Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Feminist Manifesto’
Last weekend I found myself wandering around the bookstore, as so often is the case. I was absolutely excited when I saw they had Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest book of essays, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.
In it, Adichie writes to a friend who asks her how to raise a baby girl as a feminist. This book is Adichie’s response. It’s gentle yet sharp; succinct yet poignant; and reads as though it’s a letter from your best friend.
The main proposition of “Dear Ijeawele” is that feminism is a project that necessarily binds mothers and daughters, and that raising a daughter feminist has as much to do with what you tell yourself as what you tell her. Ms. Adichie’s first of 15 suggestions places a mother’s freedom and growth at the center of a daughter’s feminist education.
“Be a full person,” Ms. Adichie writes. “Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood.” (The New York Times)
As an aunt, a once particularly conservative girl from the American Midwest, I found this book incredibly powerful. It made me face a few aspects of my own missteps and helped me reevaluate a few of my former philosophies and internalized patriarchal beliefs. And, more than anything, it helped me understand how to change my behavior in hopes of not instilling the same misbeliefs on my nieces & nephews.
Below are some of the lessons which most affected me.
“Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”
“Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional fenable equality. Please reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing, and bankrupt idea. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.”
“Never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that I 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.”
On being “liked”:
"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. At a recent rape trial, the woman raped by a man said that she did not want to ‘cause conflict.’ We have a world full of women who are unable fully to exhale because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable."
"Show her that she does not need to be liked by everyone. Tell her that if someone does not like her, there will be someone who will. Teach her that she is not merely an object to be liked or disliked, she is also a subject who can like or dislike. In her teenage years, if she comes home crying about some boys who don’t like her, let her know she can also choose not to like those boys."
On “doing it all”:
“Our culture celebrates the idea of women who are able to ‘do it all’ but does not question the premise of that praise. I have no interest in the debate about women doing it all because it is a debate that assumes that caregiving and domestic work are singularly female domains, and idea that I strongly reject. Domestic work and caregiving should be gender-neutral, and we should be asking not whether a woman can ‘do it all’ but how best to support parents in their dual duties at work and at home.”
On standards and differences:
“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.”
“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.”
“Teach her that to love is not only to give but also to take. This is important because we give girls subtle cues about their lives – we teach girls that a large component of their ability to love is their ability to self-sacrifice. We do not teach this to boys. Teach her that to love she must give of herself emotionally but she must also expect to be given.”