Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’

In this series, we will be reviewing books across a wide range of genres, all related in some form to championing women.  

Front cover of 'Dear Ijeawele...'
Front cover of ‘Dear Ijeawele…’ Source: Amazon

Think of ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a feminist roadmap and a guide for raising the feminists of the future.  The book is an amended version of a personal letter to the author’s friend, Ijeawele, who asked Adichie for advice on raising her new baby daughter as a feminist.  Adichie admits the daunting nature of the request, especially as at the time she was not a parent herself.  She presents her advice in the form of fifteen suggestions in short chapters.  Her suggestions are simple but this is Adichie’s strength and trademark.  She exposes the common sense arguments in feminism which so frustratingly elude us when trying to justify our feminism to others.  Indeed Adichie touches on this very subject; explaining how the vast majority accepts racism exists, but even amongst friends she has to prove the existence of sexism.

“I am angry about racism.  I am angry about sexism.  But I recently came to the realization that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism.  Because in my anger about sexism, I often feel lonely.”

Being as yet ambivalent on the notion of having children myself, I did not feel alienated at any point.  Suggestions range from advice on what to teach your child and how to behave as a parent, but all are fundamentals applicable to any woman’s life, no matter her age.  Appearance and gender roles are picked apart, while more challenging concepts are introduced, such as rejecting likeability and avoiding turning the oppressed into ‘saints’.

Adichie writes from and to an Igbo perspective (an indigenous people and culture of Nigeria), which she observes is often at odds with feminism.  She encourages Ijeawele to bring up her daughter with a proud Igbo identity, while questioning tradition for tradition’s sake.  She also jokes about people the two women know, friends and family both coming under scrutiny with dry asides.  These insights into Igbo culture and real relationships colour the book and give the suggestions a personal touch based in reality rather than the ideal.

Adichie giving her TEDx talk 'We Should All Be Feminists'
Adichie giving her TEDx talk We Should All Be Feminists. Source: Youtube.

At only 32 pages, Dear Ijeawele…’s short length makes it easily digestible and accessible to those learning about feminism.  This and its beautiful cover make it an ideal gift for parents-to-be, particularly if you know they are going to have a girl.  Adichie could easily write another book just for parents of boys to tackle sexism from both sides.  The self-styled ‘happy feminist‘ would be the perfect person to write about positive masculinity.  However there is plenty of advice here that can be extrapolated to parents of boys too, such as suggestion number five ‘Teach her to love books’.

Only one point raises minor alarm; Adichie remarks she assumes the child will be heterosexual, albeit admitting that is the only experience she can personally speak to.  Surely Adichie as a LGBTQ supporter herself would want to avoid assumptions concerning sexuality.  I’m sure Adichie did not mean it in an erasing way but nevertheless I found it jarring coming from such a skilled writer.  However this along with the recent backlash concerning her comments on trans-women mean Adichie needs to consider how she speaks about the LGBTQ community a little more carefully.  Such is the universal risk of being a famous feminist.

Adichie at a book signing
Adichie at a book signing. Source: NewsWireNGR

To the seasoned feminist, Dear Ijeawele… may feel safe and familiar.  But as a tool for spreading the word of feminism to the masses, I think her writing is instrumental.  It sets out the fundamentals in a positive, logical style which is powerful and difficult to argue with.  Adichie may be the ‘happy feminist’ but I found her confession of how lonely it can be resonated with me the most.  In an increasingly hostile world, her words are comforting and uplifting with a humanity that is hard to resist.

The Stats

Pages: 32 pages

Reading time: 30 mins

Why I picked up the book in the first place: I have read Adichie’s other famous work ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and her excellent Guardian interview here enticed me to read her latest offering.

Don’t judge a book by its cover:  As the title suggests, this book is not just for new parents, its advice and humanity are relevant to anybody interested in feminism and making the world a better place for future generations. It’s so accessible I believe it can strike a cord even among non-feminists, if they can get past the title.

Rating: 4/5

Where to get it cheapest: Amazon

The woman behind the book

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by Wani Olatunde. Source: New York Times

You may recognise Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from the recent Boots campaign, or her viral BBC Newsnight interview shutting down a Trump supporter.  However Adichie is a best-selling author of both fiction and non-fiction.  She debuted in 2012 with Purple Hibiscus and followed up with two award-winning novels, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.  Her TEDx talk We Should All Be Feminists was later turned into best-selling book and distributed in schools throughout Sweden by the Swedish Women’s Lobby.  She now divides her time between America and Nigeria, and has a baby feminist of her own.

Written by Amy Squire.

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