Book Review: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

If you are a feminist and haven’t been reading Adichie, it’s time to head to the library. Between her writings, TED Talks, and being featured in a Beyoncé song, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is steadily becoming a household name in the international feminist scene. After reading her novel Americanah for book club, I decided to check out some of her works that deal more directly with her ideas on feminism. Today I will review her most recent publication: the epistolary essay Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, originally written as a letter to her friend with advice on how to raise a feminist daughter.

Firstly, let’s look at how Adichie defines feminism: “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.” What a simple yet powerful statement. The whole book reads like this, with concise, witty assertions and then a detailed explanation with anecdotes and examples. Adichie’s writing style is extremely approachable and the pithy nature of her essays makes them a good primer for people interested in reading up on the subject but not ready to commit to a full book. January LaVoy does a wonderful job narrating the audiobook, which takes just over an hour to listen to in full.

Although the book is about raising a daughter, it is applicable to more than just moms. Anyone can read her words and adapt them to their own situation. Some of her suggestions include talking to your daughter openly about sexuality and romance, refusing to teach your daughter to equate how she dresses with morality, and nurturing a healthy body image and respect for people who are different. Many of her tips involve acting like a feminist woman yourself and living a full life to lead by example. I particularly enjoyed her discussion of whether a woman should keep her surname after marriage. Adichie kept her own name but suggests that the couple could also choose a completely new surname together and both change their names, an increasingly popular new option that a pair of my friends just carried out.

As a woman who grew up in Nigeria, spent her college years in the U.S., and now has a foot firmly in each country, Adichie offers a refreshing perspective, something much needed in feminist literary circles dominated by white American women. She discusses race in America from the unique perspective of someone who faces many of the consequences of living in America with dark skin, but who also looks on as an outsider, not really a part of American black culture. She talks about specific aspects of Igbo culture (an ethnic group in southeastern Nigeria) that can be addressed by feminism, as well more universal phenomena that her American readers will be familiar with. For example, while Americans may not relate to the notion that a child belongs to its father more than its mother that Adichie ascribes to Igbo culture, we all share the effects of naming conventions that favor the father. With this unique blending of cultural insight, Adichie certainly brings something new to the table worth reading.

With the book’s short length and pressing subject matter, you have no excuse not to pick it up. I highly recommend Dear Ijeawele to beginner feminists and people still trying to figure out what the movement is all about, as well as to otherwise well-read feminists who need to branch out with our book lists. Adichie has made a splash with nearly every one of her publications and talks and trust me, you’re not done hearing about her yet! Now that I’ve read two of her works, next on my list is listening to her “We Should all be Feminists” TedTalk, which was sampled in Beyoncé’s song “***Flawless.”

 

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