Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Knopf. 2017.
A handbook for mothers of post-millenials, Dear Ijeawle lucidly answers many of the questions we ask ourselves as our daughters learn to negotiate the world. How we do we teach them, in an age when misogyny often masquerades as glorification of tradition or even sensitivity towards women and where corporates promote and profit off our insecurities, to grow up a feminist?
As your daughter’s first role model, must you be the perfect woman, the working mother who combines career with home management and looks like a million bucks while doing it? No, says Nigerian author Adichie, there is no such thing as Superwoman.
Give yourself a break and don’t do it all or have it all. She rejects the notion of gender roles; fathers don’t “help” around the house—they do what they are supposed to, no more and no less. In the same vein, she exhorts the reader not to sexualise her child with colours, toys or standards of behaviour. There’s no biological basis for behaving “like a girl”.
Early on, your daughter will encounter covert misogyny, sheathed in a smiling mask which Adichie dubs “Feminism Lite”. It celebrates women’s achievements with the indulgent air of a teacher encouraging a not-too-bright student with a pat on the back. It looks beyond the woman CEO or astronaut or politician, searching for the enabling husband in the background. It seeks to “lighten the woman’s load” with vacuum cleaners, pressure cookers and diaper services.
In those sensitive years of pyscho-sexual development and identity formation, which will determine who and what she will be, how do you deal with your daughter’s body image issues? As communities are subsumed in urban anonymity, appearance is the first and sometimes the only interface with the world. So is it OK to let your daughter wear make-up, high heels and revealing attire? Is “let” even an option?
Social anxiety triggered by the consuming desire for popularity and acceptance is a bogey every mother fears. How do you tell your child that being likeable is good but should not come at the price of selfhood? No one has all the answers and Dear Ijeawle does not pretend to. But, as Adichie suggests, if you teach your daughter to read and to think, she may find them for herself.
Dear Ijeawle is both a letter and a pamphlet, as the title itself suggests. It is structured into 15 sections, suggestions one through 15, each dealing with a conundrum mothers of daughters face on a daily basis. The underlying theme is the challenge of post-millenial motherhood, of guiding your daughter as she seeks to reconcile femininity with feminism.
The language is simple, the sentences short, blunt and evocative. The author does not resort to elaborate literary devices. The eye slides effortlessly across the page, imbibing ideas without a struggle. The mood is intimate, that of a woman sharing her innermost thoughts, experiences and opinions with a friend. She is a strong woman, deeply rooted in her culture, from which she takes the good and repudiates the bad. The tone is matter-of-fact, non-argumentative and untrammeled by angst. This is not a shrill rant against gender injustice; it affirms that double standards exist and gently but uncompromisingly rejects them.
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