Ngozi-Adichie, Chimamanda. “Dear Ijeawale, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions”

ISBN 978-0-7352-7340-5

This is a short book with concise advice on how to raise a strong woman- from one woman’s perspective. It is written in a letter format, so the prose is light hearted and funny at times. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie lets us eavesdrop on a personal conversation- we get access to her sense of humour and her sincerest thoughts. Although we may not be privy to the inside jokes and references she shares with her friend, Adichie makes us feel welcome.

Her friend, who’s recently given birth to a girl, asks her how to raise her daughter to be a feminist. While Ngozi- Adichie acknowledges her lack of experience in the field, she does what any friend would do. She thinks about the response and gives her friend suggestions based on what she’s observed in the world. To her a feminist isn’t necessarily a person who is constantly protesting or rioting- it could be a woman who wants society to accept her choices. (I am looking at you @Yesimhotinthis)  To raise a strong woman, one must be one first.

She starts off by reminding her friend that she matters. She Matters equally- and that motherhood does not define her. It is a part of her life now, this doesn’t mean she needs to quit her job and give up her dreams, nor does it mean that she needs to focus on her career- it simply means that this child is a responsibility that her friend and her husband decided to take on. They are equally part of this child’s life and should share that responsibility. She touches on the language of “helping”- there is no need to thank the father for taking care of the child nor is there need to criticize how he changes the nappy. They are both new parents and are learning together.

Adichie also draws on examples from her Nigerian Culture-but examples that are very relevant to other cultures- whether they be Canadian, European, American, Asian, Caribbean or other African cultures. The gender specific colours for example- dress your daughter in whatever colour you choose! Adichie is probably one of the few authors who can pull off a novel and a personal letter with such an easy tone. She chooses to write in simple language- not only to maintain a conversational tone, but also to balance the letter. Talking about complex and heavy subjects such as social expectations, “traditional” roles etc can make for a heavy read- but if you juxtapose them with light language, they are easier to comprehend and follow.

Today, on International Women’s Day, it worries me how relatable the context of her book is. I remember when I first got my period- I went to a male because I feared the shame it would cause my female caregiver (I can still see the ‘deer in headlights’ look on his face!) That needs to change. A male professor of mine once said, “You may be the strongest man there ever was; but once you witness a woman giving birth- you will feel the most helpless human alive. There is nothing more humbling than a woman’s ability to give life.” So- as women- why are we ashamed of our bodies?

 In the 21st Century, we women need to stop passing on our fears to our daughters, nieces, granddaughters. We need to keep the channels of communication open- so they can come to us in their hour of need. We need to set examples of strong women for the generations after us- media needs to start changing what the image of a girl should be. Movies such as Hidden Figures, Black Panther and Wonder Women depict strong female role models- but that is not enough! We need to be the living examples of these role models. Wear make-up if you want to wear make up, not because you aren’t beautiful without it. There is only ONE of you in the entire world- that fact makes you Gorgeous! So tell Maybelline that you ARE born with it! Get married if that makes you happy- not your family, not your friends, your job, your community- YOU! Take that promotion, Buy that book (see what I did there), go on a cruise- if that is what you want in your life. Dare to love, dare to swim against the tide, this is your life- no one must live it but you- so go make yourself happy!

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