A Feminist Manifesto

Happy New Year! I don't have anything wholesome to say about the end of last year or the beginning of this one because I decided sometime in December to not be retrospective about the year at all. So let's dive into this post.

I don't know when it happened but I recently started buying books again. I am still not buying fiction but I'm buying gradually. I bought Chimamanda Adichie's Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. It's somewhat of an old book and I'm surprised that I'm just now reading it but better late than never. It's a short book and you can finish it in minutes. Honestly, it's more of an essay to me.  This post is not about that book per se, but more about the central idea of the book: how to be feminist or more specifically, a feminist manifesto.

When Chimamanda received a letter from her friend, a new mom, asking how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist, Chimamanda responded with what has formed the basis of this book, providing fifteen brilliant and invaluable suggestions for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. It is direct—the Chimamanda way—funny, thoughtful, nuanced, compassionate, and it tugs at the heart of sexual politics in today's world. Here are excerpts from the book before we continue: 


gender roles are so deeply conditioned in us that we will often follow them even when they chafe against our true desires, our needs, our happiness. they are very difficult to unlearn and so it is important to try to make sure that Chizalum rejects them from the beginning. instead of letting her internalize the idea of  gender roles, teach her self reliance.

beware of the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. it is the idea of conditional female equality. please reject this entirely. being a feminist is like being pregnant. you either are or you are not. you either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not. Feminism Lite uses analogies like 'he is the head and you are the neck'...more troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to 'treat women well'. no. no. no. there must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a woman's well-being. 

teach Chizalum to read. teach her to love books. the best way is by casual example. if she sees you reading, she will understand that reading is valuable. if she were not to got to school, and merely just read books, she would arguably become more knowledgeable than a conventionally educated child. books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to becomea chef, a scientist, a singer. I do not mean schoolbooks. i mean books that have nothing to do with school, autobiographies and novels and histories. if all else fails, pay her to read.


I cannot tell you how transformative this short book is for me. As a feminist (a radical one), most of it is preaching to the choir, but all of it still reminds me of the unlearning that I need to do as a woman inhabiting this world. If I ever have a daughter, I will teach her these things, but I will tell her how hard it is to embody them in a patriarchal world. I will teach my nieces too. I will teach my daughter and nieces to question language; to never ever see marriage as an achievement; to reject a gospel and theology that denigrates women and place us as second class citizens; to read voraciously; to reject likability; to be deliberate about having a sense of identity because the world doesn't do teach women this nearly enough.

I often think about how much we lose as a society because of patriarchy, misogyny, and deep-seated sexism. For instance, by adhering to gender roles that have no premise or logic to them, we lose out on the skills and profundity that women can bring to the work place when we craft certain roles and positions to only be filled by men. Women can be adept at leading but rarely get the chance to actually do so. When we say that domesticity and raising the children belongs to women alone, we sever bonds destined to last before they can even begin. No one comes to this world knowing how to care for a home or raise a child. People who do it well learn and unlearn. It's that simple. The ability to raise a child and care for it does not come pre-installed in a vagina. There is no scientific reason why one gender should be better at it than another. 

It's funny because patriarchy harms both men and women. The 13th suggestion in this book centers around romance. And more likely than not, in a person's life, romance will happen. It is important that the girls  have the language for this. More importantly, they must realize that love is not only about giving but also about taking. If she must give herself emotionally, then she must receive too. She has more power than society lets her realize. The decision about when to marry, for instance, must not solely rest on the man. Because we have endowed men with the power of proposing, we have endowed them with the sole power in that relational dynamic. The real power belongs to the person who asks. So we find women, who want marriage but are too afraid to voice their desire, remaining in long-term relationships with men, and resorting to performing their worthiness, sulking, and complaining until he proposes. Why do you have to wait for somebody else to initiate what will be major life change for you? Closely linked to romance and love is money. Listen, it is NOT the man's role to provide. "Whoever can provide should provide," Adichie rightly says in the book. This trope that only the man should provide has fueled depression, unnecessary angst, and quite frankly, dubious behavior among boys all over the world. Worst of all, it has made relationships transactional.  He is your boyfriend, not your daddy. 

It can be very easy to think that gender inequality is no longer a thing, that in this progressive world that we are now in, everything is fine and that the #metoo movement has solved and cured all ills. You could not not be any wronger.  An estimated 650 million girls and women alive today married before they turned 18. And a report by the World Bank showed that 41,000 girls under the age of 18 marry every day. As the pandemic ravaged the world, violence against girls and women increased by a staggering amount. When caregivers are missing from the household, girls risk dropping out of school because they are the ones that typically have to replace the work done by the missing caregiver. Girls face barriers to education due to underlying drivers like poverty, cultural norms and practices, and violence and fragility. While numbers and statistics may seem macro to you and alienate others, think about this: a teenage girl in Northern Nigeria is probably being married off to an older Emir or some other old fart at the moment. Another woman in another corner of the world is getting kicked and slapped by her husband because she cooked dinner late. Another woman, probably one who just lost her husband, in eastern Nigeria is being denied property rights because his lazy brothers have decided they have the rights to his property. This is existential. At its core, our society needs to change. You and I need to unlearn. 

"In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints. Saintliness is not the prerequisite for dignity."

I never quite get how I, a feminist, still am conditioned to just absorb certain things. How, every now and then, I have to catch myself and stop myself from perpetuating problematic sexist tropes. We are so conditioned to accept some of these gender roles that even when they directly violate your principles, values, desires, and needs, we still go along with them. We still go along with what society says we are and how society says we must present ourselves, and do what society deems acceptable. It tells me that unlearning and learning are not one time things, they are continual. And I love having a book like this to refer to. I like how it's such a fast, short read. I like how practical it is. It doesn't just conform to a language orthodoxy or throw words like "misogyny" "patriarchy" and other such jargon around. At one point, Adichie says to avoid terms like that because of how abstract they are. Instead, learn that "if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women." X can be words like anger, ambition, loudness, ruthlessness. 

I implore everyone who exists in this world with women or who is a woman to read this book at least once.



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