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August Book Review: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

“Feminism” - I know, it’s a word that can scare a lot of people away, but before we dive into this month’s book review we are going to address the meaning of what it means to be a feminist. It’s really very simple:

Feminism is the belief that men and women have inherently equal value. Some people prefer the term “humanist”, or “egalitarian”, but let me be clear - they refer to the same principle that all people, all men and all women, are equal.

Now, with that clarification in mind, we can continue.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions was exactly what the title claims to be. The author, prolific Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, structured the book as a response to a letter from a friend, a new mother who asked Adichie how to raise her infant daughter to be a feminist.

Amongst her first suggestions, Adichie addresses the disparities that often occur between raising boys and raising girls, even early in life. We know that most boys are given trucks and blocks to play with, toys that teach them to explore and interact with the world around them, and that little girls are often given dolls, or toys that teach them to value domesticity over exploration (an ideal feminist solution would be for all toys to be marketed to children of all genders without separating them as “girl toys” and “boy toys”, but I digress). One solution that Adichie offers to address these disparities is to eliminate the idea of “gender roles”, the idea that “baseball is for boys" and “cooking is for girls”. If a girl has a talent for baseball then it should be encouraged. If a boy wants to learn to cook there is nothing “girly” about it. These gender stereotypes have been found to be harmful when forced upon children, but Adichie acknowledges that it all comes down to individual choice. Activities and hobbies should be encouraged regardless of the gender of the child pursuing them, or the traditional gender role with which they are associated.  

Many suggestions seemed obvious at first, “teach her to love books”, “be a full person”, “teach her that she has choices in life”, but the suggestions of course are just the surface. Teach her to love books because it will give her the tools to question the world around her, and help her express herself in whatever she chooses to become in life. Be a full person, and lead by example, show her that you are more than a mother, an employee, a wife, you are an individual with your own interests and personality. Teach her that she has choices in life, and that they should not be made because of undue pressures from society, culture or peers. She has the choice to take her husband’s name after marriage, and she also has the choice not to. She has the choice to have sexual relations with another person, and she has the choice to say no. She has the choice to be a wife and mother, the choice to be a rocket scientist, and the choice to do both or neither.

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.
— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Realistically, while this book’s focus is on raising a daughter, the suggestions are valid for raising any child: teach them about sex early, factually and without shame for their biology. Teach them that they don’t have to be “likeable” or appeal to everyone; so long as you are honest and kind, people who value those traits will want to be around you. This also means being honest and kind to yourself. Teach them about diversity and difference, and that their experiences in life are not universal to everyone.

I did not address every one of the fifteen suggestions here - it is because I cannot do them all justice in this short review, so please trust our judgement and pick this one up for yourself. I highly recommend Dear Ijeawele to everyone, men, women, parents, and non-parents, feminists, and non-feminists, because the fifteen suggestions are not just suggestions for women, or for mothers, or for feminists: they are suggestions for life.

We at Genderversity give Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions 5/5