Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

From the best-selling author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists comes a powerful new statement about feminism today – written as a letter to a friend.

I have some suggestions for how to raise Chizalum. But remember that you might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try.

In We Should All be Feminists, her eloquently argued and much admired essay of 2014, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie proposed that if we want a fairer world we need to raise our sons and daughters differently.

Here, in this remarkable new book, Adichie replies by letter to a friend’s request for help on how to bring up her newborn baby girl as a feminist.

With its fifteen pieces of practical advice it goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century.

My Review

Please note I first read and reviewed this book for Goodreads in 2017

“Teach her that the idea of ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl.
‘Because you are a girl’ is never reason for anything.
Ever.”

“If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children, we give them space to reach their full potential.”

It feels very appropriate to be writing this review on International Women’s Day 2017. Some years ago Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was asked by a friend how she should raise her baby daughter as a feminist. Most likely due to the amazing public talk and essay that she had given in 2013.
Adichie’s response was in letter format and this short book is an enhanced version of that letter to her friend.

As anyone who is familiar with me on Goodreads knows, I am a huge fan of Adichie’s novels.

I think they are outstanding and that she is a writer fully deserving of all the high praise she receives.

I am also, or I should qualify that and say, I have in the past been somewhat of a reluctant feminist.
I have always struggled with the negative connotations that have been placed on the terminology associated with feminism. You can see my review for We Should All Be Feminists where I tried to explain my struggles (read it here).

However, I have educated myself to see how wrong I was.

Feminism isn’t some sort of man-excluding idea.

Feminism is about equality.

Equal rights.

No differences based on gender.

I don’t always get things right. I am hopelessly flawed but by reading books and essays such as this one I am re-calibrating my points of reference. I am learning to see the ingrained and accepted detrimental inequalities in society today and I am changing myself for the better. Change always starts from within right?

The abiding message I got from this book is one of self- acceptance and it taught me this incredibly valuable tool for myself.

Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only’. Not ‘as long as’. I matter equally. Full stop.

This was huge for me this week in particular. It talks to self-worth and acknowledgment of being, which is something I am currently struggling with.

This book may initially propose how to raise a child with the correct feminist tools and that sense of equality. But it goes beyond that for me. It teaches the adult how to teach the child by simply just teaching the adult… By giving them the tools.

“…above all, let your focus be on remaining a full person. Take time for yourself. Nurture your own needs.

Please do not think of it as ‘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, an 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.”

I could quote from this book all day. It is just that fabulous. There is something to learn, and gain insight from, on every page. It is so beautifully written with both wisdom and humour that as a reader you are immediately captivated by the words and then to discover that those words come together to create this beautiful testimony of the truths behind feminism and the struggle for gender equality… It is a breathtaking and immensely inspiring read.

I would love to make reference to what Adichie terms ‘feminism lite’. She calls it ‘the idea of conditional female equality’.

This was such an eye opener for someone like me and illustrates the connotations of what we mean when we use the language of allowing .

Adichie contrasts how a husband allows his successful wife to shine whereas a wife supports her husband or is behind him when he shines.

I don’t know why I never thought about these different ways of viewing successful women and successful men. Needing to be allowed to do something and thereby given permission calls to mind an unequal relationship such as teacher/student. And most definitely not a marriage of equals. “Because when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.”

I would urge everyone irregardless of your gender, sexual identification, parental status, age or creed to pick up this book. Because it contains simple truths. Simple truths by which we should try to live our lives by.

Adichie is not a perfect human being, she fully recognises that herself.

But she is unashamed to be herself.

Does not feel the need to be liked or to conform to how anyone thinks she should conform. This is such an admirable quality and one that I am attempting to instil within myself.

The last passage I wish to quote from is so beautifully framed that I don’t think I need to add anything to it.

“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.

She must know and understand that people walk different paths in the world and that as long as those paths do no harm to others, they are valid paths that she must respect. Teach her that we do not know – we cannot know – everything about life. Both religion and science have spaces for the things we do not know, and it is enough to make peace with that.

Teach her never to universalise 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 realisation that difference is normal.”

The book ends with the same wish that we all share for ourselves, for our friends and family, and for the world at large: to be happy and healthy. And for our lives to be whatever we want them to be.

7 thoughts on “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Book Review

  1. Oof… That last quote you shared gave me chills reading it! Such a beautiful and powerful message! I really need to get my Adichie game together and properly delve into one of her books! I’m pretty sure this one is already on my TBR but if it wasn’t already before, it definitely will be now! Wonderful review, Emer ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dini I could’ve quoted the entire book! Adichie is a genius at how she simplifies these complicated arguments that people have. She is seriously one powerful lady. I will forever be in awe of her 😊😊💙❤️

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  2. Brilliant review, Emer! You’re not alone – I was a terrible feminist during my teens because I’d also been conditioned to think feminism was this man-hating, man-excluding code by which to live our lives, but now I know better and I understand that equality is at the heart of what feminism stands for. I read this at the end of last year and, like you, I feel like I could quite from it forever – I wish it was required reading in schools!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Jess! And yes, exactly! Feminism was almost a dirty word when I was younger. I let my younger, unknowing self believe it was the remit of angry man-hating women; little did I know that was just a patriarchal led belief! I’m so grateful to women like Adichie who have really fought back against the negative stereotyping and have shown us what feminism actually means. How it’s equality for everyone whether you’re binary gender or non-binary or whatever feels comfortable and authentic to you. And therefore it is certainly not at all exclusionary. ☺️☺️☺️❤️💙💜🧡💛💖

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