The Single Story of the “Flawless” Feminist Icon

I must say that this timing is rather uncanny, given our class’s recent discussion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” but just yesterday, Dutch paper De Volkskrant published an interview with the feminist icon. In this interview, Adichie responds to the media coverage she has experienced since the release of Beyoncé’s “Flawless,” and her desire to separate her own work from that of Beyoncé. She makes it clear that she respects Beyoncé as both an artist, and a fellow feminist icon, but would prefer that the public appreciated her work as its own entity–a pretty reasonable request, coming from a novelist already famous prior to being featured by another high-profile artist. 

Although the media has been all over the involvement of Adichie’s “We should all be feminists” TED Talk in Beyoncé’s work, it seems like the message Adichie puts forth in her other notable TED Talk, “The danger of a single story,” is ignored in all this commotion. Media outlets have, reportedly, been reaching out to Adichie to talk about Beyoncé while ignoring the multitude of bestselling books she’s produced; in a way, it seems like the media’s tendency is to group Beyoncé and Adichie’s messages together, if not equate them.

In her latest interview, though, Adichie points out that her type of feminism is not the same as Beyoncé’s type of feminism–and that’s ok; both are useful and valid. Adichie notes that her feminism is centered around men much less than Beyoncé’s feminism, not because she’s right and Beyoncé is wrong, but because there are different ways to be a feminist, and she has her own specific personal preferences. It’s because of this that it’s so disheartening to see the media try to equate two women with differing messages–and because the tendency to generalize complex human beings in this way is exactly what “The danger of a single story” warns about.

Generalizing feminist icons like Beyoncé and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie forces complex individuals into this single story narrative, ignoring the intricacies of what they believe, in favor of a homogenous and watered-down version of feminism. By equating these icons with one another, news outlets are sending the message that if you’ve heard one feminist, you’ve heard them all–that if you’ve heard a single story, you’ve heard all the stories–and that is simply not true.

One Reply to “The Single Story of the “Flawless” Feminist Icon”

  1. Marissa,
    Ironically, I came across the same interview of Adichie right after watching her TED Talk in class as well! I’m a huge Beyonce fan and knew the speech in “Flawless” came from somewhere but never bothered to look it up. It wasn’t until I was listening to Adichie speak that I realized it was her talking in the song. In a way, I fell victim to the “single story.” Because Beyonce is a huge icon for me, both as a singer and feminist, I figured Adichie’s kind of feminism was the same as her’s and that was wrong of me. I always wondered, “who’s the speaker in Beyonce’s song?” instead of thinking of Adichie as her own successful, individual feminist.

    I completely agree with you that it’s upsetting how often the media generalizes all feminists. I see this a lot on social media. Someone will share some obscure Tumblr post of a woman saying ridiculous things in the name of feminism, things that clearly are not true feminist ideas, and say, “See? All feminists are crazy man-haters!” Just like you said, it’s the danger of the single story.

    I appreciate you bringing together both of Adichie’s TED talks and sparking this discussion!

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