Thoughts on Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through social media when I noticed a frenzy that was caused by some opinions Ngozi Chimanda Adichie shared while she was promoting her new book on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I decided to watch the complete interview to fully understand what was going on, after watching the interview I came to the conclusion that Nigerians had made something out of nothing (as usual). Beyond that, some of the things she spoke about during the interview really resonated with me so I decided to add the book to my summer reading list. As I read through the book, I realized that the conversion needs to be carried beyond the pages of the book, therefore I wrote down the thoughts and opinions I had while reading the book, in order to share them with YOU. Here’s what I wrote.

Suggestion 1 – Be a full person

This suggestion talks about not being solely defined by motherhood (being a full person) and doing everything else that we want. Reading through this suggestion makes me realize how much of my own feminism is built on the example my mother laid. She always made it clear that she was more than “our mother” or “my father’s wife”. I think the key takeaway here is to be a multi-layered person as God and nature intended us to be and not to define ourselves based on one or two things that society “allows” us to be. The more I think about this suggestion, the more I see its relation to the millions of women “suffering and smiling” in abusive relationships because of their children, these women stay in such relationships because they think it’s best for their kids and can’t see are world where their kids needs don’t come before their sanity and happiness.

Suggestion 2 – Doing it together

Recently there has been so much talk about 50/50 with regards to finances in relationships, the suggestion here is to keep that same energy same energy when it comes to child care. My favorite line in this suggestion is “let him do everything that biology lets him to do, which is everything but breast feeding” the reason I love that so much is because it makes it clear that women don’t have the monopoly on child care. Another thing that this suggestion so beautifully expressed is how men are not “helping” when they take care of their kids, they are just caring for their kids as fathers and mothers should. Even though I am not a parent, I’m so glad that this issue is finally being discussed because for the longest time a lot of African men have felt like parenting and child care is solely the mother’s job.

Suggestion 3 – Gender roles are nonsense

Ask any random, slightly educated person what feminism means they’ll most likely tell you “feminism is the belief that women are equal to men” meaning that both men and women are entitled to the same treatment. But how come men and women are still separated into boxes by what they can and can’t do? In this suggestion Chimamanda points out how this separation is started from a young age, but as I think about the issue more I realize that the separation is started even before the child is born (just think about that gender reveal bullsh*t – blue is for boy, pink is for girl -). Asides from assigning colors to gender, the bigger issue here is that our society suppresses the personalities of individuals by deciding even before they are born, what mold they should fit into. It saddens me to think of all the greatness that our world has lost because someone was told they couldn’t do something due to the fact that they are a man or woman.

Suggestion 4 – Feminism lite

This one’s very funny because prior to reading this I classified people that fall into this category (a lot of Africans) as sexist; plain and simple. Feminism lite suggests that women can do whatever they wants as long as the men in their life permit/allow them. Me, wait for a man to grant me permission to follow my dreams? tufiakwa! If the whole idea of feminism is that women are just as *insert keyword* as men, why do we need to be “allowed” to do things? I’m not even going to waste my time on this one the whole premise of feminism lite is just a load of crap.

Suggestion 5 – “Teach Chizalum to read”

I initially didn’t understand the place of this short but sweet suggestion in this manifesto, until I had my ah-ha moment. I realized that a lot of women fail to see their value, even highly educated women. I think this is because we are not connected enough to understand our value to the world around us. The only way to foster this connection is by reading, reading helps women to see and understand the world and their value to it. As we all know there’s no stopping a confident well-read woman!

Suggestion 6 – Teach her to question language.

For me, this suggestion is one of those situations where “woke” becomes “too woke”. If the suggestion was just teach her to question language period, I would have had no problem with it but the explanation for the statement leaves a lot to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the underlying meaning of certain words should be questioned but sometimes words are just words and don’t have a deeper meaning that needs questioning. Let’s look at the example she gives of her friend not wanting to call his daughter princess. The truth is not all princesses require saving (think Mulan who was actually doing the saving) hence it would be unfair to say calling a girl princess implies that she needs a prince to save her. Her point is that we don’t need nice words to make women feel special because women folk don’t require special attention. In general I agree with that but much like the black lives matter movement is doing for black people we need to pay special attention to women and celebrate them in order break the years of male oppression.

Side note: unlike she suggests here, I don’t think men practice chivalry because they believe their partners are weaker but they practice it as a way to show love. For the modern woman those chivalrous gestures go both ways.

Suggestion 7 – Never speak of marriage as an achievement.

Ah ha! This is the one that African feminists have almost gotten killed for. Now let me state this for the record, I believe no one whether male or female should aspire to be married because marriage is not an achievement. But as a true feminist I believe that all woman should be free to do whatever they want without being condemned by anyone, so if Hilary Clinton feels like the first descriptor for her twitter bio should be Wife, it’s not our business, after all wife is just a title much like mother and daughter. The one thing I definitely agree with here is that if our society is going to tell women to put X amount of value on marriage then the same should be said for men.

Suggestion 8 – Teach her to reject likeability

In my honest opinion this is one of the most important suggestions in this manifesto because a lot of women including myself still struggle with stifling our true opinions/ feelings about certain issues so as to play nice and be liked by the men around them. Most men don’t struggle with this, they just say and do whatever they want and deal with the consequences later. When a man does this he is confident and assertive but when it is a woman she is called a mean b*tch. While rejecting likeability and being strong without remorse may be hard it is important to teach our young women that it something they have to do because we lose our freedom and right to equality by not speaking up.

Suggestion 9 – Give Chizalum a sense of identity

Now this is where you could easily change the title of the book from A feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions to An African feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions, because let’s be honest Caucasian women don’t struggle and other races struggle far less than we do with the issue of cultural identity. It is quite unfortunate but added to our quest for female empowerment we have to add the quest of cultural identity to our list of struggles. Now I hate to break it to you but a lot of adults still struggle with identity and probably will for the rest of their lives, but there’s hope for the next generation but we have to put in the work by teaching them about their beautiful and rich culture. One reason why it is important to do this is because the struggle for female equality is a lot less difficult if it is not attached at the hip with the struggle of identity.

Suggestion 10 – Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance

I think we can all agree that a person’s appearance is very deeply connected to how they view themselves . In dealing with young women it important to teach them to love all the parts of them that they cannot change because that it what makes them beautiful, to express themselves as freely as they want through their appearance and that their morality is not tied to what they wear. Our society will have a hard time getting used to this way of thinking but we have to push this message because it is the truth.

Suggestion 11 – Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as reasons for social norms

Yes, girl! Preach! For as long as I can remember, I’ve vehemently corrected anyone who made the slightest hint that I am solely my Dad’s child because I thought it was unfair and an a insult to my mother. I’m not sure why I started doing that at such a young age but if I had to guess I would say it was because my mum had engrained a version of this suggestion in me. Our culture somehow finds a way to use the “physical superiority” of males to further its gender bias. The women folk need to start questioning and resisting this unfair and bias assumption, if we don’t we’ll continue to hear “he is man, it’s in their nature to cheat” whenever a man cheats. We need to make it clear that just because they might be bigger and stronger than us doesn’t mean they can twist nature to work in their favor every time.

Suggestion 12 – Talk to her about sex and start early

Each time I remember the first conversion about sex I had with my mum, I cringe but underneath my visible cringe, I am thankful for those conversions. In her own weird way she had educated me on my body and its power, something a lot young women my age cannot boast of. One of the methods society has used to hold women down, is to make us feel shame about our bodies and then take away the sexual power that we possess (it’s no wonder why men are so confident while sending unsolicited dick pics while women can’t do the same). The #metoo movement is the perfect example of how much of our sexual power is stripped away we need to reclaim that power back by reminding ourselves that our bodies belong to us and we have the right to say yes or no to anyone without explanation. We also need to prevent things like #metoo in the next generation by teaching our girls just as much as our boys about sex and not that shame based education but one based on the beauty of sex and consent.

Suggestion 13 – Romance will happen, so be on board

“Teach her that to love is not only to give but also to take” is my favorite line in this suggestion, it is a statement that a lot of African women need to be reminded of daily. By my own observation a lot of African relationships don’t practice the 50/50 rule, it is either the woman is sacrificing her everything emotional or she is making the man pay for her every whim either way the 50/50 rule needs to be applied. For me this suggestion is just a reminder that love will happen and when it does I shouldn’t allow it to be one sided.

Suggestion 14 – In teaching her about oppression be careful not the turn the oppressed into saints

Fourteen suggestions in and I am just now realizing that the whole vibe/message of this manifesto is that women are not “special”. Just because we have been oppressed for so long does not mean that we are not human or that we are somehow above making mistakes. The major takeaway here is that women are not perfect but we still deserve our equal rights.

Suggestion 15 – Teach her about difference

What is normal? Wasn’t it humans that decided what normal should look like? So why can’t we make our normal include all the “different” in world? The point I am trying to make here is that I 100% agree with Chimamanda on this one, children need to be thought that different is ”normal” too, TBH adults need a little help with it too. Children who understand that people can be different in many ways, (sometimes in ways you may not understand) grow up to be adults who don’t treat people poorly based on difference and let’s be honest we need a lot of those kinds of adults right now. Our differences are what make this world a beautiful place.

These are just my opinions on the issues raised in the book, feel free to agree or disagree with one or all of them but make sure you continue the conversion at work, school or even in the comment section. Hopefully we can make our world a better place one conversion at a time.

Tola Oyeleke

Photo source: thenewyorker.com