'Our Discomfort Is Not With Power Itself, But With Women' Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Dear Ijeawale, Or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is an adaptation of a letter Chimamanda wrote to a friend who asked her how to raise a daughter feminist. Although it has a personal context of it being addressed to her friend's child, 'Ijeawale', the book almost reads as an appeal to Nigerian parents, including herself, as to why they should be willing to change their 'traditional' perceptions of what it means to raise a female child.
This is uniquely shaped by Chimamanda's awareness of the social view of parenting as a female task, and she fully rejects this. She accepts that being an established author and a passionate feminist does not simplify the act of raising a child; her suggestions seem to be equally for herself as they are for her friend.
Chimamanda suggests that parents open their daughters up to these ideas:
1. 'Question men who have sympathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than an individual, equal humans... "If it were my daughter, wife, or sister''
2. Stop 'thinking of the feelings of those who are hurting them'
3. 'The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina Cooking is learned'
4. 'Because you are a girl is never a reason for anything. Ever.'
5. On sharing child-care between both parents, 'Where there is true equality, resentment does not exist.'
6. 'Our world still values a woman's marital and maternal roles more than anything else.'
7. 'Mrs can be a choice, but to infuse it with as much value as our culture does is disturbing'
8. 'Instead of letting her internalise the idea of gender roles, teach her self-reliance'
9.'Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You are either are or you are not.'
10. 'Our world is full of men and women who do not like powerful women...We ask of powerful women- is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough?'
11. 'Never tell her a short skirt is immoral..clothes have absolutely nothing to do with morality'
12. 'Books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she decides to become'
13. 'Feminism Lite, the idea of conditional female equality...uses the language of allowing'
14. 'Our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women'
15. 'The premise of chivalry is female weakness'
16. 'Teach her to question language, but to teach her that, you have to question your own language'
17. 'Be deliberate about showing her the enduring beauty and resilience of Africans and black people'
18. 'We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false...we do not teach boys the same'
19. 'Women do not actually need to be championed and revered, they just need to be treated as equal human beings...patronising undertone.'
20. On the sexist nature of women praising men for cooking '...she is praising the fact that he has undertaken the act of cooking, praise that implies that cooking is an inherently female act'
The book holds themes similar to Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists in terms of unlearning gender roles and the policing of women in terms of appearance, interests and behaviour. However, the book offers an honest insight into the harmful social conditioning of women from childhood and seeks to overturn limited visions of what it means to be a Nigerian woman, especially in the Igbo context. Furthermore, Adichie points to to wasteful concept of conditional female equality 'Feminism Lite' in a Nigerian context, as false feminism. She argues that 'we judge powerful women more harshly than we judge powerful men' as a direct result of 'Feminism Lite'. This is true, because people always want women in leadership to be humble, kind and not too authoritative while men with a Trump-like arrogance gallop through the world with no care for what they crush in their path. But of course, they'll tell you 'He's a man' as if this justifies improper behaviour. She objects to phrases such as 'he is the head and I am the neck' as buying into the narrative of women having to be validated by men and given less credit for their work. In addition, she argues that feminism and femininity can coexist, that feminism should not be seen as relative to physical appearance, such as how much makeup is worn. Clearly, the world will take some time for this to sink in, as Chimamanda was at the receiving end of this warped view that a feminist can't be feminine when she did the 2016 L'Oreal advert for a lipstick line.
Adichie calls for us to interrogate the ways that our culture keeps women from power. With reference to her ethnic background, Adichie highlights the ways in which Igbo culture perpetuates female oppression and the ways it does not. She urges her friend to teach her daughter to be weary of the focus on 'materialism' and the limited ideas of what a woman must do. Contrastingly, Adichie maintains that not all aspects of Igbo culture are negative, she points to the ironic ways in which Western culture is oppressive in that before colonialism, 'trading was done exclusively by women in some parts of Igboland' and that a double income family is arguably a 'true Igbo tradition' when exploring its history. This nuanced argument is so convincing that the die-hard anti-feminists would find it hard to argue reasonably.
Overall, the book serves as a worthy attempt to outline what might constitute raising a feminist child. Chimamanda's approach to the subject is sensitive but confident in expressing the ways in which female equality is suppressed, interrogating negative mindsets both subtle and obvious. The book is not an instruction manual but a series of questions she raises. How does motherhood contribute to the control of women in our society? Why is the idea of gender roles problematic? In what ways is reading a vehicle for feminism? How do we shift our language to discourage female oppression? How do people exploit biology to justify sexism? Is teaching girls to be 'likeable' silencing them? What can we do to remedy the negative pressures on body image and appearance? Can we reinvent womanhood and blackness? A combination of her personal reflections and social views, the book offers questions to debate and well-reasoned answers.