The Nigerian novelist and writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has published a new 15-step manifesto on how to raise a feminist child. The piece comes in the form of a letter to Ijeawele, a friend who has given birth to a daughter, Chizalum Adaora. Adichie herself recently became a mother for the first time.
The 9,000-word post was published on Facebook, and discusses gender roles and the place of women in the world. The manifesto is full of anecdotes—from the classroom to the bedroom and the playground—and dissects how politics, language, identity and the news media all combine to create a certain image of the girl child.
As a feminist icon, Adichie is no stranger to the topic: she has powerfully spoken and written about women’s rights and the needs for inclusion and equality. But in an era when presidents say their wives belong in the kitchen, where women are assaulted in the streets for how they dress, where schools ban girls for wearing their natural hair, the achievements in women’s rights look set for reversal.
For Adichie, feminism is contextual, and should always start with “the solid unbending belief” that one is significant and important. “Your feminist premise should be: I matter,” she writes in the Facebook entry. “I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.”
Adichie is also aware of the gender bias and injustice facing women in politics. As a professor who divides her time between the US and Nigeria, she draws on the divisive US election to make points about feminism. Voters, she writes, “place retrograde marital expectations on women,” noting how the first descriptor on Hillary Clinton’s Twitter account is ‘Wife.’ The same, she says, doesn’t apply to her husband, Bill.
The award-winning writer also narrates an experience of being in a room full of young women who decried how their men cheated and lied to them. “And I realized, sadly, that the reverse is not true. A roomful of men do not invariably end up talking about women—and if they do, it is more likely to be in objectifying flippant terms rather than as lamentations of life. Why?” she asks.
And even they might do all the right things to raise a feminist child, Adichie reminds parents that their children might still turn out different from what they hoped for. “Sometimes life just does its thing,” she writes. “What matters is that you try.”
1. Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood.
2. Do it together. Remember in primary school we learnt that a verb was a ‘doing’ word? Well, a father is as much a verb as a mother.
3. 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.”
4. Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing, and bankrupt idea. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of women, or you do not.
5. Teach Chizalum to read. Teach her to love books.
6. Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions. But to teach her that, you will have to question your own language.
7. Never speak of marriage as an achievement.
8. 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 honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.
9. Give Chizalum a sense of identity. It matters. Be deliberate about it.
10. Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance.
11. Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as ‘reasons’ for social norms.
12. Talk to her about sex and start early. It will probably be a bit awkward but it is necessary.
13. Romance will happen so be on board.
14. In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints.
15. Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice but merely to be human and practical.