Reviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Dear Ijeawele'
'Our world is full go men and women who do not like powerful women. We have been so conditioned to think of power as male that a powerful woman is an aberration. And so she is policed. We ask of powerful women - is she humble? Does she smile? Does she have a domestic side? Questions we do not ask of powerful men.'
Despite being only 60 pages long, Adichie's 'Dear Ijeawele: A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions' is a phenomenal exploration of how we can raise feminists, which traverses into a deeper exploration of other feminist issues, such as changing surnames upon marriage and the value of co-parenting.
In response to her friend Ijeawele asking how she can raise her baby girl a feminist, Adichie lays out several thoughts on feminism in general and how this can be reflected within the raising of children. Below are some of the key moments in Adichie's essay that I want to bring to your attention.
'Do it together. Remember in primary school when we learned that a verb was a 'doing' word? Well, a father is as much a verb as a mother...Share child care equally. 'Equally' of course depends on you both.'
Adichie observes the tradition that women have been forever domesticated and men are ‘helping’ if they take on house hold chores and looking after the child, before commenting that child care should be a gender neutral, shared responsibility. This really got me thinking about how, even unconsciously, parents often instil sex stereotypes within their children's lives, simply by presenting themselves in line with historical gender norms and thus projecting these values onto their children. Subsequently, this leads to the instalment of sex prejudice and assumptions from an early age.
'Teach Chizalum that biology is an interesting and fascinating subject, but she should never accept it as justification for any social norm. Because social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.'
Adichie offers a discussion of the importance of allowing children the right to be who they want to be rather than fitting them into a gender box, drawing upon how parents unconsciously tell children how they should behave based on their gender so we internalise gender roles. This is couched in a discussion of how toy isles are often governed by sexist attitudes - 'girls' toys are dolls and dresses, whilst 'boys' toys are cars and water pistols. This translates to parents' encouraging their children to dress in a certain way; rather than tell a child what clothes they must wear based on their sex, they should be free to decide how they wish to express themselves through clothing. If we ignore gender stereotypes from the beginning (that is, the beginning of our lives), they cease to exist. Makeup, fashion and dolls doesn’t mean un-feminist, and football, boxing and trainers doesn’t mean un-feminine.
'A friend of mine says she will never call her daughter 'princess'. People mean well when they say this, but 'princess' is loaded with assumptions, of a girl's delicacy, of the prince who will come to save her.'
Adichie conveys the detriment of making marriage an aspiration for young girls, and how this is damaging to their potential - if a woman is unmarried, they are seen as a failure. This is a concept that must disappear from society if we are going to raise the next generation as observers of equality for everyone.
This is a punchy, powerful read that offers so much in so little space. A must read.