Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions‎: On Raising a Feminist

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I had a conversation with my brother a few months ago about raising kids. We talked about the challenge of instilling sensible (re: feminist) politics and circled around how that might be done. I’ll be sending him Adichie’s tiny book Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions because in it, Adichie takes this exact question – how to raise a feminist – and poses fifteen possibilities. Granted they are suggestions aimed at a woman-identified character/speaker about raising a lady-identified child, but the suggestions, edicts,  prompts nevertheless read as widely applicable. (This apparent universality is – perhaps – a point for further questioning and consideration).

Reading it made me reflect on how I came to identify with my particular set of politics, and my feminist politics in particular. Much owes to J. and D. who – without having read this book because it didn’t exist – modelled many of the suggestions Adichie makes (e.g. “Teach her to read,” “Be a full person,” “Do it [e.g. parenting] together,” “Never speak of marriage as an achievement”). It helped (I think) that I grew up with a stay-at-home dad and a mom who – to my eyes, anyway – was a ‘full person’: one who takes pride in her career, is involved in her community, cultivates activities and interests that have nothing to do with her kids. And then I’m sure I owe a lot to teachers and to the novels I read. And probably to a streak of stubbornness in my personality that reacts anytime someone suggests I can’t or shouldn’t do something (for any reason). I think just watch me and then I try it and sometimes succeed (so long as it doesn’t involve hand-and-eye-coordination or knowledge of pop culture).

I appreciate the particular framing in this book, as it sets clear parameters and allows for a simple dispensing of advice (solicited advice, I’d noted). That said I wondered whether another book – or perhaps you!, readers – could think about how we invite non-feminists into the tent when they aren’t tiny humans, but are instead fully grown with a complete set of political beliefs. I put forward Adichie’s #5 suggestion “teach her to read” as I continue to believe fiction can be the invitation many readers need to empathize or at least consider alternate points of view.

So help me out. Let’s compile a list of  novels that influenced your feminist politics. And then we can read them. Make your suggestions in the comments and I’ll compile the list. And if you parent a tiny human, you could read them to your kids. And if you work with a grown human who might need them, you could suggest a workplace book club. Or you know. Something else passive aggressive.

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