Renowned Nigerian author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered this year’s second vice-chancellor’s open lecture at the University of Cape Town (UCT) amid a wave of criticism from the university’s Students’ Rrepresentative Council (SRC), which accused her of being transphobic.
They boycotted the lecture because of an interview with BBC in 2017, where Adichie said “trans women are trans women” in response to a question about whether she considers trans women as real women. She apologised after getting a backlash. She was criticised by members of the LGBTQIA+ community for the comment, saying she is transphobic.
The university however said it viewed the lecture as an opportunity for debate and different perspectives on the same issue.
The lecture explored the “idolatry of theory: a defence of storytelling”, on Wednesday.
During the lecture Adichie argued why, in her view, theory is considered a kind of idolatry. She explained how during a conversation on sexism several a years ago, a woman shared a theory based on her own lived experience.
The woman said: “Sometimes, some women are their own worst enemies.” But instead of engaging her on the topic and discussing it in detail, Adichie said the rest of the group simply silenced her.
Adichie noted that while theory is important, especially when it relates to discussions and debates on global challenges like gender inequality and sexual and gender-based violence, society is afraid to run foul of theory.
“I suspected even then that we silenced her [the woman] because her experience and her conclusion complicated our accepted theory. Theory gives us a framework to think about the world. But we should not give it primacy because when we do, we start to walk backwards,” Adichie said.
Adichie presented her lecture to a virtual audience, with roughly 5 000 guests in attendance. The lecture series is hosted by UCT VC Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.