Success Can Wear Lip Gloss, Too: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Courtesy of Ted Talks/TEDxEuston

The second of today’s blog posts features the famous speech, We Should All Be Feminists, delivered by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The talk, delivered in 2013, encourages us to think and talk about gender issues. And of course, the speech garnered one of the world’s biggest name checks by Beyoncé, who used a sample of it in her song, “Flawless.”

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important.

Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors – not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

Adichie’s Ted Talk is more than just the strength of a speech sample within a popular song. It’s a talk about a subject which she readily admits “…is not an easy conversation to have.”

One facet about this speech that I most admire is Adichie’s openness. She doesn’t pretend to have all the answers:

The first time I taught a writing class in graduate school, I was worried. I wasn’t worried about the material I would teach, because I was well prepared, and I was going to teach what I enjoyed teaching. Instead, I was worried about what to wear. I wanted to be taken seriously.

I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth. And I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. Instead, I wore a very serious, very manly and very ugly suit. Because the sad truth is that when it comes to appearance, we start off with men as the standard, as the norm.

Adichie engages with her talk with warmth, humor and great narratives. In fact, she said of the speech: I really believe in the power of narrative–it humanizes the story.

And the narrative will humanize a speech or presentation.

The talk is not a short one; it’s nearly 30 minutes. But it is absolutely worth your investment. Watch, and understand why this is such an important speech, from such an impressive person.

Lip gloss, girly skirt and all.

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