Response to 'Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions'

Last Sunday, July 16th, AFAR had our bi-monthly meeting of our Book Club! We had a great turnout and met some great new people! We had a great peer facilitator in Courtney Napier who helped lead the discussion on the book Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 

The book offers an insight into parenting from a feminist perspective and covers topics from “Feminism Lite” to how to talk to your daughter about her appearance and her identity. In the opening paragraph, Adichie addresses her “feminist tools” that make up her formula for determining a feminist response to a given situation. Her first feminist tool is the premise, the solid unbending belief that you start off with. “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.” This tool is important because it sets aside the idea that equality is conditional, rather than something that should be an inherent right. Her second feminist tool comes in the form of a question: ‘Can you reverse X and get the same results?’ Her example for this tool is the question of infidelity. Many people think that the feminist response to infidelity is to leave, but Adichie remarks that staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the situation. “If your husband 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 a gender inequality.” This example highlights an important point she later brings up in suggestion four, what she calls “Feminism Lite.” Feminism Lite is the idea of conditional female equality, usually perpetuated by “feminists” who believe things like the idea that men are naturally superior to women and therefore are just better at certain things. This brand of feminism likes to use analogies that suggest a man is “allowing” a woman to do something. It is important to point out ‘Feminism Lite’, because it is something me must keep our children from believing. In order to instill a feminist spirit, we cannot allow children to hear that one gender is inherently or naturally better than another for any reason at all.

Though I do not have children, as a 21-year old woman I have learned a great deal from mothers around me, and through my own upbringing. As a young woman who has identified as a feminist from a relatively young age, I can contribute to what it was like to be raised a feminist and how exactly that happened. 

The first time I remember hearing the word “feminist” and realizing that it described who I was and what I believed in was my junior year of high school, in 2012. However, since looking back on my life, I’ve come to realize that I was a feminist long before that, I just didn’t know what to call it. I don’t think my parents intended to raise me as a feminist, but I think they’re proud of who I turned out to be. I was raised by two strong independent people who let me be my own independent self, even when it was probably a hassle for them. They sent me to Girl Scout camp when I was 6 years old (I had my 7th birthday there that summer!) and I didn’t stop going to summer camp until I was 18 (5 years as a Camp Counselor!). While this may seem trivial to some, as a summer camp kid, I have become a lifelong advocate for summer camp, as I have experienced its positive effects firsthand. Going to summer camp, especially an all-girls camp run by the Girl Scouts, taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to. I learned how to build fires, how to change a tire, and how to cook some delicious food with nothing but tin-foil and a campfire.

Another influence in my feminist life was attending a dance studio from first grade until my high school graduation. My dance teacher was a hippie who graduated from App State and loved modern and contemporary dance. She took us to dance competitions with political dances titled things like “Golden Parashoot Us in the Head.” Through her own actions she taught us to question everything, to make our own decisions, and to believe that we have power and a voice that can change things.

My feminist upbringing was the culmination of having many strong women (and men) in my life, because it truly does take a village. Adichie touches on this in her tenth suggestion when she suggests surrounding your child with people who have qualities you’d like them to admire and adopt themselves. I learned so many things from the people I was surrounded by, it would take pages to list them all, so the examples above are just some of the experiences and opportunities I truly value from my upbringing. 

To me, the most important point Adichie makes is the following: “I have some suggestions for how to raise Chizalum. But remember that you might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try. And always trust your instincts, above all else, because you will be guided by your love for your child.” The most important thing to remember when raising a feminist child, straight from a feminist child herself, is that your child is going to turn out how they turn out. It may not be exactly what you expect or want or hope for, but you love them all the same for who and what they are. 

  Photo: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie/ Facebook

 Photo: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie/ Facebook