Sunday, June 20, 2021

Of Cancel Culture and Womanhood

Sunday, June 20, 2021

I spent hours this morning reading about the feud between two Nigerian authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Akwaeke Emezi, whose books—Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah, and The Death of Vivek Oji—I've read and liked. It started when an opinion piece from today's The Guardian entitled "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Captures the Hypocrisies of Too Many 'Social Justice' Zealots" caught my eye. I read it and continued digging for articles about the entire thing, which, I found out, is murkier and more convoluted than what it seems. 

A few days ago Adichie wrote a blistering essay against cancel culture that permeates social media. She argues that:

"There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness. People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity."

She adds that there is now "a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the wrong opinions" and being attacked for having them, and that:

"The assumption of good faith is dead. What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another. God help us. It is obscene." 

The essay isn't simply an eloquent takedown of cancel culture but a defense of herself against two authors who are actively trying to cancel her. One of these authors is Emezi, a nonbinary author who uses the pronouns them/they/their and who I thought all along was a man when I read their book. Emezi started criticizing Adichie, a cisgender woman and a noted feminist, for her alleged transphobia when, during a 2017 interview, Adichie was asked, "If you’re a trans woman who grew up as a man ... does that take away from becoming a woman—are you any less of a real woman?” She answered:

"When people talk about, “Are trans women women?” my feeling is trans women are trans women. But I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man, with the privileges the world accords a man, and then sort of change — switch gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.

I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one. I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women. What I’m saying is that gender is not biology. Gender is sociology."

This drama, which at first I thought was about cancel culture, is really a debate about trans identity and womanhood. Gender is, indeed, a social construct. But being born female and having to go through things only cis women experience is not the same as the experience of transitioning into a woman. So who do we consider as women now? Are trans women women? Can we include trans women under the broader category of womanhood?

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