Title: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Genre: Non-fiction, letter, feminism, sociology, anthropology, politics.
Country: Nigeria (published as book in U.S.).
Publication Date: 2016.
Summary: This book is an epistolary-style manifesto that Adichie has written in response to a question by one of her friends - 'How do I raise my daughter, Ijeawele, feminist?' In 15 suggestions, Adichie shares her opinions on independence, dignity, and human rights, as understood and deserved by women, and how a society can insure them trough the proper treatment of and education for young girls.
My rating: 9/10.
♥ For me, feminism is always contextual. I don't have a set-in-stone rule; the closest I have to a formula are my two "Feminist Tools" and I want to share them with you as a starting point.
The first is your premise, the solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not "if only." Not "as long as." I matter equally. Full stop.
The second tool is a question: Can you reverse X and get the same results?
For example: Many people believe that a woman's feminist response to a husband's infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context. If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes, then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based—that absurd idea of "men will be men," which means having a much lower standard for men.
♥ Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders, who was the first woman to report from Vietnam during the war (and who was the mother of a son), once gave this piece of advice to a younger journalist: "Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child."
♥ It doesn't surprise me that your sister-in-law says you should be a "traditional" mother and stay home, that Chudi can afford not to have a double-income family.
People will selectively use "tradition" to justify anything. Tell her that a double-income family is actually the true Igbo tradition because not only did mothers farm and trade before British colonialism, trading was exclusively done by women in some parts of Igboland. She would know this if reading books were not such an alien enterprise to her.
♥ Do it together. Remember in primary school we learned that a verb was a "doing" word? Well, a father is as such a verb as mother.
♥ And please reject the language of help. Chudi is not "helping" you by caring for his child. He is doing what he should. When we say fathers are "helping," we are suggesting that child care is a mother's territory, into which fathers valiantly venture. It is not. Can you imagine how many more people today would be happier, more stable, better contributors to the world, if only their fathers had been actively present in their childhood?
Chudi does not deserve any special gratitude or praise, nor do you—you both made the choice to bring a child into the world, and the responsibility for that child belongs equally to you both. It would be different if you were a single mother, whether by circumstance or choice, because "doing it together" would then not be an option. But you should not be a "single mother" unless you are truly a single mother.
My friend Nwabu once told me that because his wife left when the kids were young, he became "Mr. Mom," by which he meant that he did the daily caregiving. But he was not being a "Mr. Mom"; he was simply being a dad.
♥ "Because you are a girl" is never a reason for anything. Ever.
I remember being told as a child to "bend down properly while sweeping, like a girl." Which meant that sweeping was about being female. I wish I had been told simply "bend down and sweep properly because you'll clean the floor better." And I wish my brothers had been told the same thing.
♥ We also need to question the idea of marriage as a prize to women, because that is the basis of these absurd debates. If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, the we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.
♥ A young Nigerian woman once told me that she had for years behaved "like a boy"—she liked football and was bored by dresses—until her mother forced her to stop her "boyish" interests. Now she is grateful to her mother for helping her start behaving like a girl. The story made me sad. I wondered what parts of herself she had needed to silence and stifle, and I wondered about what her spirit had lost, because what she called "behaving like a boy" was simply behaving like herself.
♥ More troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to "treat women well." No. No. No. There must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a woman's well-being.
Feminism Lite uses the language of "allowing." Theresa May is the British prime minister and here is how a progressive British newspaper described her husband: "Philip May is known in politics as a man who has taken a back seat and allowed his wife, Theresa, to shine."
Now let us reverse it. Theresa May has allowed her husband to shine. Does it make sense? If Philip May were prime minister, perhaps we might hear that his wife had "supported" him from the background, or that she was "behind" him, or that she'd "stood by his side," or that she'd "stood by his side," but we would never hear that she had "allowed" him to shine.
♥ The writer had accused me of being "angry," as though "being angry" were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism.
♥ But here is a sad truth: Our world is full of men and women who do not like powerful women. We have been so conditioned to think of power as male that a powerful woman is an aberration. And so she is policed. We ask of powerful women: Is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? Questions we do not ask of powerful men, which shows that our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women. We judge powerful women more harshly than we judge powerful men.
♥ Teach Chizalum to read. Teach her to love books. The best way is by casual example. If she sees you reading, she will understand that reading is valuable. If she were not to go to school, and merely just read books, she would arguably become more knowledgeable than a conventionally educated child. Books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to become—a chef, a scientist, a singer, all benefit from the skills that reading brings. I do not mean schoolbooks. I mean books that have nothing to do with school, autobiographies and novels and histories.
♥ So decide for yourself the things you will not say to your child. Because what you say to your child matters. It teaches her what she should value. You know that Igbo joke, used to tease girls who are being childish—"What are you doing? Don't you know you are old enough to find a husband?" I used to say that often. But now I choose not to. I say "You are old enough to find a job." Because I do not believe that marriage is something we should teach young girls to aspire to.
♥ Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women. For X please insert words like "anger," "ambition," "loudness," "stubbornness," "coldness," "ruthlessness."
♥ Teach Chizalum that the woman is a mechanic, not a "lady mechanic."
♥ Never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that marriage is not an achievement, nor is it what she should aspire to. A marriage can be happy or unhappy, but it is not an achievement.
We condition girls to aspire to marriage and we do not condition boys to aspire to marriage, and so there is already a terrible imbalance at the start. The girls will grow up to be women preoccupied with marriage. The boys will grow up to be men who are not preoccupied with marriage. The women marry those men. The relationship is automatically uneven because the institution matters more to one than the other. Is it any wonder that, in so many marriages, women sacrifice more, at a loss to themselves, because they have to constantly maintain an uneven exchange?
♥ There are people who say "Well, your name is also about patriarchy because it is your father's name." Indeed. But the point is simply this: Whether it came from my father or from the moon, it is the name that I have had since I was born, the name with which I traveled my life's milestones, the name I have answered to since that first day I went to kindergarten on a hazy morning and my teacher said, "Answer 'present' if you hear you name. Number one: Adichie!"
♥ I prefer Ms. because it is similar to Mr. A man is Mr. whether married or not, a woman is Ms. whether married or not. So please teach Chizalum that in a truly just society, women should not expected to make marriage-based changes that men are not expected to make. Here's a nifty solution: Each couple that marries should take on an entirely new surname, chosen however they want as long as both agree to it, so that a day after the wedding, both husband and wife can hold hands and joyfully journey off to the municipal offices to change their passports, driver's licenses, signatures, initials, bank accounts, etc.
♥ 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.
..Please do not ever put this pressure on your daughter. We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false. And we do not teach boys the same. This is dangerous. Many sexual predators have capitalized on this. Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice. Many girls spend too much time trying to be "nice" to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the "feelings" of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.
♥ Teach her about privilege and inequality and the importance of giving dignity to everyone who does not mean her harm—teach her that the household help is human just like her, teach her always to greet the driver. Link these expectations to her identity—for example, say to her "In our family, when you are a child, you greet those older than you no matter what job they do."
Give her an Ingbo nickname. When I was growing up, my Aunty Gladys called me Ada Obodo Dike. I always loved that. Apparently my village, Ezi-Abba, is known as the Land of Warriors, and to be called Daughter of the Land of Warriors was deliciously heady.
♥ Don't think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive. It is misogynistic to suggest that they are.
♥ There are so many African women who are sources of feminist inspiration. Because of what they have done and because of what they have refused to do. Like your grandmother, by the way, that remarkable, strong, sharp-tongued babe.
♥ So please find some good non-blustering men. Men like your brother Ugomba, men like our friend Chinakueze. Because the truth is that she will encounter a lot of male bluster in her life. So it is good to have alternatives from very early on.
I cannot overstate the power of alternatives. She can counter ideas about static "gender roles" if she has been empowered by her familiarity with alternatives. If she knows an uncle who cooks well—and does so with indifference—then she can smile and brush off the foolishness of somebody who claims that "women must do the cooking."
♥ So teach Chizalum that biology is an interesting and fascinating subject, but she should never accept it as justification for any social norm. Because social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.
♥ Teach her that saying no when no feels right is something to be proud of.
♥ To make sure she doesn't inherit shame from you, you have to free yourself of your own inherited shame. And I know how terribly difficult that is. In every culture in the world, female sexuality is about shame. Even cultures that expect women to be sexy—like many in the West—still do not expect them to be sexual.
♥ Teach her to reject the linking of shame and female biology. Why were we raised to speak in low tones about periods? To be filled with shame if our menstrual blood happened to stain our skirt? Periods are nothing to be ashamed of. Periods are normal and natural, and the human species would not be here if periods did not exist. I remember a man who said a period was like shit. Well, sacred shit, I told him, because you wouldn't be here if periods didn't happen.
♥ I think love is the most important thing in life. Whatever kind, however you define it, but I think of it generally as being greatly valued by another human being and greatly valuing another human being. But why do we raise only one half of the world to value this?
♥ I want to say something about money here. Teach her never, ever to say such nonsense as "my money is my money and his money is our money." It is vile. And dangerous—to have that attitude means that you must potentially accept other harmful ideas as well. 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 provide.
♥ 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.
♥ There is sometimes, in the discourse around gender, the assumption that women are supposed to be morally "better" than men. They are not. Women are as human as men are. Female goodness is as normal as female evil.
♥ That a woman claims not to be feminist does not diminish the necessity for feminism. If anything, it makes us see the extent of the problem, the successful reach of patriarchy. It shows us, too, that not all women are feminists and not all men are misogynists.
♥ Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice, but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.
She must know and understand that people walk different paths in the world, and that as long as those paths do not harm to others, they are valid paths that she must respect. Teach her that we do not know—we cannot know—everything about life. Both religion and science have spaces for the things we do not know, and it is enough to make peace with that.
Teach her never to universalize her own standards or experiences. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people. This is the only necessary form of humility: the realization that difference is normal.
♥ Please not that I am not suggesting that you raise her to be "non-judgmental," which is a commonly used expression these days, and which slightly worries me. The general sentiment behind the idea is a fine out, but "non-judgmental" can easily devolve into meaning "don't have an opinion about anything" or "I keep my opinions to myself." And so, instead of that, what I hope for Chizalum is this: that she will be full of opinions, and that her opinions will come from an informed, humane, and broad-minded place.
May she be healthy and happy. May her life be whatever she wants it to be.