On this International Women’s Day, I finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new book Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. The book is structured as a letter to Adichie’s friend who asked her how she could raise her young daughter to be a feminist. I wrote a bit about my thoughts on just the opening yesterday and while I’m going to have to go back and reread it—I inhaled it between periods and after school—for my “slice of life” today, I thought I’d just briefly share her fifteen suggestions:
- Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person.
- Do it together. To father is just as much a verb as to mother. Reject the language of help. When we say fathers are “helping,” we are suggesting that child care is a mother’s territory into which fathers valiantly venture. It is not.
- “Because you are girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.
- Beware the danger of Feminism Lite. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or are not. You either believe in full equality of men and women or you do not.
- Teach her to love books. Books will help her to understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to become—a chef, a scientist, a singer, all benefit from the skills that reading brings.
- Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions. But to teach her that, you will have to question your own language.
- Never speak of marriage as an achievement. A marriage can be happy or unhappy, but never an achievement.
- 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.
- Give her a sense of [cultural] identity. It matters. Be deliberate about it.
- Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance. Never, ever, link her appearance with morality.
- Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as “reasons” for social norms. Social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.
- Talk to her about sex, and start early. Never, ever, link sexuality and shame. Or nakedness and shame.
- Romance will happen, so be onboard. Teach her that love is not only to give but also to take. Love is the most important thing in life.
- In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints. Saintliness is not a prerequisite for dignity. People who are unkind and dishonest are still human, and still deserve dignity.
- Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or nice, but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of the world.
While some of the suggestions are situated in Igbo culture, I think they are also universal. And as a mother of three boys, I also think that this list isn’t just about raising a feminist daughter, but feminist sons, too. More on that next time.
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.