December 18, 2017
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Kachifo Limited under its Farafina Imprint.
I am sure just from the title, a lot of people already have their eyes rolling to the back of the sockets and I know a lot of people are tired of the feminism wahala, but it is here to stay. This book is an expanded epistle to a friend of the author’s in response to an earlier request about the best ways in which she could bring up her new baby girl a couple of years back.
As the title suggests, there are fifteen main points which the author outlined in order to guide her friend and other women who would lay their hands on this book needing answers, making references to her life as a woman and the delicateness of her role as a mother to a girl as well.
Chimamanda is known to be an outspoken feminist, even though a couple of months ago she was almost caught up in a controversy regarding a certain statement about transgender women. Therefore, it is no surprise that this book came to be. Before diving too deep into the book, her honesty about the delicateness about being asked to guide a friend on how to raise a baby girl a feminist draws one closer to the book.
In the introductory part, she mentions
“when a couple of years ago a friend of mine from childhood…asked me to tell her how to raise her baby girl a feminist, my first thought was that I did not know.”
It only shows that one thinks she knows something until another individual asks for help. One wouldn’t blame her for being so nervous. It is not an easy thing to do, considering the fact that only a mother knows how best to raise her child.
She keeps the language simple, endearing and instructive in a manner that was not condescending and forceful. Paying attention again to the word ‘suggestions’. She does not go straight to the point from the beginning of the letter, instead first appreciates a part of the cycle of life and how honored she is to have been asked of such a huge thing.
- The first suggestion is that her friend be a full person.
- The second suggestion is that both parents be involved in the well-being and upbringing of the baby girl.
- The third suggestion is that the girl be taught that the idea of ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense.
- The fourth suggestion is that she beware of the danger of what she calls ‘Feminism Lite’
- The fifth suggestion is that the girl be taught to read (beyond the basic conventional way of teaching a child to read), to love books.
- The sixth suggestion is to teach the girl to question language.
- The seventh suggestion is to never speak of marriage as an achievement.
- The eighth suggestion is to teach her to reject likeability.
- The ninth suggestion is to give the girl the sense of identity.
- The tenth suggestion is for the mother to be deliberate about her engagement with her and her appearance.
- The eleventh suggestion is to teach her to question culture’s selective use of biology as ‘reasons’ for social norms.
- The twelfth suggestion is to talk to her about sex, and to start early.
- The thirteenth suggestion is to be open to accept romance in her daughter’s life.
- The fourteenth suggestion is to teach her about oppression without turning the oppressed into saints.
- The fifteenth suggestion is to teach her about difference.
The need for each of these suggestions cannot be overemphasised. Growing up a girl child in a frigid society used to having tradition regurgitated and who might end up having a girl of her own, I believe that Chimamanda could not have blessed me any other way than choosing to make this letter accessible and also expanding on it.
I could relate to everything she was writing about; growing up with the mindset that the men should aspire to be every other great thing, but the woman’s only and greatest desire should be being a good wife.
Although the cultures differ, women still suffer the same plight. I am opportune to have been born at the time I was, when a lot of women had become more learned, wise and exposed. I could also relate to the part where she mentioned that the gender roles automatically dictate to us what colors of clothes to wear and how to act and what sort of toys to play with as in the case of the seven-year-old Nigerian girl and her mother.
“She saw a toy helicopter, one of those things that fly by wireless remote control, and she was fascinated and asked for one. ‘No’, her mother said. ‘You have your dolls.’ And she responded, ‘Mummy, is it only dolls I will play with?”
I could at least count myself lucky enough to have been permitted to play with Lego blocks, if I were to compare myself to the little girl.
I loved the book and enjoyed every bit of it that I engulfed, except the part about sex where she mentioned that it is the girl’s choice whether or not she wants to keep herself for her husband. I could be bias because of my Christian mind, and I have had a few stories about the consequences of this choice. One could say I got a bit skeptical at that point. It is one of the nicest books that I have read this year.
If I could change something about the book, it would be the time it was published. It should have been published way before 2016, although Chimamanda has never been implicit about her stance on Feminism and it could be seen in every one of her works, even speeches.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie works have appeared in various publications and translated into thirty languages. Her other books are Purple Hibiscus, Americanah, The Thing Around Your Neck, Half of a Yellow Sun, We Should All Be Feminists. She divides her time between the United States and Nigeria. Her speech on the TedX show which was featured in Beyoncé’s “Flawless” serves as a motivation for women to aspire to do better for themselves and aspire to be more.
This book is definitely one I would recommend to another person to digest. A lot of things in this book which people need to learn. The sad truth is, only people enlightened enough to open their minds to the evolving world can enjoy the book. A mind buried deep under in customs and traditions from time past, almost decaying will find the information in the book, repelling and abominable.
I believe for you to be reading this right now, you must be a sucker for books too. Do pick up this book and give your honest opinion. I can say it’s worth your money’s worth.
Written by Adetutu Adedoyin, Literary Editor at Core Magazine Africa
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