***All of the passages in this post are part of the book “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.” Written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Please do not be scared off by the word “feminist.” Her wisdom and suggestions are universally applicable.
Feel free to insert your preferred pronoun while reading, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. In the text Adichie uses “she” because it is written in the form of a letter to her friend who recently had a baby girl.***
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“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.
Everybody will have an opinion about what you should do, but what matters is what you want for yourself, and not what others want you to want. Please reject the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive.
Sometimes mothers, so conditioned to be all and do all, are complicit in diminishing the role of fathers. You might think that Chudi will not bathe her exactly as you’d like, that he might not wipe her bum as perfectly as you do. But so what? What is the worst that can happen? She won’t die at the hands of her father. Seriously.
On Sharing Responsibilities…
The knowledge of cooking does not come pre – installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking — domestic work in general — is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women.
Teach her to love books. The best way is by casual example. If she sees you reading, she will understand that reading is valuable. If she were not to go to school, and merely just read books, she would arguably become more knowledgeable than a conventionally educated child. Books will help her 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. I do not mean schoolbooks. I mean books that have nothing to do with school, autobiographies and novels and histories. If all else fails, pay her to read. Reward her.
(a comment about a mutual acquaintance) “…She would know this if reading books were not such an alien enterprise to her.”
On Staying True…
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
Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice. Many girls spend too much time trying to be “nice” to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the “feelings” of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability.
Encourage her to speak her mind, to say what she really thinks, to speak truthfully. And then praise her when she does. Praise her especially when she takes a stand that is difficult or unpopular because it happens to be her honest position.
Tell her that if anything ever makes her uncomfortable, to speak up, to say it, to shout.
Let her know that slim white women are beautiful, and that non – slim, non – white women are beautiful. Let her know that there are many individuals and many cultures that do not find the narrow mainstream definition of beauty attractive.
Tell her that her body belongs to her and her alone, that she should never feel the need to say yes to something she does not want, or something she feels pressured to do. Teach her that saying no when no feels right is something to be proud of.
On Understanding Others…
Teach her about difference. 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 to be nice, but merely to be human and practical.
She must know and understand that people walk different paths in the world, and that if those paths do no harm to others, they are valid paths that she must respect. Teach her that we do not know — we cannot know — everything about life.
I think love is the most important thing in life. Whatever kind, however you define it, but I think of it generally as being greatly valued by another human being and greatly valuing another human being.