In a recent interview, celebrated Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie allegedly came out swinging at a journalist asserting, firmly, that the journalist not call her by her husband’s last name. Her husband Ivara Esege is allegedly a doctor of Nigerian heritage practicing in the state of Maryland.When she was asked if she was a “feminist” by virtue of not wanting to be called by her husband’s last name, she retorted in what appears to be an exasperated tone and appears to reject the term “feminist.”
Now, I have received mixed reactions in discussing this story. One interesting response I received was that she was “drunk” at the time of the interview and that it is because she is married to a “Nigerian-American” that she is “saying all that nonsense she is saying.”
Is Adichie a feminist? A womanist? Confused? Both? Or none of the above?
While no woman should be forced to take the name of her husband, I certainly hope the basis for Adichie refusing to take her husband’s name has nothing to do with proving to be his equal (feminism). Relationships are not competitions and certainly not marriage and I do not see the need to prove to a man who you love and loves you, and appears enlightened, that you are his equal. It makes no logical sense to me because that means you should have skipped marrying him. Obviously I am excluding abusive relationships in this equation, which any woman should take her shoes off and run for the closest door for good.
Taking a man’s last name is a choice and to me in no way makes you less of a woman. As it stands, there are many examples of strong highly intelligent and successful women who are okay with a taking a man’s name. An example is finance minister of Nigeria Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Iweala is interesting because arguably she should be in the States “fulfilling her wifely duties,” but instead she is overseas helping to run Nigeria while her husband, from what we know, remains stateside. There are countless others not necessarily in such high positions of power but strong women nonetheless who choose to take their husband’s last names, for reasons known to them.
If Chimamanda is refusing to carry her husband’s last name, I hope it is for other reasons such as:
1. Identity: I have never understood how a woman whether for 20yrs +, 30yrs+ or more looks in the mirror everyday and knows herself to be whatever her God given name is, yet when she marries that identity is completely erased with a new name. It is not hyphenated, it is not where she keeps her maiden name and uses his name only for work purposes, her identity is simply gone with the wind.
If you obtain an education, licenses as a doctor, engineer, lawyer etc. that is all “poof,” gone with the wind just because you got married. If you choose to do this, God bless you. But, if you choose to not take your husband’s last name as well, God bless you too. In fact, studies are now showing that the older a woman marries, the more she is less inclined to take the last name of her husband. While there are hyphenations as mentioned before and so many other ways of doing this, it still doesn’t change the fact that you have to change your identity.
I hear people often use religion to justify why a woman should take her husband’s last name i.e. two become one. If that is the case, then what a male friend of mine did back when I was in graduate school comes to mind. Him and his wife both took each other’s last name and it was a non-issue. So he now bears his full name and her last name and vice versa for her. By the way, do you know that the islam religion grants a woman a right to keep her father’s name if she chooses to? This practice/culture has been ongoing since the 15th century. In addition, it is said that the African culture also permitted women to keep their father’s last name, until colonization hit the shores of Africa.
(Update: So I confirmed with family and even our grandmothers kept their maiden name. According to the elders in my Nigerian family, the change where women take their husbands’ names began in our parents’ generation. Interesting. Also, I have a question, in this day and age where women are becoming the bread winner, what’s the case to be made for taking on his last name, especially if you do not want to?)
2. Divorce: Who marries so they can get divorced? Raise your hands very high so I can see them. Nobody marries to divorce and as one divorced woman once told me, “divorce is like death.” Now add divorce, especially divorce with kids involved and it can be a tough terrain for any married woman, who completely changes her identity, to start all over again when she divorces.
3. Success: Indeed it leads me to my final point. Studies apparently show that women who do not change their last names fare better economically than those who do. Adichie’s name is well known. What sense does it make to change her name at this point? Yes Beyonce who sampled Adichie’s speech at Tedex Euston has changed her name to Mrs. Carter but I have always said and maintain that Beyonce sends extremely contradictory and confusing messages. (Update: Apparently Jay-z changed his name and is now Shawn Knowles-Carter) I need not go any farther. Suffice it to say Adichie is not Beyonce.
Again, I do not know what the motive is for Adichie not taking her husband’s last name; but she doesn’t have to if she does not want to and clearly her husband is not bothered by it. It would be nice if she does not appear combative about it as she appears in her interview, but I don’t know under what circumstances this interview was conducted.
She has not legally changed her name and obviously the guy married to her seems to have no issue with it. So, if the two people involved have no issue with it, then it is totally their cup of tea.
One last word and then I think I am done with this. I believe there is a deep and growing resentment among young Nigerian women in Nigeria towards the very patriarchal society they live in. I believe if it continues the way it is, the Nigeria we see today will be drastically different say even five (5) years from now. When I was growing up as a teen in the USA, Nigerian men living in the USA and their parents took great pride in bringing young Nigerian women from Nigeria to marry their sons. These days, the many Nigerian men I know would not mess with that. Why? They understand times and values have changed and they prefer women who are independent and know what they want in life, not the types parents of the past forced on their predecessors.
Why is there this deep resentment among young Nigerian women? I think partly it has to do with the consumption of Western culture. Many have lived abroad or have been and continue to be exposed to how a woman ought to be treated. They have been told they should not be second class citizens and definitely not in their dealings with men. They are educated, smart and so much more and can walk and will walk away from relationships they do not have to put up with. They also don’t mind the stigma of divorce anymore, it is actually comical for them to see society try to make them feel guilty about a situation that just did not work out for them. The men, I notice, are just pretending the status quo remains.
I think it is interesting times ahead. What are your thoughts? Is Chimamanda’s brand of feminism over the top?
Check out the excerpt in question from her Sunnews Online interview:
Sunnews: Mrs Chimamanda Adichie, wel-come back to Nigeria…
Chimamanda Adichie: Before we start, please, I just want to say that my name is Chimamanda Adichie. That’s how I want it; that’s how I’m ad-dressed, and it is not Mrs but Miss. Ms: that’s how I want it. I am saying this, because I just got a mail from my manager this morning. It seems that there are people who attended the church service, and they wrote about it, addressing me as Mrs. Chimamanda (Esega). I didn’t like that at all. So my name is Chimamanda Adichie, full stop!
Sun: You mean?
CA: This is because it is also responsible that people be called what they want to be called.
SN: In one of your interview published in the some newspapers, (including an interview in Sunday Sun with Akubuiro in 2007), you said you’re a feminist. Can you throw more light on that?
CA: Oooh! Is that when I said that, because that quote has followed me everywhere in the world? That’s why I don’t like granting interviews, because whatever you say, in 20 years, you’ll still be quoted. Oh I said I’m a feminist? You know, what I meant was that: you know when people hear feminism, many things come into their head. What I wanted him to understand is that feminism doesn’t mean that you want to be a man. I’m a feminist, I’m a female; a feminist meaning that I want to look like a woman, but I want the equal respect that a man has. I think that human being should be respected based on their achievements and not based on whether you’re a man or woman. But, since I said that, everywhere I go, people are asking about that. I went to Australia, and they had read that; they knew about that. I was on stage in a hall full of people. They said they had a special present for me, and they brought in purse. I just started laughing. It was hilarious. But this is why you should be careful what you say. It was so funny. All the way in Australia!
SN: You started by telling me that you’re not “Mrs.”…
CA: (cuts in) My name is Chimamada Adichie. If you want to put label for me, put Ms.
SN: But people know that you’re married. As an Igbo girl, you know our culture…
CA: (Cuts in again) What does our culture do? Let me tell you about our culture. This thing that you are calling our culture –that when you marry somebody, you’ll start call-ing her Mrs. Somebody –is not our culture; it is Western culture. If you want to talk about our culture, you need to go to people in real Igbo land. But it is true. My grandfather’s name is David. His name is also Nwoye. They call him Nwoye Omeni. Omeni was his mother. You know why? It is to help distinguish him, because there are often many wives. So, it was his mother that they used to identify him. They know that all of these people came from the same compound, but whose child is this one. You may go and ask people who is Nwoye Omeni, and they’ll tell you it is my grandfather. So, conversation about culture is a long one. I don’t even want to have it.
SN: But, at what point would you change your name?
CA: Yes; because it’s all fused. You cannot then come and impose something on somebody. Nobody should come and impose something on somebody, because, if you come and tell me it is our culture, I’ll tell you it is not our culture. Where do you want to start counting? Do you want to start counting in 1920, or do you want us to start counting from 1870?
SN: But culture is dynamic…
CA: Exactly my point, which is why this is new. If culture is dynamic, you cannot use it as conservative tool. We can-not then say it has to be this because it is our culture. My point is that it is a new thing. Things are changing. We live in a world now where women have a right to bear the name they want. So, we cannot say this is how we do it. If some women want to do it that way, that’s fine! God bless them. Some women won’t do it. I am one of those women, and nobody will come to use culture to tell me that I should do what I don’t want to do.