adichie confessed that she didn’t feel black until she moved to the States, where she grew to appreciate the nuances of race and the history of oppression that was tied into American society.

“For my first year in the US, I didn’t want to be black. If being black in America were benign, I wouldn’t have had that reaction. American history is so steeped in racism – in some sense, Trump is a reaction to Obama.”

Sturgeon and Adichie were in complete agreement too on the joy that can be derived from books – the First Minister says she makes sure she reads every day, it’s “a fundamental part of who I am”, while Adichie admitted she finds “great comfort in reading about strange unconventional women” – they make her feel “less alone”.

The sold-out event was sponsored by the University of Edinburgh, where Adichie received an honorary degree earlier in the day.

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