Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a novelist best known not for her literary output, but her contributions to the Beyonce canon. Her TED talk on feminism gave the singer’s 2013 single “Flawless” its bite, with sound bites of Adichie’s words about gender inequality peppered throughout the aggressive, in-your-face track.
After Beyonce’s self-titled album dropped with the instantly danceable, quotable “Flawless” in tow, it didn’t take long for people who beforehand were probably like “who the fuck is that?” to be all “HaaaaAAAY Chimamanda!” Some people even took the time to learn how to pronounce her name correctly.
It was one of those moments, increasingly rare, when a writer was allowed to take up actual space in the culture at large. As in, not languishing, rotting on abandoned bookshelves or delegated to a few interviews on morning TV. Like, on Twitter. Where things matter.
Since that time, Adichie has dropped a novel (the award-winning Americanah, now being adapted for film) as well as had her TED talk published as a stand-alone book. Her visibility has risen considerably since the Beyonce guest spot, launching her headfirst into the world of talk show spots, re-tweetable cultural commentary, and endless re- and mis-interpretations.
Which is why she now can’t make an offhand remark without getting criticized. Such as the uncomfortably TERF-y one she made about trans women not being “women” last week on a British talk show.
“Trans women are trans women.” She says. She goes on to say that feminism struggles against the social conditioning that cis women have gone through–a type of conditioning that, she assumes, trans women do not undergo.
Of course, to many of us, this is an absurd statement. To assume that trans women A) don’t experience social conditioning of a very distinct kind while B) being subject to the same negative images and stereotypes about women in general is short-sighted and wrong.
That said, this is a novelist. Not a celebrity, not a public speaker, not a politician. A novelist. And while, sure, novelists have (I would argue) a MUCH greater responsibility to the public as a whole, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been known to say their share of dumb-ass bullshit.
Writers are often strange, awkward creatures who only crawl out of their shells for the months leading up to and after a book release. They are not groomed in the way of, say, a Beyonce, or even a Bill Maher. They are the most human-seeming of all famous and semi-famous people. And they ain’t flawless.