TEDx speaker and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was interviewed this week by the UK's Channel 4 News about her views on feminism. Adichie, whose talk "We Should All Be Feminists" was sampled in Beyoncé's song "***Flawless," is now coming under fire for her answer to the question of whether being a transgender woman makes you "any less of a real woman."
Adichie responded that transgender women and "women" have different life experiences when it comes to societal oppression and therefore cannot be equated.
"I think that trans women are trans women," Adichie said in the interview. "I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experiences. It's not about how we wear our hair or whether we have a vagina or penis, it's about the way the world treats us.
"And I think if you've lived in the world as a man, with the privileges that the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched 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 have."
Adichie's wording tripped up many online who said trans woman can be accepted as women without equating them to cis women. "Woman" is an umbrella term, some argued, that doesn't require certain experiences.
Others, like transgender activist Raquel Willis, said Adichie shouldn't have been asked about trans women since she isn't one. Willis went on to explain how dangerous Adichie's language can be for transwomen in reinforcing society's perception that they aren't "real women."
Chimamanda being asked about trans women is like Lena Dunham being asked about Black women. It doesn't work. We can speak for ourselves. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
We know exactly what you mean when you say, “Trans women are trans women," but can't simply say, "trans women are women." — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
When you ostracize and devalue trans women and their womanhood, you are operating as a tool of the patriarchy. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
Trans women aren't saying their experiences are just like cis women, just as queer women don't claim theirs are just like straight women. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
Yes, folks raised as girls are plagued with oppression in a different way than people not raised as girls. No one denies that. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
That doesn't negate threats of violence, harassment or oppression in a patriarchal society – things trans women of any age also face. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
This convo falls apart with more and more trans folks coming out at younger ages. It also conveniently leaves out transmasculine folks. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
Do we tell a cis woman she's less of a woman if she says she's never experienced harassment or violence or overt discrimination? No. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
Trans women have been hypersexualized in the media, exploited for our bodies, paid less, denied healthcare and told our voices are invalid. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
It's nonsensical and *privileged* to require trans women to experience certain instances of oppression to prove their womanhood. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
We don't need public debates on trans women. We need trans women elevated and allowed to speak for themselves. — Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) March 11, 2017
Since the interview Adichie has posted a response on her Facebook page in which she acknowledges that transwomen have a place in feminism while reiterating the points she made in her interview.