About Chimamanda Adichie’s “controversial” conversation with Hillary Clinton

On feminism, womanhood and choice

Yesterday, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie joined Hillary Rodham Clinton for a conversation at a PEN America’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture. On the event’s description, Chimamanda and Hillary were rightfully classed as two of the worlds strongest advocates for women and girls, with unique insights into how we can imagine a better future.

During the session, Chimamanda took the opportunity to confront the former Democratic presidential candidate with something she said she found upsetting. “In your Twitter account, the first word that describes you is ‘Wife.’, she said. “Then I think it’s ‘Mom,’ and then it’s ‘Grandmother'”. She then asked if it was Hillary’s choice to first identify in relation to her husband, and if so, why.

After listening to Chimamanda’s point of view, Hillary agreed to change her bio. But it’s not difficult to see figure why the former Secretary of State didn’t see the problem with her self-labelling before Chimamanda brought it up.

Firstly, Hillary is not just a ‘person’, she’s one of the most influential people in the world. She serves as a baseline for what a lot of women should aspire to at a time when the world demands we reorganize how society sees women. Likewise, Chimamanda is a vocal public figure who has fought an ideological battle against a misogynistic Nigerian culture, where women are not only seen as the lesser of the two genders but are ultimately defined by their husband’s worth. It is understandable that Adichie would consider a woman choosing to be identified in this way as regressive because this is the foundation of the anti-feminism she is most familiar with.

Although Chimamanda’s question is valid, her personal offence at another woman’s choice of identity also inversely defeats the what it means for a 21st-century woman to have aspirations without the influence of societal expectations either for men or women. Feminism, as we have come to know it, is different across the board. The base definition is the freedom of expression and choice. Through intersectional egalitarianism, we know that feminism is different for everyone depending on our environments. Hillary has had to form an identity outside of her husband’s, but Chimamanda has had to fight for her feminism in a more regressive environment where having careers is considered secondary to being a homemaker.


Still, tweets like the one above are proof that Chimamanda’s question is part of an important conversation that needs to be had nonetheless. Where she may have erred, however, is projecting her own reality on to Hillary, forgetting the contextual differences in their perspectives. But for people who look up to both iconic women, these well-rounded contexts helps to apply the acquired knowledge from diverse experiences to on-going conversations around equality and the furtherance of women’s rights.

Featured Image Credits: Instagram/chimamanda_adichie