A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a dear friend from childhood, asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. 'Dear Ijeawele' is Adichie's letter of response. Here are fifteen suggestions for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner, and that men can "allow" women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It can start a conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.
I read most of the book before we left, but not all.
These are very well-grounded suggestions, explained clearly and gently, but you can still feel the weight of them. Of course, not much in the book was new to me, but I still appreciated the way that she said it. Particularly the section on appearance.
Now, if only I could find a similar book on raising feminist sons.
I enjoy reading this author's thoughts because she challenges me to really think about my reasons for believing or believing something. She's insightful, thought-provoking, and witty. She acknowledges at the outset the difficulty in giving parenting advice, but she inspires me that, should I have a daughter, I would use many of these suggestions in raising her myself.
Another criticism is that, decades after the rise of feminist ideology, this book has nothing new to say on the subject of misogyny and systemic patriarchy, as if that isn't more an indictment of those oppressive structures and the relative lack of progress made in tackling them.
There's no preaching, no strict rules to be adhered to, just suggestions on how it might be possible to live in love and kindness.
I found Adichie's book engaging, accessible and inclusive. Her personal, direct and warm style gives the feel of having sat down with a friend to catch up over a cup of tea.
Adichie is a terrific and wonderful writer. Flowerful, and powerful prose, writing style, and word usage. Unfortunately, I do think some of the suggestions in this.... well... not 100% practical, or at least 100% truly strives for equality. And this is always where feminism is kind of an issue. There can never be truly 100% equality, because the striving for equality will either keep you behind the higher/believed higher people you are striving to become equal to, or will surpass them. Then in so doing, you do not become equal, you become above, and do you then attempt to self-correct? Or accept that you now have the higher position? Or do they then do their own version of feminism and attempt to become equal?
The striving for equality isn't so much the problem. Its methods. And while I believe the majority of her ideas and suggestions are on point. Some just aren't. And this isn't just so much as her, as it is all of feminism. It kind of ties into Vonnegut's short story where to create equality, everyone is basically shackled down to the lowest person's abilities. If everyone is so handicapped, then everyone is equal. The way to make women equal, isn't to undermine men, but to build up women. It is to recognize key differences, and understand them, and correlate them into things, not to undermine, or to only push for the differences that benefit women. This sometimes (often times) becomes an issue; especially from a male perspective. That feminism wants equality, but also doesn't want to fully distance and remove the differences that make women ... women; and make men men. So they push for the equality, but then also try to push the better parts of women past men, like wanting men to open doors, be chivalrous, but at the same time let women have complete freedom and autonomy, that they can do every job that men can do - plus the jobs only women can do; and should be paid same/better than men for it all, etc, etc.
This isn't an "every woman" or "every feminist" thing either. Just select some. And relatively, its not a huge issue, just something I often see, and bring up. Especially working in an industry where women and men are all paid the exact same (literally, all employees are paid the same, and we even share tips), but also see some women gain favor (promotions because they get to dress up, whereas men don't, and get to accentuate certain aspects whereas men don't; also they sometimes get to curry favor and not have to work the more strenuous games or games they don't like, citing certain reasons, etc.).
Ultimately I will defend feminism, and fight, and strain myself in its defense, not just for my daughters, not just for my mother, not just for my sister, but all women, because I honestly believe equality needs to be the ultimate goal. Not just between men and women, but between all races, all creeds, all religions and philosophies, and all genders.
Quotes: "People will selectively use "tradition" to justify anything."
"The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina."
"The catastrophic consequence of likeability: we have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable."
A short, easy read which nonetheless has a lot packed into it.
I like the framework of the book, that this is advice from Chimimanda to her friend Ijeawele on how to raise her newborn daughter, Chizalum, to be a feminist.
Not necessarily new ideas if you are familiar with modern feminism, but clearly and succinctly phrased in a very accessible and quotable way.
I recommend watching one of her TED talks on YouTube first, because then you are familiar with her voice and it adds to the experience of reading a book in which she is explicitly the narrator.
Teach [your daughter] 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.”
...women don’t actually need to be championed and revered; they just need to be treated as equal human beings.
Surround her with a village of aunties, women who have qualities you’d like her to admire. Talk about how much you admire them. Children copy and learn by example...Surround [her], too, with a village of uncles. This will be harder, judging from the kinds of friends [your husband] has.
...what I hope for Chizalum is this: that she will be full of opinions, and that her opinions will come from an informed, humane, and broad-minded place. May she be healthy and happy. May her life be whatever she wants it to be.
Trans people are wonderful and are as diverse as the LGBTIQA community itself, and while I respect Adichie, her thoughtless comments are things I kept in mind while reading her work.
ANYWAY. ONTO the actual review.
This feels like an elaboration on We Should All Be Feminists. If We Should All Be Feminists is the What of feminism, then this book is the Why. Why should we care that girls are constantly given pink? Why are little girls scrutinised and being told to "be careful" far more than boys? Written as a letter to a friend and since tweaked, this feels like an intimate little feminist read.
I appreciate Adichie's simple language, how she can take a sexist idea and break it down into its smaller parts. This feels like something I would give to a young teen who hasn't actually heard any of these ideas spoken out loud. Children are so good at absorbing and adapting to societal norms but here's a tiny, little simple book that might break those concepts and what a novel thought that is.
I liked this a lot but I would also love for Adichie to go beyond these simple truths, to pick apart everything she knows -- I look forward to her next non-fiction work (critical thoughts and all).
I dig the rhythm of the short book, which is apparent from the start:
Dear Ijeawele, What joy. And what lovely names: Chizalum Adaora. She is so beautiful. Only a week old and she already looks curious about the world. What a magnificent thing you have done, bringing a human being into the world. ‘Congratulations’ feels too slight. Your note made me cry. You know how I get foolishly emotional sometimes. Please know that I take your charge – how to raise her feminist – very seriously. And I understand what you mean by not always knowing what the feminist response to situations should be. For me, feminism is always contextual. I don’t have a set-in-stone rule; the closest I have to a formula are my two ‘Feminist Tools’ and I want to share them with you as a starting point. The first is your premise, the solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only’. Not ‘as long as’. I matter equally. Full stop. The second tool is a question: can you reverse X and get the same results?
Yeah, the examples are resourceful:
For example: many people believe that a woman’s feminist response to a husband’s infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context. If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes, then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based – that absurd idea of ‘men will be men’, which means having a much lower standard for men.
I love how utterly simplistic the author can be, when it just seems that she's freakingly fed up with what muck; here's an example where the word "please" is brilliant:
Please reject the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive.
Also, on mentioning the child's father:
And please reject the language of help. Chudi is not ‘helping’ you by caring for his child. He is doing what he should.
And never say that Chudi is ‘babysitting’ – people who babysit are people for whom the baby is not a primary responsibility.
Another ace of a sentence:
The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.
Even though the author is curt, this is a good thing; even the slightly longer explanations that are in-place are quite curt:
Do you remember how we laughed and laughed at an atrociously written piece about me some years ago? The writer had accused me of being ‘angry’, as though ‘being angry’ were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism. But I recently came to the realization that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism. Because in my anger about sexism, I often feel lonely. Because I love, and live among, many people who easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice. I cannot tell you how often people I care about – men and women – have expected me to make a case for sexism, to ‘prove’ it, as it were, while never having the same expectation for racism. (Obviously, in the wider world, too many people are still expected to ‘prove’ racism, but not in my close circle.) I cannot tell you how often people I care about have dismissed or diminished sexist situations.
Also, another good example:
When Hillary Clinton was running for president of the United States, the first descriptor on her Twitter account was ‘Wife’. The first descriptor on the Twitter account of Bill Clinton, her husband, is ‘Founder’, not ‘Husband’.
Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.
On rejecting idiocies from men on trying (perhaps inadvertently, which does not matter in the slightest) to shame women because of the female anatomy:
And speaking of shame – never, ever link sexuality and shame. Or nakedness and shame. Do not ever make ‘virginity’ a focus. Every conversation about virginity becomes a conversation about shame. Teach her to reject the linking of shame and female biology. Why were we raised to speak in low tones about periods? To be filled with shame if our menstrual blood happened to stain our skirt? Periods are nothing to be ashamed of. Periods are normal and natural, and the human species would not be here if periods did not exist. I remember a man who said a period was like shit. Well, sacred shit, I told him, because you wouldn’t be here if periods didn’t happen.
I think this letter is missing a section on make-up, and how it transforms women, of which many use make-up. I'd liked to have read a whole bit on that, actually.
Overall, a quick, short punch that can sometimes suffer a bit due to its curtness, but as a whole, it's a very often-needed punch to make one think.