Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author best known for her seminal essay We Should All Be Feminists. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is based on a letter that Adichie wrote to her friend, Ijeawele. Ijeawele had asked Adichie for advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. Adichie stated that she could tell her some things though there was no guarantee if Ijeawele would follow them wholly for her daughter, Chizalum.
Adichie also wrote, as an introduction to the book, that being a mother herself now put things into perspective and that she would try. Ijeawele stated she would try to follow Adichie’s fifteen suggestions and Adichie desired to try to follow her own advice. What comes out is an honest and pithy book. The socio-political landscape in this book is known to anyone who has faced sexism. One of the introductory statements, Adichie writes, is the concept of infidelity being gendered and biased. She believes that men are not held accountable for their infidelities due to a belief that they are innately, sexually wayward. This lack of accountability is not given to women. When males are unfaithful females are meant to accept it, but when females are unfaithful it is a crime. Thus, opens the understanding that feminist choices are grounded in equality of accountability and the choices one makes are based on that equality.
From showing that motherhood does not only define a woman to the unnecessary color coding we do with children (blue for boy, pink for girls), Adichie writes passionately for awareness. She tells her friend Ijeawele never to tell her daughter that she could not do things only because she was a girl. She also instructs that her daughter should play with other toys other than dolls. Adichie shows that, without being aware, parents try to discipline young girls to behave well but tell young boys to be explorative and confident. Obviously, this does not help girls. Neither does it help them as women in the long run. There is also the issue of race. Adichie writes to Ijeawele that from a young age Chizalum will notice that mainstream beauty standards will celebrate a Eurocentric understanding of aesthetics. So, she says that Ijeawele should give Chizalum a sense of confidence, a sense of self and help her grow a love of reading. Adichie also criticises Feminism Lite. Feminism Lite is the belief that women are naturally inferior and must seek the acceptance of men. Adichie says that Chizalum must stay away from such notions. She is a girl and that does not make her inferior by any standard.
The letter is written with close observations, pithy statements, and acute insights. By using examples and anecdotes, Adichie challenges gender norms. She makes it painfully clear that society needs to celebrate female intelligence and potential. Adichie shows that despite living in an era of information and introspection, sexism is still rampant. Raising a daughter in such an ambience has to be done with care, sincerity, and honesty. I highly recommend this book. It is a must read for people who wish to be reacquainted with understanding the self and society. The book touches on gender, violence, and norms, even though it is a short read. I think it highlights sexism well but also offers some alternative looks into incorporating equality and awareness. Adichie shows the importance of celebrating female potential, and there is strength in writing it down, especially as a letter to a close friend in helping her raise a baby girl.