Dear Ijeawele or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions is an epistolary novel written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Written in the form of a letter Dear Ijeawele was intitally a personal e-mail written by Adichie in response to her friend “Ijeawele”, who had asked Adichie’s advice on how to raise her daughter a feminist. The 62- page letter was posted on her Facebook page on October 12, 2016 which got adapted into a book in March, 2017. So, initially being a letter, the work’s audience scope has been recognized to extend beyond only the mothers of daughter.
About the author:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, writer of short stories and fiction. She is popularly known for her critically acclaimed novels Purple Hibiscus(2003), Half of yellow sun(2006) and Americanah(2013) and a book length essay We should all be feminist(2014). She was described in The Times literary supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. She divides her time between US and Nigeria, where she gives writing workshops.
This book is of interest for:
- Anybody interested in reading/knowing about ‘feminism’
Premise of the book:
Dear Ijeawele or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions is her latest book published in March 2017.
The book is divided into fifteen suggestions that she gives to her friend for helping her grow up her daughter as a feminist. I have tried summing them under headings, which are as follows:-
1. Be a full person:
She suggests that motherhood should not be reason for women to stop working. They should not stop doing what they love, because loving what you do is a great gift to give your child. The confidence and self-fulfilment that comes with doing and earning, is worth it. They should bust the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive.
And for early motherhood, they should be kind to themselves and should not hesitate in asking for help. Expect to be helped. As, there is no such thing as a Superwoman.
2. Arrest your perfectionism:
Sometimes women are so much conditioned with the idea of “doing it all“- means doing everything on their own, thinking that their partner will not be able to take care of their child as perfectly as she is doing, that they diminish the role of fathers. They should still their socially conditioned sense of duty and should take it easy. Even if he is not able to do it as perfectly as she is doing, so what? Child care should be shared “equally”, which also includes paying equal attention to each person’s needs.
There is no such word as helping, when it comes to child care. When people use the statement that father is helping, they suggest that child care is a mother’s territory, which is not true. So, fathers should not be given any special gratitude or praise and nor do the mothers, bringing up a child is a mutual choice and so the responsibility for that child belongs equally to both.
3. “Gender roles” is nonsense:
She believes that parents unconsciously start very early to teach their kids how to be, and have preconceived notions of what type of things a girl or a boy like doing, what color each should wear or what each should learn is decided right from the beginning. These gender roles are so deeply conditioned in them, that they follow it, even if its against their true desires or needs. And then at later stages, these things are very difficult to unlearn. Parents should see their kids as an individual and not as a boy or girl who should be a certain way.
4. Rejecting “conditional” female equality:
In the name of feminism, the idea of “conditional” female equality has surfaced in many places, for eg. men are naturally superior but should be expected to ‘treat women well’. This idea is termed as Feminism Lite.
This idea should be rejected entirely. It is a hollow and bankrupt idea. Because being a feminist is a one sided thing. You either are or you are not. There is no such thing such as partial equality. Feminism Lite uses the language of ‘allowing‘. ‘Allow’ is a toxic and a troubling word and it is all about power.
“A husband is not a headmaster. A wife is not a schoolgirl. Permission and being allowed, when used one-sidely— should never be the language of an equal marriage.”
5. Virtue of reading:
In this, she suggests her friend to teach her child to love books. In books, she means those that have nothing to do with school such as autobiographies and novels. This will help her to understand and question the world, and will also help her to discover herself.
6. Questioning language:
She believes that Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions. So, a child should be taught to question language. Parents should be careful in using right kind of words in front of their kids. e.g. Don’t just label something ‘misogynistic’; tell her why it is, and tell her what would make it not be.
Questioning the words and asking right questions should be imbibed in a child.
7. Seeing marriage the right way:
She believes that a girl should never be taught to see marriage as an achievement, nor is it what she should aspire to. As, this creates an imbalance right from the beginning.
She is not expected to make marriage based changes that men are not expected to make.
8. To be yourself:
A girl should not be taught to be likeable, it’s not her job. She should never pressure herself to fit into a mould so that people could like her. Her job is to be her full self. A person who is honest and kind, and who will never hesitate in speaking for herself.
9. A sense of identity:
Here she suggests her friend that she should give a sense of identity to her child. And be deliberate in showing her the enduring beauty of Africans and of black people. Teach her to take pride in the history of Africans and in black diaspora.
Most importantly, teach her about privilege and inequality and the importance of giving dignity to everyone who does not mean her harm.
10. Let her be:
She suggests her friend here that she should be deliberate in engaging her daughter on appearance. She should encourage her to be physically active and try different sports. Not only is this beneficial for her health but it will also help with all the body-image insecurities that world thrusts on girls. Don’t let anything get on her way.
If she likes make-up let her wear it, and if she likes fashion let her dress up. Never link her appearance with morality.
“Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.”
11. Question Social Norm:
She suggests her to teach her child to question social norms formed on the basis of selective use of ‘biology’. We often use ‘biology’ to explain the privileges that men have. She questions the belief that many cultures (Igbo) have such as –“A child first belongs to the father. It has to be that way.” Social norms are created by human beings and there is no social norm that can not be changed.
12. Sex Education:
She suggests her to talk freely about sex with her child during her growing up phase. It’s not something to be ashamed of and she should openly discuss these things with her daughter. She should not pretend with her that sex is merely a controlled act of reproduction or an ‘only marriage in’ act, because that is disingenuous. Instead tell her that sex can be a beautiful thing and that, apart from the obvious physical it can also have emotional consequences. Most importantly, she should tell her that her body belongs to her and her alone and that she should never feel the need to say yes to something she doesn’t want. Give her space to think and decide on for herself then.
13. Not one sided:
She tells her friend to be a mother who gives the environment of talking freely about everything to her daughter. As she will grow up she will experience romance depending on her desires, so let her express freely about he choices. Often girls are taught to sacrifice themselves in the name of love, teach her that love is not only to give but also take.
“I truly wish for Chizalum a world in which either person can propose, in which a relationship has become so comfortable, so joy-filled, that whether or not to embark on marriage becomes a conversation, itself filled with joy.”
14. Teaching of oppression:
She suggests here that in teaching about oppression to her child, she should be careful of not turning the oppressed into saints. For e.g. Property rights for rural Nigerian women is a major feminist issues and so the women do not need to be good and angelic to be allowed their property rights. So, there are sometimes assumptions that women are supposed to be morally ‘better’ than men. They are not. Women are as human as men are and so female goodness is as normal as female evil.
15. Difference is alright:
In this last suggestion, she tells her to teach her daughter about difference. That being different is a normal thing. Some people have different choices on how to live, what to worship, whom to love or what to like. Difference is the reality of the world and by teaching her this, she will be able to survive in a diverse world. So, she should teach her not to universalize her own standards or experiences. Her standards are for herself and not for other people.
Now, coming to the book, Chimamanda has used variety of engaging examples whether it’s a television commercial or Presidential Elections in giving her suggestions. Her opinion is so brutally honest and unbiased that I really loved the book. The writing style is so simple and lucid that everybody can easily understand the examples and views presented in this book.
This is a book every woman should read atleast once in her life. I am glad to own this book. When are you getting yours? 😁