A Breakdown Of Chimamanda's Manual On How To Raise Feminist Daughters
As the world tries to progress from backward ideas that are often disguised and excused as 'culture', the topic of raising a next generation of feminists is something many parents often have. Now, we can thank novelist, writer and feminist icon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for blessing us with the ultimate 'How To Raise A Feminist Daughter' guide.
The guide, made up of over 9000 words, is a letter to a friend, Ijeawele, who has just given birth to a daughter, Chizalum Adaora and asked Chimamanda, a recent mother herself, for advice on how to raise Chizalum as a feminist. Sharing on her Facebook, Chimamanda titled the piece: “DEAR IJEAWELE, OR A FEMINIST MANIFESTO IN FIFTEEN SUGGESTIONS By Chimamanda Adichie".
Starting off, she says:
“Please know that I take your charge – how to raise her feminist – very seriously. And I understand what you mean by not always knowing what the feminist response to situations should be,”
“For me, feminism is always contextual. I don’t have a set-in-stone rule; the closest I have to a formula are my two ‘Feminist Tools’ and I want to share them with you as a starting point.”
The first of Chimamanda's ‘Feminist Tools’ relates to a person’s premise:
“The solid unbending belief that 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.”
The second tool is a question: “Can you reverse X and get the same results?”
“For example: many people believe that a woman’s feminist response to a husband’s infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context.
If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based – that absurd idea of ‘men will be men.’"
Chimamanda then shares 15 suggestions for her friend on how to raise her daughter as a feminist:
- Be a full person.
- Do it together.
- Teach her that ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense.
- Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite.
- Teach Chizalum to read.
- Teach her to question language.
- Never speak of marriage as an achievement.
- Teach her to reject likeability.
- Give Chizalum a sense of identity.
- Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance.
- Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as ‘reasons’ for social norms.
- Talk to her about sex and start early.
- Romance will happen so be on board.
- In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints.
- Teach her about difference.
Anyone who has ventured into the world of Nigerian Twitter will know that the subjects ‘Feminism’ and ‘Cooking’ are discussed almost on a daily basis among Nigerians, to the point where some have confused cooking and feminism, and femininity and feminism as mutually exclusive.
On this subject Chimamanda says:
"Teach her that ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should do or not do something 'because you are a girl.'
‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.
There have been recent Nigerian social media debates about women and cooking, about how wives have to cook for husbands. It is funny, in the way that sad things are funny, that in 2016 we are still talking about cooking as some kind of ‘marriageability test’ for women.
The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking – domestic work in general – is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women."
On raising black girls with pride:
"Be deliberate also about showing her the enduring beauty and resilience of Africans and of black people. Why? Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability, and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans.
Teach her to take pride in the history of Africans, and in the Black diaspora. Find black heroes, men and women, in history. They exist."
On biology and sex:
"Never ever link sexuality and shame. Or nakedness and shame. Do not ever make ‘virginity’ a focus. Every conversation about virginity becomes a conversation about shame. Teach her to reject the linking of shame and female biology."
On women changing their names in marriage, and a possible solution for those who simply refuse to - as is their right:
"Here’s a nifty solution – each couple that marries should take on an entirely new surname, chosen however they want to as long as both agree to it, so that a day after the wedding, both husband and wife can hold hands and joyfully journey off to the municipal offices to change their passports, drivers licenses, signatures, initials, bank accounts, etc".
So if this 'feminism thing' is still confusing you, you can read the rest of Chimamanda's feminist manifesto on her Facebook page:
By Damilola Odufuwa, published on 13/10/2016