Dear Ijeawele: A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
Almost everyone who’s read We Should All Be Feminists also recommends Dear Ijeawele – A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie…and I can see why.
Honestly, after my somewhat comprehensive review of We Should All Be Feminists, I have nothing much left to say about this book without being redundant. So I’ll just say a couple of things and then list the fifteen suggestions in short…
Dear Ijeawele is a tiny book written in the form of a letter. Adichie’s friend, a new mother, had asked her how to raise her daughter Chizalum to be a feminist, and this book is Adichie’s reply.
Just like We Should All Be Feminists, this is also entirely quotable. If I’d been in the habit of annotating my books, this would be full of highlights (just like we highlight everything in the name of marking the “important” points in a textbook before an exam :P).
All I can actually say about this book is that, if possible, it’s even more poignant and power-packed than We Should All Be Feminists.
Every line in it hit me hard, and some parts even made me (a proud feminist) realise that in some ways, I’ve been unconsciously misogynistic. It was eye-opening.
Other than that, my opinions about this book are the same as what I’ve already expressed about We Should All Be Feminists.
So…on to the suggestions (and some musings)
Suggestion 1: Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. [Please reject the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive]
Suggestion 2: Do it together. Chudi (your husband) should do everything that biology allows – which is everything but breastfeeding.
Here, Adichie advices her friend to reject the language of “help”, because when we say the father is helping, what we really mean is that child-care is a mother’s job…and I remember a conversation I had with my mother a while back.
I grew up in what can be called a feminist household. My father cooks regularly, so much so that I now consider cooking lunch my father’s domain. They split the cleaning and the dishes and other housework according to convenience.
I was talking to my mom about how this is rare, and how my friends always praise my dad for it. And I mentioned that in an ideal world, it would be normal for the father to do housework. She replied, “Yes! He shouldn’t do it for praise or anything…he should do it out of love for me.” I explained why love and all is fine, but housework shouldn’t be the mother’s duty anyway, and it was like a lightbulb moment for her…
That was actually when I realised that even with such a feminist attitude, we all have unconscious patriarchal beliefs, and small but meaningful real-life (not social media) conversations like this are necessary to change our mindset.
Suggestion 3: Teach her that the idea of gender roles is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she’s a girl.
I remember a phase when I considered myself a tomboy and did things “like a boy”. I didn’t want to be like “other girls”. It was only later that I realised that in considering myself unlike other girls and “like a boy”, I was putting the male gender above the female gender.
Suggestion 4: Beware of the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely…Being a feminist is like being pregnant…You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.
Suggestion 5: Teach Chizalum to read. Teach her to love books. Books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to become.
As a reader myself, this was my favourite suggestion (though it wasn’t the one that had the most profound impact on me).
Suggestion 6: Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions.
Suggestion 7: Never speak of marriage as an achievement…A marriage can be happy or unhappy, but it is not an achievement.
Suggestion 8: Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.
This, I think, is one of the most ingrained patriarchal beliefs a lot of us have. I know, on a theoretical level, that I should reject the idea of being likeable, but sometimes I just can’t bring myself to let go of it. Everywhere, we are bombarded with instructions on how to behave so that people like us. We tend to face negative consequences if we’re not “nice” or “likeable”, which makes it even harder.
Suggestion 9: Give Chizalum a sense of identity.
Suggestion 10: Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance.
Suggestion 11: Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as ‘reasons’ for social norms.
Suggestion 12: Talk to her about sex, and start early. It will probably be a bit awkward but it is necessary.
Suggestion 13: Romance will happen, so be on board.
Suggestion 14: In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints. Saintliness is not a prerequisite for dignity. People who are unkind and dishonest are still human, and still deserve dignity.
When we see news of a woman who’s a criminal, there is invariably that one idiot in our circle who’ll say, “Well, this is a blow to your feminism, isn’t it?” And I resent that. So this suggestion, which gave me a lot of comebacks for such a question, has a special place in my heart.
After all, when a male leader behaves badly or is exposed as a criminal, no one says, “Well, this is a blow to patriarchy.”
We all deserve to be treated as human beings and with dignity. So, just as there are male criminals, there are female criminals, too. And that doesn’t mean women don’t deserve rights.
Suggestion 15: Teach her about difference… Teach her not to attach value to difference… Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.
The author is an amazing woman, so…
About the Author:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the fifth of six children born to Igbo parents in Enugu, Nigeria. She grew up in the university town of Nsukka, in (and this is so cool!) the former home of award-winning writer Chinua Achebe (coincidence or fate?). Her parents were awesome – her father was Nigeria’s first professor of statistics and her mother was the first female registrar.
At the age of nineteen, she went to the US. She studied communication at Drexel University and then moved on to Eastern Connecticut State University, where she wrote her first book, Purple Hibiscus, which was published in 2003. She’s a prolific writer. She’s written four books, but tons of essays, short stories and whatnot. Her work has been translated into over 30 languages. She now splits her time between Nigeria, where she teaches writing, and the US.
One last thing: All the amazing, powerful quotes I found in this book are really long, so I took pictures and put them in my Instagram post about the book. Check that out if you want to read the quotes!