As I’ve grown, I’ve become more comfortable with the things I care about, and more bold in speaking out for them. I think I started questioning traditional gender roles at an early age, even if I didn’t really know what feminism meant then! As a child, I watched my mother working diligently while at the same time raising twins and going to university. Quiet by nature, she would calmly go about supporting her close and extended family, with her actions having far more power than her words. This had a great impact on my life, and while I don’t believe that having to “do it all” is the solution to achieving gender equality, these childhood experiences began in me a passion for seeing equal opportunity, treatment and value afforded to all genders.
It is clear that in many parts of the world, the work to achieve gender equality has made great progress. But we’re not there yet, and there’s a lot we need to keep learning, doing and fighting for to ensure all genders are truly free and respected. And a lot of this learning and working starts deep within ourselves.
Sometimes you come across authors who seem to be able to capture your thoughts and spirit in words, and beyond that, capture what you know to be true but haven’t even discovered yet. I first encountered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works when I read her essay We Should All Be Feminists a few years ago. Her words made so much sense to me, and I could tell at that point that her writings on feminism would have a marked influence on me, and on many others too. I then read Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions recently, simply flying through the pages with enthusiastic nods and bookmarks in many places. It’s a small book in length (for it is actually a letter), but so big in its meaning and messages. I decided to read it a second time around, to reflect more closely on her words, and to capture a bit of what I learned.
What I Learned
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie originally wrote Dear Ijeawele as letter to her friend, who’d asked her how she could raise her child a feminist. Her response is this book, in which she proposes 15 suggestions for how we could raise our children to believe in and stand for a gender equal world. I won’t share all of her suggestions (as I think this is a book you really should read!), but here are some ideas that inspired me the most:
Motherhood and work are not mutually exclusive. Your children will benefit from seeing you live as a full person, both working and earning, and following your passions and personal hobbies.
We cannot continue to try to do everything at work and at home. This perpetuates the idea that only women should be managing domestic work. Our focus should be on questioning how we can support all parents in achieving their multiple responsibilities.
Teach your children to be self-reliant, rather than dependent on gender roles. How we see our place and role in the world is learned from a young age, so we should give children the space to see and expand their potential, based on their unique selves instead of their gender. Show your children diversity and alternatives, for this is how we can question and eliminate gender roles.
Teach your children to speak truthfully, kindly and honestly, with a full awareness of the equal humanity of others. Our differences should be respected, and our own experiences cannot be normalized.
Our language and how we speak to each other and our children matters. It is our job to question and examine language, the place we express beliefs and assumptions, and to take care in not associating certain words and phrases with a gender.
Teach your children to read, and set the example by reading yourself. This will help them to question and understand the world through different views and ideas, and to subsequently express themselves.
Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive. We do not have to reject femininity to be feminists! Instead, we can raise our children to be their full selves, to follow their passions and their purpose. The colors they like and the clothes they wear are independent of their gender.
Not all women and men will be feminists, but this does not negate the need for feminism, and the ongoing action towards gender equality.
Love means not only to give, but to take and receive. When we value each other, equality can live freely.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book will be a regular point of reference for me, a place to return to for inspiration and reassurance. It is a strong reminder that much of what we can do to achieve gender equality for all begins in our own families and communities, in the way we speak, act and listen, for this can impact and change a generation.
I hope that the feminist movement will continue to be freeing for all genders. That stereotypes, discrimination and static roles, both for women and for men, will be questioned and forgotten, and that we continue to make progress in remembering all the work that has already come before us.
I can’t say I will do it all “right” by the time I have children, but my hope and aim is to be myself, be authentic, and to try my best.
Have you read Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions? Let me know what you thought in the comments!
Note:Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestionsis written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Published in 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group.