Last week, I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. The book is about feminism if that’s not clear already.A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a dear friend from childhood, asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s letter of response. A compilation of 15 tips, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. I truly believe that it started a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.
I had randomly picked the novel because I wanted a short and light read. It was all of that but so much more. I was impressed – I found myself laughing and agreeing with Adichie, but most importantly, I found that I was often amazed by the little balls of wisdom she kept dropping throughout the novel in the form of anecdotes, analogies, and simple fact and reasoning. I don’t think I have ever read a book so succinct, concise, and clear in its message. Adichie didn’t beat around the bushes or masquerade her emotions – in fact, her manifesto brilliantly captured the essence of the feminist movement. Moreover, I don’t think I have learned as much in school as I did from this book about being a better human being. So, I collated my first quotes from the novel to share with y’all in the hopes of convincing y’all to read the book. Here are just a few:
Everybody will have an opinion about what you should do, but what matters is what you want for yourself, and not what others want you to want.
I love it because it’s so true! Living in India, I find that I often think twice before doing anything – once to make sure what I’m doing is safe and rational and the second to map out all the possible reactions I might get from my parents, relatives, and the society that I live in. It’s crazy because I feel like we all have been hard-wired to do this, so it’s hard to break this habit. What is also amazing about this quote is that there aren’t any pronouns identifying whether this sage advice applies to males or females, which goes to show that the feminist movement is more than just women parading down the streets, fighting for their rights; feminism is a school of thought and men are as welcome as women.
We judge powerful women more harshly than we judge powerful men.
This quote shook the foundation of my being because it is so honest and veracious. We often find ourselves questioning a women’s accomplishments more often than a male’s. For instance, Sania Mirza, an accolade tennis player, was berated by journalists, reporters, commentators for years for the way she dressed in the court. Her so-called short skirts were the front-page news and the media portrayed it as if she had committed a great sin. She would have to defend herself time. It got to the point where these kinds of videos plagued the internet and perverts and reporters got a kick from creating “news” out of nothing!
So, it’s important to be aware of how you react to someone’s talents and whether it is solely based on their accomplishments or gender biases is influencing your opinion.
Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions.
The message of this quote isn’t a revelation. It’s telling us something we already know, but what’s fascinating is that it is putting an abstract idea to words, which gives the idea weight. To clarify, I know that language and knowledge had some correlation/relationship in the greater scheme of things. But Adichie identified the connection between the two entities. (I’m not sure if I’m making here, but basically, she revealed something about us humans that we intuitively knew but never had acknowledged before.) And that was surreal.
Language and knowledge have an amicable relationship. Both influence each other and shape the way that we think. It is interesting how gender stereotypes prevail even in languages. For instance, Thesauraus.com suggests the following synonyms for feminine and masculine, respectively:
For women, feminity is associated with fragility, while for men, masculinity is synonymous with ferocity, courage, and machoness. Both genders are shrouded in strict gender roles just through language. So, how are children supposed to overcome stereotypes if the language that they use to communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings propagate strict gender roles?
Kaya Day questions these stereotypes and demands that Thesaurus.com change synonyms because language is supposed to be a reflection of the society’s stance on issues. So, it is time that they update the synonyms because after all, it is the 21st century, and we have come a long way.
Teach her never to universalize her own standards of experiences. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people. This is the only necessary form of humility: the realization that difference is normal.
This is by far the most powerful thing I have read in this book. It transcends feminism, gender roles, and all other stereotypes because this rule is applicable to everyone and everything. It is so beautiful and succinct and honest.
Why do stereotypes exist?
After reading this novel, I wondered why stereotypes existed in the first place. I read and I read and I read, and then I thought. Just like in science experiments, after collecting data, you analyse it for trends. To do this, you usually plot a graph and hypothesise what the relationship is most likely to be. If after plotting the points, you get a linear graph as seen in the picture on the left, then the two quantities have a positive linear correlation. Even though the points are scattered and the correlation might be slightly weak, most of the points show a linear relationship, and so scientists generalise that there is a linear relationship. This generalisation helps another scientist quickly establish a relationship with the two quantities without going through the process of experimentation all over again. So, not only does this generalisation help save time for other scientists, but it provides knowledge about the two quantities, something that the other scientists can build off of.
This also follows for stereotypes. They help us better understand the people around us in less time. People get squeamish when they can’t easily place people within these labels. They think that different is bad because they get uncomfortable as they can’t place someone in a category. Continuing the scientist analogy, if the second scientist couldn’t use the same generalisation that the previous scientist came up with, it would be reasonable if he/she too got annoyed and confused. He/she would have to redo the whole experiment to verify the veracity of the generalisation. The holds true for humans, as well.
In conclusion, stereotypes are meant to help us acquire knowledge at a faster rate, but it is important to be aware that they are just generalisations and they might not hold true for all cases. This wariness makes all the other difference.
More about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
After reading the novel, I decided to do some research on her because by now, she had already become my role model. I came across her acclaimed TEDx talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.”
Adichie’s short, sharp, and effective speech discusses gender, the wrong notions many people harbor about feminism, and why it is so important. What’s amazing is that her talk isn’t preachy, patronising or idealistic because she speaks in a conversational tone. She also delivers a compelling and deeply personal account of her experiences, making it more personal and vulnerable. Looking at the way we treat women and men, and how the expectations we have of both genders is contributing to a gender divide, Adichie makes an argument for a better future where we are not put into gendered boxes.
We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.
She also draws attention to the importance of the word ‘feminism’ itself. Many people are quick to say: “I absolutely believe men and women should be equal, but why call it feminism? Isn’t that word exclusive? Why not say humanism (as many people do)?” Even I’ve been guilty of wondering the same in the past.
I think there are many great arguments for why it should be “feminism” and not just “humanism”, “black lives matter” and not just “all lives matter”, “gay pride” and not just “sexual pride”, but I’ll let Adichie do the talking on that issue. She summarises it marvellously.
Her powerful speech is also featured in Beyonce’s Flawless. Her words complement Beyonce’s musical talents, and both send a powerful message to women all around the world to stand up and believe in themselves.
More on Feminism
Inspired, I took to WordPress to find out what others thought about the novel. Fortunately, I came across some powerful men and women who had riveting thoughts and ideas. First, I found Aurora Pheonix’s Bastardizing Feminism, which was a poignant prosaic account of what it means to be a feminist in today’s day and age.
when you call me
with that sneer
that mocks blue-black
from deadened eyes
have you consulted Webster
as you disparage
Then, I came across Bookchanted’s Rant – Feminism/Girl on Girl Hate/Slut Shaming, who ranted about the hostility that feminists face everyday and what feminism means to her.
Okay get ready y’all. I have a LOT to say. As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, I am an intersectional feminist and I believe in one very simple thing-equality. Except that it looks like it’s not simple at all. So just yesterday, I was watching a lot of Emma Watson’s feminism speeches or like her reaction to haters about feminism and stuff. And I scrolled into the comments, and was literally FLOODED with toxic comments and hate and negativity and IT. MADE. ME. SO. ANGRY.
Reading all these accounts made me so proud of these women/men even though I didn’t know them. It made me realise how much we have accomplished and how much we have yet to achieve.
All in all, I hope this post has convinced you to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and proudly don the feminist tag. At the same time, I hope it has awakened in you an incessant need for an equal world and motivated you to do something about it.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions