The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie makes a surprise appearance on Beyoncé’s latest album, released on iTunes last week, declaiming: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.’”
The novelist’s intervention comes during the track ***Flawless, appearing as a series of samples from her impassioned TED talk, “We should all be feminists.”
During the speech, the Orange prize-winning author argued that differing expectations of men and women damage economic and social prospects in Nigeria, and more generally around Africa and the world.
Beyoncé has been particularly inspired by sections where Adichie explores attitudes towards marriage, sampling a passage where the novelist talks directly about aspirations.
“Because I am a female, I am expected to aspire to marriage,” Adichie says. “I am expected to make my choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Marriage can be… a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”
Another section sampled on ***Flawless argues that girls are raised “to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”
Beyoncé has also used lines from a part of the speech where Adichie queries parents’ attitudes towards young people’s sexuality:
“We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. If we have sons, we don’t mind knowing about our sons’ girlfriends, but our daughters’ boyfriends? God forbid. But of course when the time is right, we expect those girls to bring back the perfect man to be their husband.”
The pop diva quotes Adichie’s definition of a feminist as “a person who believes in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.”
Over the course of the 30-minute speech, the novelist argues that we do “a great disservice” to boys in how we raise them, putting them in the “hard cage” of masculinity; and that we do “a greater disservice” to girls.
“We say to girls, you should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten ‘The Man.’”
Adichie begins her talk by recalling a Nigerian childhood spent reading British and American literature, which inspired her to write novels featuring African characters. Now it seems the writer’s words have themselves inspired an uptempo feminist anthem from one of the biggest names in pop music.