'A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions' is a breath of fresh air

Saturday, April 29, 2017 - 2:07pm
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“Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

March 7, 2017

It’s hard writing about feminism in 2017. The problem is mostly over-saturation, with the daily inundation of think pieces each promising a sharper takedown than the last. As feminism occupies a broader and more dominant space in mainstream media, it gets harder to come to any kind of consensus (that’s not to say that consensus is necessarily the goal of feminist conversations, but its complete absence in modern discourse is noticeable, to say the least). The audiences are just too wide to satisfy completely, to the point that almost any kind of declarative statements about what feminism is or isn’t feels inherently flawed by design. And yet, every once in awhile, a piece of writing comes along that carefully navigates this mess with grace.

When a childhood friend asked Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie if she had any advice about how to raise her soon-to-be-born daughter in a feminist way, Adichie realized her response couldn’t be contained in a letter. So instead she wrote “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.” It’s a slim and simple book only 80 pages long, written in clear, easily-digestible prose — and it’s absolutely lovely.

We can characterize the book by what it’s not. It’s free of the buzzwords that dominate similar conversations on the internet, references to modern pop culture, or any real definitions of feminism at all. It’s not about feminist theory, or about the intricate nuances of injustice. It’s not a rallying cry and it doesn’t exactly introduce anything new. But Adichie’s book doesn’t need to be any of those things, because not every discussion of feminism needs to encompass all its parts. It’s okay, every once in a while, to paint in broad strokes.

Adichie’s suggestions range from what kinds of toys to buy (blocks and trains so she learns to love creating things, dolls if she wants them) to how to have honest conversations about sex (start early). She urges the teaching of inequality and privilege. She advocates cultivating a strong sense of identity, grounded in culture and self-respect. Adichie wants future generations of daughters to be “full of opinions,” proud and honest, able to confront and challenge the harsh realities of the world and maintain their sense of self in the process. Teach them to love reading, to ask questions, to be self-reliant and to love fully and kindly.

It would have been easy for Adichie to turn this book into a laundry list of the world’s injustices, but it’s not that. Instead, she keeps her focus small and intently personal. Her suggestions deal with the question of how women, particularly women of color, can live productively and well in a world that’s often cruel and stacked against them. “Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself,” she writes with a sense of wholehearted optimism that permeates the book. It’s grounded in the realities of the world, of course, but it looks mostly at ways to create a better future.

Adichie suggests mostly that we start small, and cultivate a sense of strength and hope in the people around us. In writing this book, she’s done just that for her readers. “May she be happy and healthy,” she writes. “May her life be whatever she wants it to be.”