Do yourself a favor and go check out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Facebook page right now. The prolific Nigerian novelist and writer has a new piece for the world. The entry, a whopping 9,221 words, is a letter to a friend, Ijeawele, who has just given birth to a daughter, Chizalum Adaora. She’s asked the feminist icon and recent mother for advice on how to raise her daughter a feminist.
“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,” Adichie begins me stating. “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 Adichie’s ‘Feminist Tools’ is one’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 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.’”
Adichie proceeds to lay out her fifteen suggestions for how her friend should raise her child. They are as follows:
- 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
Of course, we’re only just scratching the surface here. The piece is much more in depth and nuanced and very much worth a close read in its entirety. These aren’t just lessons for a mother raising a child. These rules are a good reminder for all of us.