The single story of manhood

I’ve just finished Chimamanda Adichie’s incredible novel Americanah, a book that details with great honesty and unapologetic candor the experience of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, moving to America. While the characters are fictional, the issues of gender and race discussed throughout—and how Ifemelu deals with them—are alternately heartbreaking and uproariously funny.

Immediately after finishing, I watched Adichie’s 2009 TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”. If you have 20 minutes to spare, I encourage you to watch it. It will inspire, educate and amuse you.

The gist of the talk—for those of you unable to watch it at present—is of the negative consequences of hearing only a “single story” of a group of people. That group of people, as in Chimamanda’s talk, could be Americans, Africans, Londoners, women. In the case of Africans, the single story told to Americans is frequently one of war, sickness and poverty. The reality, of course, is much more complicated. She says:

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of “feminist” writing—and I put the word in quotes because often “feminist writing” is short for “accounts of the harrowing experience of being a woman in the world”—and it’s led me to think hard about my own gender. The root of feminism, after all, is the excessive misogyny of men that seems nearly built into the foundation of our culture.

As Adichie discusses in her essay “We Should All Be Feminists”—a piece I’m exceptionally excited to read next week—all too often young girls are given the “single story” of being a woman, one which can discourage and dishearten when instead it should bolster and motivate. It set me down a path of thinking tonight about the equivalent “single story” of manhood. What are the ways in which I was subconsciously taught, growing up as a boy in the United States, how to “be a man”? And how does that single story lead to the very misogynistic, patriarchal culture that mandates a feminist movement to begin with?