A few weeks ago, I made a semi-major life change – in an effort to be more healthy, I decided to take up running on a regular basis. Struggling to find a way to do everything I wanted to in my free time (basically, I would rather be reading than running), I decided to finally download the Overdrive app and listen to audiobooks from my local library while I ran. Dear Ijeawele (Ee-gee-ah-way-lee) happened to be the first book that I searched for that was available, and I had been meaning to read We Should All be Feminists, so another book by the same author seemed fitting.
A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a childhood friend, asking her how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s letter of response.
Here are fifteen invaluable suggestions – compelling, direct, wryly funny, and perceptive – for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner and that men can “allow” women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It will start a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.
The audiobook for this short tome is only an hour and a half long – the perfect length for one of my long run workouts. I don’t know about other runners/walkers, but the time for me is one of contemplation, as a distraction from focusing on my allergy induced wheezing and agonizing over how much my muscles hurt. Running through Valley Forge helps me focus on my thoughts and nature, and what I’m listening to while doing so.
As I listened to Dear Ijeawele, I considered the following: Both my sister-in-law and a close friend are expecting their first children in October and I have lately been contemplating what type of aunt/quasi-aunt I want to be. My husband has a younger sister who is 9 years old and I find myself reflecting on the sort of example I set for her when she was a very small child. Did I encourage her to be herself? Did I ever unwittingly tell her that she could or couldn’t do something simply because she was a girl? Is her present obsession with pink something she truly enjoys, or does she love pink and princesses because we as a society have conditioned her to? Did she want to wear her Converse high-tops as flower girl in my wedding because I thought it’d be cool, or because she did? How much did I influence her versus how many decisions did she make on her own?
The more I thought about it, the more worked up I got. I felt like I hadn’t followed any of Adichie’s suggestions, not that I was/am responsible for how my younger sister-in-law lives her 3rd grade life, but I want to be a positive, feminist influence on her life. And then I realized, yes, language matters, and yes, the relationships that young children witness matter, but no, not every woman has to have the same definition of feminism. So long as girls and women have choices, and those choices should be the same as men’s, they can live their lives however they want. My definition of feminism is not my mother’s definition, or even the same as my sister’s definition. My definition of feminism is to be my own person, and so long as that is what I strive to show the young children in my life, then I believe I have embodied the spirit of Adichie’s suggestions, even if I haven’t followed them letter for letter, word for word.
So learn from me, read or listen for a new and unique perspective, but do not take Dear Ijeawele as feminism gospel. Interpret Adichie’s suggestions for yourself, your family, and those young girls in your life and simply embrace the idea that everyone should have the choice and freedom to be whoever they wish to be.*
Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Edition: Hardcover • $15.00 • 9781524733131 • 80 pages • published March 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group • average Goodreads rating 4.56 out of 5 • read in April 2017
*so long as whoever you/they wish to be causes no harm to anyone else