“Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe fully in the equality of men and women or you do not.”
Despite her recent regretful missteps that do, indeed, give pause and are frustrating coming from an idol and an outspoken feminist (click here for background), Adichie is a writer who has earned her spot on my sacred “must read everything they write” shelf. Adichie’s renown and influence have grown immensely over the past decade, and for the most part her works have kept apace. Her novels are what she is best known for and are, to me, where her genius shines. She has used her platform as an acclaimed writer and as a forebear of the growing wave of women writers coming out of Nigeria, however, to also become an outspoken lecturer and spokeswoman on feminism. Thus, in her most recent publication, Adichie writes her second pocket-sized epistle on feminism.
“Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” is framed as a letter from Adichie to one of her friends who, as a mother, is seeking advice on how to raise her daughter a feminist. The first suggestion, in fact, is more about the mother than the daughter.
“Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood.”
What a simple and powerful message we should refresh in ourselves and our loved ones every day.
Many of Adichie’s suggestions are around seeking equality and balances in power and in life’s roles, never accepting the traditions and status quo which flourish as they keep women subjugated. “‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.” Adichie’s criticisms are as much for internalized misogyny as for its external manifestations. She reminds us that women are too often complicit; we have internalized the messages of misogyny and often unwittingly see the world through tainted lenses.
“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.”
As a feminist who is always seeking to broaden and strengthen her feminism and as an unrecoverable bookaholic, I was particularly drawn to Adichie’s suggestion regarding literacy.
“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. …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.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words are prescriptive, but not preachy. She is full of wit and insight and “Dear Ijeawele” can (and perhaps should) be taken as a menu for everyone to read and consider as we each shape our own parenting philosophy. Adichie has clearly and consistently labeled her thoughts “suggestions”, not orders or prescriptions. She is sharing her experiences and insights as a powerful, adaptable framework for raising feminists and, perhaps, for cultivating our own feminism.