Review: Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

If you haven’t read any work by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I highly recommend you do so. For any new readers to her work, I suggest you pick this book up. In Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Adichie addresses her childhood friend, who asked her how she could raise her baby daughter to be a feminist. Adichie’s volume is only 63 pages long, but in those 63 pages she says so much about the complex discussions around feminism, particularly in the context of Nigerian culture. Here are just a few excellent points that she makes in this book.

  • Feminism isn’t cut and dry. There are women who proudly declare that they are not feminists, and there are also men who are feminists. We can’t assume all men hate women, and all women hate men, because there are women who hate each other. Internalized misogyny is a thing.
  • Ignore traditional ideas that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Adichie recognizes that women grow up feeling uncomfortable with adhering to gender norms, but that they do so because traditions in society force them to and they finally break out of this box and people criticize them for not being “ladylike”. It reminded me of the film Pariah, where Alike, the main character, is a lesbian and doesn’t like dresses but her mom forces her to wear dresses and act more “feminine” and dismisses the fact that her daughter is comfortable with her identity and that she should respect that.
  • Encourage your daughter to play sports. Football, soccer, etc. And yes, she can still love fashion and makeup and play sports despite what gender stereotypes tell her. And encourage her to read. Indeed, I think developing a love of reading at a young age helped me become the person I am today; reading allowed me to find my voice, write well, improve my vocabulary and open my mind up to different perspectives of the world.
  • You don’t have to love everything about your job but you can appreciate the fulfillment you feel when you get a paycheck. Having a job lets you make money so you can put food on the table and do what you love on the side. Indeed, having an hourly job lets me keep running this blog.
  • Marriage doesn’t make someone’s life completely free of worry, and your daughter shouldn’t feel pressured to get married just because society tells her to. And don’t let your husband take all the credit for taking care of your daughter; he’s supposed to do that, he’s her dad.
  • Encourage your daughter to study and learn about women of the African diaspora. There are so many incredible black female role models out there that have gone through so much to become successful.
  • Don’t feel bad about not being the perfect mom. This reminded me of Bossypants, when Tina Fey is talking about other moms asking her how she balances a full-time career with taking care of her daughter, and Fey tells them that she isn’t Superwoman and can’t do everything perfectly. Adichie says to her friend “give yourself room to fail. A new mother does not necessarily know how to calm a crying baby. Don’t assume that you should know everything.” I totally agree with that; we can’t expect mothers to be perfect. They are human, too, and should be treated as such.

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