Book Review: Dear Ijeawele

Image from Amazon.com

We’re weeks into the new year (already!) and I have done some New Years reading (which is mostly planners). I did pick a book from my New Years best books, but I was mostly getting myself all ready for a transition into dot journaling. Please don’t just hear that and run away. I’ll review the dot journal situation in the next blog. I’ll start here with the new year “novel.”

Which isn’t a novel at all. I just went to the New Year best books and ordered a copy of the first book from the list: Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The long version of the title is Dear Ijeawele or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. That probably sounds as deterring to some people as bringing up dot journals does to others. But it was supposed to be good and I don’t have a whole lot of prejudice against unread books (but some). Adichie is a prominent author, one that many Americans would recognize, at least for the novel Americanah (which I have not read yet. It’s actually on two of my TBR, best-books lists: Literary Fiction and Modern: 2000s and 2010s). Having not read her elsewhere, I am relying on others’ perceptions of her, which includes her being known as a feminist and also bringing attention (especially in the US) to the modern literature of Africa. You can tell from the title that this book is feminist, but maybe it’s not quite as clear that it also talks about African life and culture in a familiar way (specifically Nigerian and Igbo).

A very short, epistolary book, Dear Ijeawele started as an emailed response to a question Adichie’s friend (Ijeawele) had asked her (about how to raise her baby daughter a feminist). The email moved to Adichie’s Facebook page as a post and then was published in 2017 as a (again, very short) book. It has been popular, since. Obviously, it’s a bit niche-y. Not everyone is interested in a book about how to raise a daughter to be a feminist. Furthermore, there are parts of this book that are specific to being African and even more specifically Igbo. Even so, we can trust by its popularity that I don’t have to be Igbo, African, or even a parent of a baby daughter to appreciate it.

I did appreciate it, I guess. It doesn’t strike me as particularly remarkable—it is, really, just a casual letter from one woman to another and—as being in the moment—it has some really interesting things to say and some less-interesting things to say. (I found some of her arguments to be overly simplistic. We also seem to disagree about the nature of marriage, and about religion and even science.) It’s not, really, a well-written, engaging piece of literature so much as a random book of advice. Personally, I’m some sort of feminist who is not comfortable with the term “feminist” because—like many labels in culture—of all the extraneous bits that are attached to it. Likewise, I didn’t agree with all of Adichie’s conclusions, but there were some that I really did and some that were new thoughts or just thoughts put new ways that made them Aha! moments. It won’t hurt to think on these things when raising any child, nor will it hurt to think about these things (challenging some of our cultural assumptions and practices) when living in modern society. It’s not just for baby girls.

It’s quick. It’s painless if you’re not the type to get your knickers in a twist about things, but then it shouldn’t be quite painless to challenge your own assumptions. See below for some quotes to give you an idea of what the writing is like as well as what some of the fifteen suggestions might be.

QUOTES:

“What a magnificent thing you have done bring a human being into the world” (p5).

“Feminism is always contextual …. Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally” (p6).

“…be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Expect to be helped. There is no such thing as a Superwoman” (p9).

“It’s good for her to be cared for by her father. So look away, arrest your perfectionism…” (p12).

“’Gender-neutral’ is silly because it is premised on the idea of male being blue and female being pink and ‘gender-neutral’ being its own category” (p16).

“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…” (p19).

“’Allow’ is a troubling word. ‘Allow’ is about power” (p22).

“The writer had accused me of being ‘angry,’ as though ‘being angry’ were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry” (p22).

“…there are women who do not want to conform but for whom the required energy—mental, emotional, even physical—is just too much. How many men do you think would be willing to change their names on getting married?” (p34).

“Teach her to reject likeability” (p36).

“If she likes makeup, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive” (p43).

“Let her know that slim white women are beautiful, and that non-slim, non-white women are beautiful” (p46).

“Surround her with a village of aunties, women who have qualities you’d like to her to admire. Talk about how much you admire them …. Surround Chizalum, too, with a village of uncles” (p47).

“Talk to her about sex, and start early. It will probably be a but awkward, but it is necessary …. Romance will happen, so be on board” (p51, 55).

“I don’t mean you should be her ‘friend’; I mean you should be her mother, to whom she can talk about everything” (p56).

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