Dear Ijeawele, A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has received a letter from her friend Ijeawele asking her how to raise her daughter as a feminist, as a strong and independent woman. So this book is essentially fifteen suggestions to do that.

And you have to read it. It takes less than an hour to read this short book.

I can pick and quote so many amazing stanzas and before I know it I’ll be quoting the whole book. But whatever, I will still quote some.

… teach her to embrace the parts of Igbo culture that are beautiful and teach her to reject the parts that are not.

And,

Social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.

Culture is fluid. (And my personal opinion: religion should also be fluid) But yes, we cannot and should not be made to stick to values and cultures for tradition sake. Values and cultures, rules and laws have always been made up by those in power to further their own cause. So anyone saying anything is a degredation to culture… take a look at the next stanza:

…if you criticise X in women but do not criticise X in men, you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women.

And the question is why should women be treated differently? Why should they be subjected to different values?

If the justification for controlling women’s bodies were about women themselves, then it would be understandable…for example, ‘women should not wear short skirts because they can get cancer if they do’. Instead, the reason is not about women, but about men. Women must be ‘covered up’ to protect men… it reduces women to mere props used to manage the appetites of men.

I have two other favourites:

Remember that television commercial… where a man cooks and his wife claps for him? True progress is when she doesn’t clap for him but just reacts to the food itself – she can either praise the food or not praise the food, just as he can praise hers or not praise hers, but what is sexist is that she is praising the fact that he has undertaken the act of cooking, praise that implies that cooking is an inherently female act.

Similarly in child rearing, why is it praiseworthy if the father is involved? Kids need both parents. And if you’re going to be that distant father… don’t be surprised if your kid grows up and is distant to you too.

And so, there’s this gem:

My friend Nwabu once told me that because his wife left when his kids were young, he became ‘Mr Mum’, by which he meant that he did the daily care-giving. But he was not being a ‘Mr Mum’; he was simply being a dad.

Chimamanda also calls out on women who make mysogynistic remarks against women, women who have patriarchal values so deeply ingrained into them. And women who don’t realise that what they’re doing, even if done in good intent, actually perpetuates inequality.

…mothers of baby girls were very restraining, constantly telling the girls ‘don’t touch’ or ‘stop and be nice’, and…. that baby boys were encouraged to explore more and were not restrained as much…. baby girls are given less room and more rules and baby boys more room and fewer rules.

People should read this book to take note of the things they say and do and the implications they have. And don’t be misled into thinking the book is only for raising daughters. Although it might that way, as you read between the lines, you realise just how differently parents/societies treat boys and you start to question why on earth do we not raise girls the way we raise boys. Because they’ll get hurt? Because their skin will get darker? And then no one will want them? We shame girls for wanting to do the most basic of things and seriously, we shouldn’t.

Teach her that to love is not only to give but also to take… we give girls subtle cues about their lives – we teach girls that a large component of their ability to love is their ability to sacrifice themselves. We do not teach this to boys.

Boys see the partiality at home and then go on to propagate it. So this book essentially gives suggestions on how to raise a child as a feminist.

And there’s one part of the book that really just made me sad.

In every culture in the world, female sexuality is about shame… Every conversation about virginity becomes a conversation about shame… Why were we raised to speak in low tones about periods? To be filled with shame if our menstrual blood happened to stain our skirts?

It’s sad really, that women are expected to feel shame when these topics come up, are expected to keep quiet about it, to murmur about it within themselves. :\

Just read it for the benefit of our next generation.

5/5

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