What I Learnt from Chimamanda Gnozi Adichie in Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Politics and Feminism

Gnozi Adichie writes a warm letter to one of her friends from childhood who asked her how could she educate her daughter to be a feminist. When I took a first look at the book, I though her arguments were clear and at some point a bit obvious. But I realized soon enough, with sadness, I must say, that not even this feminist statements have been embraced by the majority of societies and cultures because this world favours men. And this is still happening all around the world. What can we do to change this mentality?

I saw an important word all over this book. To educate. It is this generation, the one who is starting to have children, who should introduce the feminist values of equality in their daughters. As the author mentions it, it is a huge responsibility and a very complex issue. A feminist girl will have to face major obstacles, she will have to face friends and family members, she will endure backlash and a lot of times she will be disappointed from others’ reactions.

I am keeping each of her suggestions in my memory. I registered them and wrote them down until they become natural to me, because this is how I want to raise my daughter. I want her to be healthy, independent and happy. I want  her to go and get her dreams, and be able to fight the obstacles that she will have to face in life. I want her to be wise, responsible and have all the authority she needs to make her own decisions. I want her to achieve those dreams and live them as if there is no tomorrow.

But for this she needs to be intellectually, emotionally y financially independent. She needs to know when she is making part of an equal relationship and when, unmistakably and cruelly, she is being oppressed by society, or by a romantic partner.

The first thing to do is to relax the social boundaries that are assigned to boys and girls in relation to their own gender. Girls have to put dresses and skirts to look feminine, without considering how uncomfortable they are to play, or run, or if that dress is simply not their choice. They have to always look presentable and play with their dolls or do something ‘feminine’. On the contrary, boys are to stimule their bodies and brains playing with Legos, or in activities outdoors, or and practicing all kind of sports.

Girls are raised to be likeable. And this teaching is dangerous for them. A lot of girls grow up being afraid of raising their voices, of rebelling against injustice, or even afraid of denouncing abuse. No. A girl must not be raised to like others, but to be faithful to only herself, to have an opinion, and to always say the truth.

While girls grow up, we teach them that marriage is a goal and almost the end of our search for identity in life. A girl must aspire to get married, but not a boy. This creates an unbalance almost from childhood. And what happens then when there is a marriage and this unbalance exists? Who has the power when is the woman who needs to make all the sacrifices for this goal and not the man?

Gnozi Adichie advises her friend of not only becoming a mother. I agree with her. We are multifunctional beings, with a life full of our own desires. The struggle for practicing the profession we love, for having a project of our own, for cooperating with the development of our own communities, is of great importance for our well-being, but also a big teaching to our children. I understand, as a mother, that many women can ask themselves at what time are they going to achieve those dreams. I have lived this myself. And this is not about doing things impulsively, but it is about keeping those dreams and projects alive, so they can come a reality afterwards.

Women carry all the weight of keeping the household in place, raising and taking physical care of their children, whether or not they work outside the house. I have seen it being this way with our mothers and grandmothers, and this being repeated in our own generation. When I speak with other women my age they say to me ‘it is because I don’t work’, or ‘he earns more than me’, or ‘that is how his mother raised him’, or ‘I feel I am abusing if I tell him that I cannot do everything myself’. On top of that there is this feeling of gratitude when the fathers ‘help’ in the house. No, this is not about helping. I like Gnozi Adichie’s measure to know when a couple have a good division of the household tasks, and this is when there is not resentment.

However I think that the autor did not emphasised enough in something extremely important. It is the financial independence that is going to allow girls and women to establish working and personal equal relationships. She does mention that ambition, independence and own opinion are not well seen in women, and even when a woman is already successful or powerful it is expected of her to still be delicate, grateful and humble. That is exactly right. Moreover she should have extended a bit more her point. The author says that the financial obligation of the household should be on the shoulders of whoever can carry the weight, but she didn’t give enough importance to the fact that if a woman does not have money, she will never be able to make any decision over herself, her family, her life.

We need to teach girls to love reading. So they could see other perspectives and get to know other places, other cultures. That way they will understand the world not from their parents’ point of view, or their culture, but from the books and their infinite possibilities that are awaiting for them. This is how they will make informed and convenient decisions for their lives. Likewise, we need to inculcate multiculturality, to not make any difference in treating people with respect, in protecting children and the vulnerable. We need to teach them that it is not ok to bully others, and that is not ok if someone bullies them. It is not ok to laugh in expense of other vulnerabilities either. They need to remember that their own rights only have one limit, and that is other’s rights. Educate them, so they will feel the constant need to expand their own thinking, to open their minds, further than their own mental, cultural and social limits.

Clothing and morals and sex and morals have nothing to do with one another. They can dress as they like, they can put as much makeup as they want. With respect to sex, it must come to light as soon as possible, from an early teenage age. It is useless to hide it, or to say that they should wait to get married to have it, when our daughters, from a very young age, will get to find about it, one way or the other. It is better to tell them that we are expecting them to have sex when they are older and responsible of themselves. We have to let them know about the physical and emotional consequences of sex, and how a bad decision in this regard could impact their lives.

Girls cannot allow biological arguments of masculine strength and superiority to justify discrimination based on social misconceptions. The first example is infidelity. I remember when I was in law school, another student justified male infidelity arguing the tendency of ‘males’ to cheat due to the fact that they could procreate every day of the month, while ‘females’ could only procreate once in a month. Because the worse part of arguing about biology is arguing with someone who does not know its basics. ‘females’ as he called it, can procreate the whole month, except for a couple of days, and this is not even a biological rule. The second example is the menstrual period. Why do we have to hide the fact that we menstruate every month? Why does it have to be something embarrassing and complicated? Both boys and girls should know everything about the menstrual period since a very young age. Tampons and sanitary pads should be kept on the bathroom for everyone to see and ready to be used, the same as we keep a toothbrush or at toothpaste. If a girl’s skirt gets stained with blood, it is just a small accident, move on, it is completely normal. Nothing related to be period should be embarrassing.

And this is how little by little we will destroy stereotypes and construct fair rules for all. Like that our daughters could have a better path. It could not be an easier path, and anyway this is not what feminism if fighting for, but an equal path. It would be a blessing to see our daughters going through life without fears, with a stronger confidence, with security. What a blessing it would be for girls to be equal to boys and men, in every sense, under any circumstances.

The suggestions in this book are a very important step to build a path that will lead to health and happiness for all girls.

Luz

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