In the mail today came my latest Amazon book purchase. It’s actually a bit of surprise every time I open an Amazon box: I either forget what I’ve purchased because I’ve purchased so many things, or I’ve purchased so many things I don’t know which of the many things is in this box. Amazon may be the best or worst thing that has ever happened to me.
Today’s delivery was a slim little book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’ve had an intense intellectual crush on Adichie ever since I first read Purple Hibiscus more than 13 years ago (and I’ve been teaching it ever since). Her last novel, Americanah, is one of my all-time favorite books in general, hands-down. Adichie has a way of capturing complexities about race, gender, culture, and class—and the ways in which they all intersect—with beauty and clarity.
Her latest book, a work of non-fiction, is written as a letter to a friend. Many years ago, Adichie’s friend had asked her for advice on how to raise her daughter to be a feminist. This book is the result of that question. Even though the book is a small one—a mere 80 pages—it’s one that I can already tell is layered and packed with ideas. I couldn’t get past the first page without wanting to stop, think, and write about what I’d just read. Here, for example, is an excerpt from page 2:
For me, feminism is always contextual. I don’t have a set-in-stone formula; 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 “in 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?
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 gender inequality.
There is just so. much. here.
The first “Feminist Tool,” as she calls it, seems an obvious one. Yet for whatever reason, it’s a statement that seems necessary to say, over and over and over again. It reminded me of some of the signs I saw posted from the Women’s March, like the one to the side (and others with more colorful language 🙂 ). I appreciate, too, the way Adichie makes it clear that this statement needs to further clarification or qualification. I matter equally. Full stop.
The second “Feminist Tool” is a question: Can you reverse X and get the same results? We can use this question as a tool to uncover to what extent sexism and sexist attitudes may be playing a role in our thoughts or behavior.
While her example involves infidelity, I think that you could apply this question to any number of situations. For example, some may be believe that the feminist response to the question of whether or not a woman should work might be of course you should work! Cue images of Rosie the Riveter.
But I think Adichie would agree that staying home, perhaps to raise a family, can also be a feminist choice. Sadly, if we asked ourselves if the same were true for men, we’d find that there is a different standard. I once read somewhere that men who have families and are actively involved in parenting are often looked at positively by their employers. In fact, some studies show that men actually experience a “marriage premium” and get paid more than their colleagues who are unmarried. On the other hand, women experience a “marriage (and child) penalty.” A man who leaves work early to coach his son’s soccer game is seen in a more positive light than a woman who has to do the same.
I think that there are applications for this question in other contexts, beyond sexism to other -isms. The other day I blogged about how a fellow student in my grad program many years ago had asked me if I thought I had a better chance of getting offered a teaching position because of my race. Yet I don’t think most people would ask the same question of someone who was white or male (or whatever the dominant demographic group might be). We would assume that the person earned that position. But with other groups, we might assume that another factor—race, gender—might have played a role, and if it did, then the position was therefore unearned. The irony, of course, is that history is full of examples of people being offered opportunities they have earned as a result of current and historical systems of power and privilege, and less as a result of their own individual merit and work.
So much to think about. And I’m only on page 2. (I may keep coming back to this book in future slices.)
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.