‘Whataboutism’- Chimamanda Adichie on Chivalry


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made history again as she recently delivered the commencement lecture to the Havard Class of 2018. Watching her in her resplendent Ankara attire, one’s heart could literally swell at the heights she has attained. She started off telling a short story of her name and how often it’s been mispronounced. Adichie had her listeners in stitches as she recalled being called ‘Chimichanga’. You don’t have to be Igbo to know that that’s as far from Chimamanda as one could possibly get. Her point was to explain that ‘intent’ and ‘context’ mattered a great deal when analyzing situations. The incident was taken humorously and at face value as the mispronouncer had actually been seen hours earlier actively learning her lines and syllables. The truth is, anxiety can cause almost anything.

We’ve established that Chimamanda is INDEED, a woman worth her salt. Why, oh, why
do we, especially Nigerians feel the incessant need to pick apart every statement she utters to the bone? I understand the aim of dissecting her comments, she IS a popular woman whose thoughts and opinions MIGHT be swallowed hook, line and sinker by a large amount of individuals, women AND men included but the fact remains that she is and always will be entitled to her OWN opinion.

The recent brouhaha has been over Adicihie’s thoughts on chivalry. In an interview with acclaimed author and comedian Trevor Noah, she states “I think gestures like holding the door shouldn’t be gender-based. I think it’s a lovely thing to hold the door but we should hold the door for everyone. Like, I hold the door for men and women. And so I think the idea of someone holding the door for a woman because she’s a woman…I have trouble with it.”. At face value this ought to be an innocent comment right? From Banky W who says “Apparently, this is not ok to her, but to me, this is just reaching. I’m sorry but this is now getting a little ridiculous. To each his/her own, I guess” to Daddy Freeze who tells the author “Your own gender will let you down”, her comments are being taken at anything BUT face value.

The greatest clapback however came from US political commentator, Dana Loesch who in a fit of what we’ll term ‘Whataboutism’ instigated that Chimamanda would do a better job helping her home country, Nigeria by speaking on issues such as female gender mutilation which ACTUALLY matters as opposed to things as trivial as chivalry. Quoting questionable statistics which place Nigeria as top in FGM, she states matter-of-factly that complaining about holding doors is simply a disservice to her nation.

Frankly, ignoring the fact that Chimamanda is free to speak on whatsoever issues strike her as important, Chivalry in itself as a code of conduct for gentlemen was instigated as part of a patriarchal society. It therefore is wise to restructure our understanding of the word even as we restructure society to make room for gender equality, and most importantly gender equity. Her intent is not to discredit a system which encourages kind acts to all humans, but to ensure that such a system isn’t done from a platform of ‘helping the weaker sex’. To come up and discredit perfectly legitimate comments on a basis of said comments not being concrete enough in the light of other entirely unrelated issues is simply unjust and unfair.

Whataboutism as a silencing tactic is a form of defensive propaganda used to counter criticism. Simply put, it refers to the bringing up of one issue to distract from the discussion of another. This concept is ever present when US imperialism is brought in presidential debates and 9/11 is brought up as a distraction or when women aid organizations are asked the ever imposing questions of ‘What about men?’. Whataboutery is a vile, crude and inconsiderate stream of thinking which seeks to illegitimize valid topics in light of seemingly relevant but actually unrelated ones. Dana Loesch’s comment is honestly no different.
We need to, as Chimamanda rightly explained in her opening story, take ‘intent’ and ‘context’ into consideration when analyzing situations lest the speaker’s intended meaning be lost in transition. Female Genital Mutilation is a significant issue which has attracted and is still attracting global media coverage. This however doesn’t remove the fact that chivalry as a means of encouraging a patriachal society narrative ought to be addressed.
Gender Equity is the goal, and always has been.

Funfact: I observed quite a number of bottles of water were consumed during the 25minute duration of Chimamanda Adichie’s Havard speech. Coincidence? I think not.
There’s also one simple reason Adichie’s comments has the internet up in flames.
Home girl’s point was and is hitting home.


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