Dear Ijeawele: A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
Published by 4th Estate (an Imprint of Harper Collins)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I discovered Ms Adichie when I listened to her first TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story” many years ago. Since then she has become one of my literary heroines. She is possibly best known (so far) for Americanah, although she has written other novels (Purple Hibiscus, Half a Yellow Sun) a collection of short stories and book inspired by her second TED talk “We Should All be Feminists”.
Not long ago a friend was about to give birth to a girl child and I was casting around for a meaningful gift for her drive-by baby shower. I was uninspired by cute toys and babygros, kango pouches (my usual default) and practical boring necessities like breast pads and chafe cream. Instead I settled on this book, written by Chimamanda for her friend on the birth of her daughter and in response to the question: how do I raise my baby girl to be a feminist? (My expectant friend had not asked me this question, but as a queen of unsolicited advice I thought I would offer it anyway.)
Adichie’s starting point and the premise of her book is this: ‘I matter.’ ‘ I matter equally.’ This is so important, so deeply obvious, so un-revolutionary and yet so profoundly the opposite of what my mother’s and most of my own generation of women have failed to internalize. How can any thinking human not agree that ‘I matter equally?’ As parents we cannot teach our daughters and sons to be feminists if we do not first grasp and then demonstrate that we matter equally. This may be hard and may require some unlearning and many micro and macro changes. Do it anyway. If you can’t or won’t then nothing ever will.
She then goes on to set out fifteen suggestions for raising a feminist (i.e. a person, male or female who believes that we all matter equally). I am grateful for the reminder. This book is now the standard gift for every expectant friend:
- Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift but do not define yourself solely by motherhood.
- Do parenting together. Fathering is as much a verb as mothering. Do not be complicit in diminishing the practical role of fathers.
- Domestic skills are life skills and must be taught to boys and girls.
- Avoid feminism lite. There is no such thing as conditional equality. One may compromise on many things but sexism (like racism) is not one of them.
- Teach your girl and boy children to read for pleasure and instruction and in order to have their ideas and beliefs challenged. Teach them to question language (language is the repository of prejudice, beliefs, assumptions.)
- Help your daughter to understand that marriage is not a worthy goal or an achievement. Teach her that it is one option option rather than a necessity. Help her to know that (if she chooses it) the act of marriage is her choice as much as her partner’s and she need never passively wait to have a partner initiate a proposal.
- Reject likeability and teach your daughter that it is significantly more important to be her full authentic self than to be liked.
- Be deliberate about helping her to develop her sense of identity
- Help her to like and accept her body and her face by liking and accepting yours. Encourage her to move, exercise, play sport so that she understands that she is physically powerful.
- Teach her that although biology is a fascinating subject, it is never a justification for any social norm.
- Talk to her about sex. Start early. Explain its physical and emotional consequences but most importantly explain to her that her body belongs to her and her alone.
- Teach your children that love is about the ability to both give and receive. (This is important because society still teaches girls that a large component of their ability to love is their ability to sacrifice themselves. Society does not teach boys this. It is our job to do so. I am fully supportive of the idea that love requires compromise and sacrifice from both parties.
- Teach her that it is not a man’s role to provide. In a healthy relationship it is the role of whoever can provide to do so.
- In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints. We are all as human as each other and our human rights are not dependent on our moral goodness. They are dependent on our humanity.
- Help her to understand that people are different and that although she should be full of opinions, they should come from a informed, humane and open minded place.
I love books! After all, “Reading is like breathing in and writing is like breathing out.” Pam AllynSo I am excited and proud to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Vrye Weekblad (https://www.vryeweekblad.com/
), which I have admired since my student days, to write some of their book reviews. Previously published in the Vrye Weekblad in Afrikaans.