In “Dear Ijeawele: a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie beautifully articulates many contemporary issues surrounding sexism globally and relevant to the Igbo community in Nigeria. Adichie lists 15 suggestions for how to raise her friends daughter Chizalum feminist, such as:
- Making sure the mother continues to be a “full person,” by making sure she does not limit her identity to motherhood.
- Splitting household chores and responsibilities.
- Disregarding gender roles entirely!
- Avoid “Feminism Lite,” in which people are uninterested with full equality by placing conditions on women. For example, someone who believed in this theory would say women are the head and women are the neck. Conditional equality here relies on gender roles in a supporting way, which Adichie finds just as problematic, if not more, especially in Nigerian society.
- Making sure there is a great sense of reading instilled in Chizalum. I loved this section because Achichie claims that being raised through readings is arguably more important/will provide an overall better education then what any child would receive just from school. I agree and see reading as a gateway to independent thinking.
- To always question the language we use and grow up with, especially to refer to women and young girls like “princess.”
- The most notable suggestion, however, is to make sure that there is NEVER an emphasis put on marriage so that Chizalum will see marriage as something she can participate in equally and not as an “achievement” or “prize” she must win.
- Teaching her friend’s daughter to focus on also being a full person and reject “like ability.” You have to embrace who you are and not limit parts of yourself in order to appease men or make them comfortable. This part made me tear up because the sole reason I know I talk as much as I do is because I did not feel listened to as a child and refuse to “be quiet” any longer.
- Instill a sense of identity in her, as a proud Igbo woman but also whatever else she wants to be/is. Make sure she is proud of herself as an individual.
- Be extremely careful of discussions regarding appearances and make it clear that she is beautiful, but focus more on other attributes like “smart” and “confident” in general. I LOVE how she addressed changing the definition of “neat hair” in a way where Chizalum will never be exposed to what they did as a child.
- Question biology as an excuse for sexism in Nigerian culture.
- Promote early sex education.
- Get ready for romance and show her what real love should look like. I think this is very important given the prevalence of domestic violence and abuse around the world that girls and women suffer through.
- Teach her about oppression but don’t turn the oppressed “into saints.” Recognize people may do horrible things but they are still humans worthy of “dignity” and respect.
- Make sure she is exposed to difference and accepts difference as a normalized part of society. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being different, in fact, differences are how we learn to grow as people.
Overall, it is easy to draw many parallels from Adichie’s work to many of our own lives. In my case, what stood out to me the most was how emotional I felt while reading the entire letter. I started tearing up and cried when I read about internalizing misogyny because for so long, I struggled within relationships to not be a caregiver. Only recently with my girlfriends and college best friends have I experienced less of a caregiving role. Even despite my best efforts, they still call me “the mom friend” because I always have items or food prepared in case anyone needs anything. Many times in my life I have told others it is my life’s purpose to “serve others,” and while that may be true, I have to make sure I have a sense of identity and can put myself first—Practicing self care instead of constantly worry about other people and what they may need. Regardless, it is extremely hard to unlearn internalized misogyny and I still struggle with that to this day. I have actually watched/read Adichie’s work previously and knew her beautiful words of wisdom would speak to me again. She has inspired me to be a full version of myself and be unapologetic about it.