A Single Story

By Mali Collins

Stereotypes. Broad-brushing. Blanket terms. We are all guilty of employing them, and their pervasiveness creates deep wounds riddled with heavy social and cultural implications. In fact, we use them so much that they can permanently alter our perceptions of our enviornments and those within them, and even dictate the types of foods we eat, where we go, and how we present ourselves to one another. In her 2009 TED Talk, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the dangers of presenting “single stories” to the world. Single stories are straightforward, single-minded stories or ideas presented about a country, group of people, or ethnicity. They ignore the nuances and various facets that construct identities, and the nuances that exist within them. They perpetuate negative ideas, and anticipate outcomes. They keep us apart and they keep us ignorant.

Slut. Trashy. Stupid. Hot. Domineering. Desperate. Single stories about women often contain these tropes. They anticipate who or what a woman is supposed to be and keep us in reductionist modes of thought.  A single story I would like to change about women centers on their capability. Women and girls have long been exiled to the private sphere, and more contemporarily, results in the perception of their ability to contribute to society.

By “contribute”, I mean money: As individuals in a capitalist society, we are seen as producers–worker bees–and are measured by our amount of profit we make for our society. This mode of thinking became especially prevalent during the genesis of our nation and its economy. We decided upon arrival that the ideological structure of our country would be founded on White men creating the governmental infrastructure, and their wives indoors, and slaves to do the work. We threw our women in the house, locked them up, and only recently have undone the lock. World War II threw women back into our industrial economy in order to supply our nations demands. After our men came home, we tried to get women back into the house to take care of the kids and get back to baking. The funny part is, though, is that we didn’t want to. We began educating ourselves, earning multiple degrees, waiting longer to get married, and, oh yeah–having careers.

After Civil Rights, after the Second Wave, and after Roe v Wade, patriarchy has had enough. It’s sick of us women thinking that we can do things, perform well, learn at rapid rates, have kids without men, and thrive. We think that we can be president, be billionaires, and wage peace in war-torn land. So, it produces single stories–through media, bad judgement, and dominating discourses–to keep girls from striving. Our single story is that you can not achieve if you are a woman, and we are defined by our simplicity and our inability. Convincing us that we are not capable of being first-class citizens is being implemented into our culture at increasing rates. Coercive rhetoric consisting of discouragement and haughtiness is something we can’t help from hearing, but we can help by not actively participating. It is our job as women to not perpetuate single stories and not to buy into the ideologies created to keep us apart and afraid. We are being rooted against, and our role is to not question our capability, for our breadth of our aptidudes expands to lengths that even we cannot perceive.

The trick is not to fail because of the  patriarchal system, but to succeed in spite of it. We must keep challenging these single stories, so to help progress our society and ensure our sovereignty as women.

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