How to Raise a Feminist – A Re-Read & Reflection of Dear Ijeawele
For my Gender and Literature class this summer, I've gotten a chance to read some great new books and memoirs relating to feminist thought, as well as get a chance to re-read some of my old favorites that happened to be on my reading list. One of these was Dear Ijawele or a Feminist Manifesto in 15 Suggestions, which I originally read last winter for another class, and now re-read for this one. For this class, we were asked to keep a blog and our professor essentially encouraged us to be creative with each post and the ways we talked about the books we read. I've been in a real writing funk with my blog lately, so it actually worked out perfectly that I was required to blog for my class. And I've been reading a lot of memoirs lately that I'm absolutely in love with, as well as reading old ones that I'm finding new meaning. So I'm going to go ahead and post some of my better reflections from my school blog onto here, tweak it a bit and share it with ya'll, because I think it's a perfect opportunity to share some of the books I'm reading and re-reading, as well as to continue important conversations about feminism.
Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is a more intimate, but equally as a thoughtful analysis of what it means to be a feminist, compared to the past reads Why I Am Not a Feminist and Bad Feminist. When I first read this book, I was amazed at how well Adichie could put into a short book, 15 meaningful suggestions. The first overall thing that I enjoyed about the book was how brief and to the point it was, but I also enjoyed how personal it was and how the tone did not assume that these words are going to be interpreted by everyone the same way. Adichie's words come from her own personal experience and how she perceived certain experiences and what they taught her about feminism and what it means to "do feminism."
In the introduction, she reflects on how when she was asked to give advice to her friend about how to be a feminist, she realized how big of a job that would be, despite that she had written about feminism. I think this shows that there is a great difference when we are talking about feminism in theory and feminism in practice -- i.e. literally raising our daughters, sons, children with the new ideas and norms that will give them a more "feminist" viewpoint of life. Adichie writes, "Still, I think it is morally urgent to have honest conversations about raising children differently, about trying to create a fairer world for women and men." She ends her introduction by saying that her friend told her she would "try" and follow these suggestions, and Adichie said she would too. I think this whole philosophy surrounding the book that it is more intimate and not as strict, which I see as a good thing because it is literally a set of guidelines that a mother or father can follow, or at least keep in mind when raising their children. Because to me, that's really where it all starts.
My dad didn't raise me a feminist. Or at least, he didn't specifically mean to. He never used the word, and actually being the fully opinionated man he his, he had his doubts and reservations about the movement. Personally, he didn't like extremes. He grew weary of anything that was too much on the right or left. But to be honest, didn't mean to me that he wasn't a feminist, or that he didn't raise me to be one. Because he taught me, either through the example of how he treated my mother and other women or through the lessons he directly taught me, he showed me what it meant to be a feminist. He believed in gender equality, and he didn't only preach it through discussions, but as well as his actions. He never made me feel like there are things I couldn't do because I was a girl. He treated my mother with respect and saw her as her partner in crime, not only as a wife. For example, when I was a baby, encouraged her to go out and have fun while he stayed home with me and my sister. I grew up in Eastern Europe, where the traditions even in the early 200s were very bigoted when it came to gender roles.
People used to gasp when they heard my mom wasn't home with her babies, or when they saw my dad washing the windows of our apartment. My dad didn't care. He would push my sister and me in baby carriages and people would gossip. He would defend my mother whenever someone tried to belittle her or make her feel small. He did this and many other things that taught me a lot, but he wasn't doing it while thinking that it was "feminist" or not. He was just a philosophical man that wanted the best for his children and understood that there were a lot of B.S. rules in society telling boys and girls to do certain things. My father and I had man arguments about the idea of feminism or what the movement means when I started college, but I unfortunately ran out of time to continue those discussions. But one thing we always agreed on were the concepts of equality, abortion, equal pay and freedoms amongst all genders and sexual orientations.
So I enjoyed the simplicity of this book, and I enjoyed how it honed in on those personal moments that parents share with their children, and how they can use those moments at times to teach them. My favorite part of the book is the Eighth Suggestion where Adichie writes that her friend should teach her daughter to "reject likeability." This is something that both my mother and father taught me. They did not push me to care about being liked. It was hard for me because I was definitely the type of person who focused too much on making myself likable in front of friends or boyfriends who didn't deserve it. My dad called me out on this. As a teenager, I didn't understand it, but now I realize what a valuable thing he was doing -- reminding me that I didn't need to change myself to make others happy.
Along with the book being an intimate read, I think it is also a revolutionary one. It reminds me of my personal life growing up and helps me reflect on how I was raised, but it also gives me an insight into a black woman sharing her experience and the hurdles she faced firsthand. The cultural context of the book is very interesting, and it shows that feminism can be even harder of a thing to talk about or embrace in certain cultures, due to strict traditions and cultural norms.
I saw an interview earlier this week where a reporter who spoke to Nawal El Saadawi, a revolutionary Egyptian feminist who spoke about the importance of understanding what the word means. "Feminism was not invented by American women," she said. And she explains how the oppression of the patriarchy is something that isn't specific just in Egypt, or America or other countries but that it is a "historical" phenomenon.