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Dear Ijeawele

posted on 03 May 2017

Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a little jewel of a book by the very readable award winning Nigerian author,  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is encased in a beautiful jacket illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, a children’s illustrator with a huge reputation and this aesthetic combination is in itself guaranteed to make it a success with fans like myself.  The content of the book is adapted from a letter written by Adichie in response to a request from her friend for suggestions about how to raise her daughter as a feminist. The subtitle of the book is therefore ‘A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ and distils a complex subject into a format that can be shared and appreciated widely.

She explains in the short introduction that she was at first daunted by the task and the responsibility of passing on advice, despite having written and talked publicly about feminism many times. She also acknowledges the practical difficulties of raising a child which she better understands since being a parent herself.

All the suggestions are important and framed with examples of real women that have inspired her during her life. She also includes plenty of asides from the suggestions which act as a personal reassurance that she understands how culture and tradition can sometimes get in the way. This gives it a friendly conversational tone which works really well. The first one aimed at her friend rather than the child is ‘Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift but do not define yourself solely by motherhood’. This is not original advice by any means but Adichie makes it powerful and relevant because she explains that ‘ Domestic work and care-giving should be gender neutral, and we should be asking not whether a woman can "do it all" but how best to support parents in their dual duties at work and at home’. This emphasis on both parents having equal responsibility is continued through many of the following suggestions.

I liked the fourth one that angrily warns her friend against the danger of being satisfied with what she calls ‘Feminism Lite’ , a concept which is so deeply embedded in many cultures that would describe themselves as being equal but shows how powerful women are still viewed with suspicion. She quotes from what she describes as a ‘ progressive British newspaper’ uses the language of’ allowing’ when describing the husband of Theresa May: ‘ Philip May is known in politics as a man who has taken a back seat and allowed his wife, Theresa, to shine’. 

She is a passionate advocate for education and the importance of reading books because these will help a child to understand and question. She explains that having early conversations about sex, identity, stereotypes, romance and respectful relationships are vital.  She also warns about the importance of being aware of how language will shape her daughter’s view of the world and this includes advising the mother to avoid an over use of feminist jargon that might alienate her:

‘Instead of merely telling her, show her with examples that misogyny can be overt and misogyny can be subtle and that both are abhorrent’.

Early on in the book Adichie rejects the idea of ‘parenting’ advice as an unwelcome modern’ global middle-class phenomenon’ that makes having children as ‘one endless, anxious journey of guilt’. However this slim volume is so packed with practical advice, humour and gentle wisdom about raising kind, confident and compassionate feminists (girls and boys) that I think it would be a very welcome gift to give to any parent.  

Karen Argent

May 2017