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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sparks debate about privilege with comments on trans women

By WITW Staff on March 14, 2017

Acclaimed feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has found herself in the midst of a complex debate about the place of transgender women within the feminist movement.

According to The Washington Post, Adichie was being interviewed by Channel 4 in the U.K. when she was asked: “If you’re a trans woman who grew up identifying as a man, who grew up enjoying the privileges of being a man, does that take away from becoming a woman? Are you any less of a real woman?”

“So when people talk about, you know, ‘Are trans women women?’ — my feeling is trans women are trans women,” Adichie replied, drawing a line between trans and cisgendered women. Trans women, she went on to say, have presented as male and therefore enjoyed the privileges that society affords to men — regardless of what their gender identity might be.

“It’s about the way the world treats us,” she added, “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 change 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 as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”

Her comments have raised thorny questions about struggle, privilege, and what it means to be a woman. According to The Guardian, many trans activists took to Twitter to argue that Adichie fundamentally misunderstands the trans experience.

“I’m not sure a difference in genitalia would give you the privilege pass,” Twitter user @enenicolea wrote, for example. “Trans women embody womanhood and femininity from birth too.” Some called Adichie transphobic.

Actress Laverne Cox, without mentioning Adichie, said that she has never felt much in the way of privilege while growing up as a feminine boy. “The irony of my life is prior to transition I was called a girl and after I am often called a man,” she wrote on Twitter.

Rattled by the backlash, Adichie sought to clarify her comments in a lengthy Facebook post. “I see how my saying that we should not conflate the gender experiences of trans women with that of women born female could appear as if I was suggesting that one experience is more important than the other,” she wrote. “Or that the experiences of trans women are less valid than those of women born female. I do not think so at all — I know that trans women can be vulnerable in ways that women born female are not. This, again, is a reason to not deny the differences.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and other remarkable women will be appearing at our 8th Annual Women in the World New York Summit, taking place April 5-7. Tickets available now.

Read more at The Washington Post.


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