Every 16-year-old in Sweden to receive copy of We Should All Be Feminists

Campaign hopes to ‘open up conversation about gender’ with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s feminist call to arms

Twenty-one more books every teenager should read

Less than a month after it was revealed that the UK is planning to drop feminism from the politics A-level, every 16-year-old in Sweden is being given a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s call to arms, We Should All Be Feminists.

The essay, adapted from Adichie’s award-winning TED talk of the same name, is being distributed in Swedish to high-school students by the Swedish Women’s Lobby and publisher Albert Bonniers. Launching the project at Norra Real high school in Stockholm this week, they said they hoped the book would “work as a stepping stone for a discussion about gender equality and feminism”.

“My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better,’” writes Adichie in the essay. “All of us, women and men, must do better.”

“Some people ask: ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest,” Adichie continues. “Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.”

The Nigerian novelist is also critical of modern masculinity, calling it a “hard, small cage” that forces men to hide emotion. “We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability,” she writes. “We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak – a hard man.”

“This is the book that I wish all of my male classmates would have read when I was 16,” said Clara Berglund, chair of the Swedish Women’s Lobby, announcing the giveaway. “It feels so important to contribute to this project. It is a gift to all second-grade high-school students, but it is also a gift to ourselves and future generations.”

Adichie’s essay was published in English last autumn. The 2012 TED talk has been watched by more than 2 million people on YouTube and was sampled by Beyoncé in her single Flawless, including the lines: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.’”

The novelist, in a video message for students played at the Stockholm launch event, said that for her, “feminism is about justice”.

“I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world that is more just. I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world where a woman is never told that she can or cannot or should or should not do anything because she is a woman. I want to live in a world where men and women are happier. Where they are not constrained by gender roles. I want to live in a world where men and women are truly equal. And that’s why I’m a feminist,” said Adichie, who won the 2007 Orange prize for her novel Half of a Yellow Sun.

She continued: “When I was 16, I don’t think I knew what the word ‘feminist’ meant. I don’t think I knew the word at all. But I was a feminist. And I hope that the 16-year-olds that will read this book in Sweden will also decide that they’re feminists. Mostly, I hope very soon that one day we will not need to be feminists. Because we will live in a world that is truly just and equal.”

The organisations behind the project, which is supported by the UN Association of Sweden, the Swedish Trade Union Conferation, the Order of the Teaspoon, Unizon and Gertrud Åström, hope that teachers will integrate We Should All Be Feminists into their teaching, and will be distributing discussion guidelines to help.

Publisher Johanna Haegerström said: “Our hope is that the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie text will open up a conversation about gender and gender roles, starting from young people’s own experiences.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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