Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This spring, my sister handed me a gift box and inside it was a mug.  It read “Totally The Best Aunt Ever” and my heart swelled!  She was pregnant and I was going to become an aunt!  I got even more excited when she found out it was a girl.  Absolutely life changing for my sister and brother-in-law but core shaking for me too and I knew right away a few things:

  1. She would need to have the best library – I don’t know if you can make a reader but I want to introduce her to all the great stories out there
  2. I want to help give her what she needs in order for her to be whoever she wants to be

So in hopes of getting started, I consulted my International Women’s Day post from a couple years ago where I connect with lots of the women in my life and especially women raising daughters to compile a list of great books.  I called it A Bookshelf for Our Daughters, and the post was inspired by all the great books I read as a kid, a teenager and an adult that inspired me.  It’s one of my favourite posts (of mine, odd to write) and looking back, I’m surprised that Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions wasn’t on the list.  I’d add it now.

I saw it on a well-curated table in Indigo and after reading the flap, I knew I had to get a copy to give to my sister.  I read it first though because I have loved some of the author’s other books (note, I never do this but wanted to know what to expect so I could tell my sister who isn’t much of a reader). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was asked by a friend of hers for advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. This beautiful, tiny book is the author’s answer to that request.  I knew I would love it when I read this passage on the sixth page:

The first is your premise, the solid unbending belief you start off with. What is your premise?  Your feminist premise should be: I matter.  I matter equally.  Not “if only.” Not “as long as.”  I matter equally.  Full Stop. (Adichie, page 6)

It is such a simple way to explain it and I think about it often.  My sister has since given birth to the most beautiful little girl and I tell her all the time that she matters.  I will keep telling her that – she’s not quite 3 months old but she matters in so many big ways.

What I also love about this book is that the fifteen suggestions are so straightforward and simple.  They make so much sense so they weren’t as much an a-ha for me, more that I wish I had read this before.  Without giving too much away, here are a few of my favourite suggestions:

“Teach Chizalum to read. Teach her to love books.” Suggestion Five (Adichie, page 15)

“Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honst and aware of the equal humanity of other people.” Suggestion Eight (Adichie, page 36)

“Give Chzalum a sense of identity. It matters. Be deliberate about it.” Suggestion Nine (Adichie, page 39)

“Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference.” Suggestion Fifteen (Adichie, page 61)

I found something that I connected to in each suggestion and while it is a Feminist Manifesto, I think if we all took some of Chimamanda Ngozi Adhichie’s advice, we’d probably be a bit further ahead than we are today.

I don’t want to preach about this, I’m not a parent so I won’t begin to tell anyone how to raise their children but if you are interested in any of the suggestions I highlighted or the author’s overall premise, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is worth a read.

K

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