Book Title: Dear Ijeawele, or A feminist Manifesto in fifteen suggestions
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publishing Date: 2017
Being a feminist in today’s world has become something of a rockstar status. It initially began with women who believe in the equality for women and has since progressed to a unisex charge where men and women are working towards a fairer future for both sexes. In her book “Dear Ijeawele”, Chimamanda gives fifteen suggestions on how to guide Ijeawele’s daughter, Chizalum Adora, to become a feminist and an extraordinary woman in the future.
Who is a Feminist?
A feminist is a person (male/ female or any other sex gaddamit!) who advocates the establishment of political, economical, personal and social equality of the sexes.
The foundation of these suggestions include:
1. A premise that you, as an individual, matter regardless of what you are told.
2. X is a situation, variable, behavior or circumstance, when it is reversed (from a male to a female standpoint) the outcome should remain the same.
Suggestion 1: Be a full person.
She admonishes Ijeawele to be someone who doesn’t allow herself be defined by motherhood. She should become what she loves and be an example to her child. She should also be open to help and input from friends and family as she shouldn’t burden herself with the arduous task of being a superwoman.
Suggestion 2: Do it together.
She particularly emphasised on her acknowledging that whatever contributions Chudi (the husband) makes is not to be taken as a means of helping her, rather it is the responsibility of both parents to take care of the child.
Suggestion 3: Nil gender roles.
She pleads that Ijeawele never tells her daughter she cannot do something because she is a girl citing examples of how gender roles are instilled from a tender age and how people have been limited because of this.
Suggestion 4: Beware of Feminism lite.
She defined Feminism lite as a belief that men and women are equal on certain conditions or terms. She used such cliche jargon like “He is the head and you are the neck”, “He is driving but you both are on the front seat”. She was totally against this as it makes it seem like women deserve what they get because it is how things are supposed to be. She also gave examples of how being a powerful woman can become an aberration because it’s not normal for women to amount to anything without the permission of their husbands.
Suggestion 5: Teach her to read.
She emphasised that she ensure Adaora reads as reading will open her eyes to the world around her and help her make informed decisions.
Suggestion 6: Teach her to question language.
Language is the basis for communication and belief. She advised that Ijeawele teaches her daughter to question any language that can be used for men but will elicit criticism when used on women.
“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”
Suggestion 7: Never speak of marriage as an achievement.
Here she speaks about how marriages can be happy or unhappy but never an achievement. She also describes the social stigma following women who refuse to change their names, how people believe she is justified in keeping her name because she is successful. I personally love this suggestion as I believe there will be a lot of stress involved in changing my name if I get married. I really like my name and believe marriage is a partnership between myself and whomever I am married to not with their family names. Just saying.
Suggestion 8: Don’t aim to be likeable.
Here she spells out the fact that people may not like Adaora but she should learn that she can decide not to like them as well. She shouldn’t shrink herself or deviate from her core just to be adored, rather she should learn that someone somewhere likes her as she is. This is something I believe that many ladies should work on as it would save us all from some unnecessary and stressful situations like dating guys that are scum. Yes, I said stressful again.
Suggestion 9: Teach her to have a sense of identity.
To embrace Africa and Africans; to be proud of her Igbo culture; to be nitpicky when it comes to culture, embracing the reasonable and discarding that which holds no water. To embrace the thick black form of beauty and to adopt an Igbo nickname to give her a sense of her roots.
Suggestion 10: Be deliberate in how you engage her with her appearance.
Here she teaches her to not associate Adaora’s apparel with morality rather to enable her embrace her femininity as femininity and feminism are not mutually exclusive. She also teaches that she surrounds the child with people whom she admires so that she can learn my mimicry. I believe that appearance is the external representation of our innermost selves, so I am all for this one.
Suggestion 11: Teach her to question our culture’s use of biology as social norms.
This is a strongly characteristic of the Igbo culture which I agree to disagree with. Igbo people are very patriarchal and attribute everything to males just for the sole reason that they are men. She gave the example of her Yoruba friend who was pregnant for an Igbo man and decided to give the child Igbo names despite the Igbo surname bestowed upon the child. The woman adamantly attributed this move to the biological role of the father saying “A child first belongs to the father, it has to be this way”. I believe strongly in the power of choice and that people should make very informed decisions to prevent future regrets. I know that she made that decision for her children but I hope she did it bearing in mind the consequences.
Suggestion 12: Talk to her about sex and start early.
She reasoned that the probability of her daughter not having sex before marriage would be slim and therefore she should start early to educate her on the issues of sex, knowing that her body belongs to her alone and should not be seen as shameful. That periods are normal and a vagina is just a word and an organ. Somebody say Amen!
Suggestion 13: Teach her to take love, not only give (Romance will be onboard)
In a world where women aspire to marriage and men don’t aspire to the same, love becomes very one-sided. She advised that she not only give love but expect love in return. She also mentioned that the man shouldn’t be the sole provider, the role of the provider should be for who can provide.
I believe that Chimamanda is only doing something that most people have been quiet about for a long time. She’s speaking up for equality but we all know that the scales tips more to one end and she is mostly speaking for that particular group-women-so lets give her some credit for being a troublemaker for people that need it.
I give it a 3 star rating because the book is readable. Most women can completely understand where Chimamanda is coming from and I agree with the unfairness of the Igbo culture towards women. It has lead to the unjust and even callous treatment of women all in the name of culture. I believe that when beliefs are on either parts of a spectrum(extreme and laissez faire), they become misguided and could be a danger to other people.
Chinazamekpere Eziaghighala is a 5th year Medical Student of the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos. When she is not trying to save lives, she writes reviews for her blog Lieberean at https://lieberean.com, models, acts and also creates content for The Nigerian Child Initiative, an NGO focused on child health and education. She could survive a desert if she had enough water and a bible.