An Interesting Message Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston talk “We should all be feminists”, published December 2012 argues that the word “feminist” is not a bad word, as many people render it to be. In fact, everyone should become “feminists” in order to understand the problems that sexism creates in today’s society. Furthermore, she argues that in order to combat these issues, we need to get rid of all gender roles in order to promote equality. Adichie successfully begins building her credibility with personal anecdotes about her life in Nigeria, citing facts and statistics, and successfully employing pathos. However, what makes Adichie speech different from any other is the platform she has chosen. Adichie used the internet as a way to make herself heard by incorporating rhetorical principles. Classical rhetoric and digital rhetoric becomes unified in order to create persuasive and compelling digital writing.
The audience immediately gets a sense of her personality. She opens the talk with a time in her life that was serious and life changing, but manages to evoke laughter from the audience. This is a successful strategy that she knows will keep her audience engaged and want to sit for 30 minutes and listen to her. The fact that she didn’t know what the word ‘feminist’ meant allows her to connect with the many people that sit before her that perhaps didn’t know what the word meant at some point in their own lives. The talk therefore becomes much more relatable. Adichie does not only speak about facts and statistics regarding male and females but makes her speech very raw and real. To the audience and viewers watching at home, it feels unscripted, which makes it easier for people to connect with what she’s saying and to like her as a person.
By using such platform, Adichie has to power to encourage her audience to interact with other members in the online community by using features such as ‘comment’, ‘like’ and ‘share’ provided by platforms such as TED and Youtube—together where she has received more than 7 million views. Part of what digital rhetoricians do is explore ideas of appealing to audiences, writing persuasively and using a digital platform as a means of communication. At this TED Talk, the large audience sits in an auditorium and welcomes Adichie with an applause. Many of them are videoing her as she speaks on stage. She speaks to a large crowd in front of her but also to everyone around the world who watches the video. Most of all, she is reaching out to the men, more so than females given the context of her speech. This heightens the significance of digital rhetoric. Digital rhetoric then becomes less about the actual device being used and more so about the the form or way communication is being done. Because of this, it is worth considering why Adichie has specifically chosen to give her speech on a TED platform. For one, it may be because TED is free and accessible for all. While the audience members video her, the videos will most likely be uploaded to social media and other digital platforms. The amount of views then multiplies as more people begin to become aware of Adichie’s speech. Not only does her popularity increase but also more people are able to support the feminist movement that she advocates for. Adichie carefully assessed the popularity of this medium as a way for her to communicate with many different members. Furthermore, the discussion and interaction continues online when people from around the world begin to share their own opinions and thoughts in the comment section. When the video is shared to places like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the comment section is also being heavily used by members from those communities. By using digital platforms, the video will forever be carried to different mediums allowing more and more people to get involved.
Adichie employs very strategic rhetorical practices here. She proved to be a compelling digital rhetorician as she structured her writing with ethos, logos, and pathos. Adichie conveys both ethos and logos together by showing her audience her knowledge and by connecting with an audience who she was likely to study from other TED talks in order to appeal to. By using the words of Wangari Maathai and by referring to Obama’s Lilly Ledbetter Law passed in 2009 a fair pay act, she strengthens her credibility and builds her argument. The audience then trusts her as a person and also what she is saying. She does not simply state that men and women are treated unfairly in the workplace environment, but rather, she supports that claim with factual information by accredited people. She uses those two sources as proof to show how men are supreme in comparison to females because of their masculinity which equates to power. Lastly, Adichie effectively uses pathos to evoke emotions from the audience as a way to encourage them to take action once they have felt ‘moved’. By stating that “a man and a woman doing the same job, being equally qualified, and the man being paid more because he’s a man” will cause both males and females to recognize the injustices of society and want to make a change in order to fix this issue of gender roles and expectations. Here, Adichie really shows her audience how both men and women can have the same exact skill set and qualifications but still be treated different. Thus, the audience becomes concerned for those who are faced with this issue, more aware to make a change, and sad that the world we live in is actually like this. But lastly, she still ends with a joke by saying “there are many exceptions”. The audience burst out into laughter and cheer for her. She always seems to end a heavy note very lightly as a way to make her audience feel cheerful again.