“Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2017)

Two years ago Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published the booklet version of a TedTalk she had given called We Should All Be Feminists (which also happened to be one of the very first posts I wrote on this blog). In that booklet Adichie laid out simple instructions as to why everyone should be a feminist, and how easy really it is to be one. Although extremely simple, and at times a bit simplistic, and relying on none of the theory or history of feminism, Adichie was still able to explain in an approachable yet strong way the ways in which feminism benefit society as a whole. It was a lovely little booklet, and an easy way for people to learn about the ideology without jargon, preachiness, or attack on anyone else. Adichie has a way of maintaining an approachable sensitivity even when tackling difficult topics that turn many off.

dear ijeawele

Now Adichie has decided to return to the topic with another publication: Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Minifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. As the title suggests (sorry for the redundancy) the book is a letter, and whether it is a true letter or written with publication in mind it is not clear, but it is presented as an intimate letter between Adichie and a close friend of hers who wrote the author requesting advice on how to raise her daughter a feminist. While Adichie does acknowledge the difficulty and the various ways in which life gets in the way of all possible hopes and plans, she nonetheless agrees to offer her advice in fifteen separate suggestions on how to best bring up a young woman to be proud, and not ashamed, of her gender. In the book Adichie does fall prey at times to certain problematic paradigms, but cultural differences should be acknowledged. She also tends to be heteronormative to the extreme, but even she is quite aware of this, and states that she speaks this way because it is reflective of her own identity and thus all she can really speak to. While these explanations are not always entirely satisfactory, she is extremely intelligent, educated, and well traveled, and as she even states in this very book one doesn’t have to experience certain things to be empathetic or understanding, the content and overall message of the book is still worth taking in.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Just like her previous book, this one is not interested in connecting itself to a historical feminist movement or philosophy, perhaps because it is overwhelmingly western and white, but no explanation is given. Adichie de-politicizes feminism, and makes it about human rights, coexisting, and sticking up for oneself. The advice touches upon concepts of self love and acceptance, sisterhood, demystifying gender roles, reading, the gendered nature of language, and romance and sexuality. Each of the fifteen points argues toward pushing the boundaries just a little in order to raise up a woman who stands up for herself, against oppressors, and pushes forward the definition of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. It is extremely specific at times to Nigeria, and thus must be read with that in mind at times. That said, in many ways the book is also universal in that it shows us the many ways we still must move forward and how we should be bringing up our collective daughters so that they are never seen or see themselves as less than, but as fully realized and fully capable human beings not defined by their gender or sex, but solely on their actions and behavior. So yes, we really all should be feminists and be inspired by these suggestions, all the while keep adding more to the list until books like these will not be necessary any longer. Until then, though, keep reading, marching, fighting, and keep working. There is still a long way to go.


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