Review: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions”

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a letter from the author to her friend’s newly-born child, as she grows up a woman. This is a little test to see how the footnotes show up. It’s on feminism and is straight-forward, but not narrow-minded enough not to use examples of what they mean.

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.

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