Tuesday, March 21, 2023

An Overdue Review of Chimamanda Adichie’s Feminist Manifesto, ‘Dear Ijeawele’

I first read Chimamanda Adichie’s work when I was in JSS 3 in secondary school. I remember falling in love with the lead character Kambili, from the book – Purple Hibiscus. My displeasure towards her controlling and religiously confused father and her timidly submissive mother. I loved that Eugene died at the end of the book and his family was able to free themselves, at least physically from many years of abuse. But I felt pain in the depth of my heart for the permanent emotional and mental damage inflicted on Beatrice. My knowledge on feminism in JSS 3 wasn’t past the dictionary meaning and examples of women who stood up and fought for this course. I found myself drawn to Chimamanda’s work mainly because she is one of the very few that come out and say what so many people are afraid to say. She voices out the sacred truth society doesn’t want to hear. So When my friend sent me the link to the article titled “Dear Ijeawele,” I was more than ecstatic to  see what she had to say.
 Though I found some of her theories questionable, I found myself agreeing with about 70% of what she had to say. Don’t we all love a good read?  I get totally intrigued whenever I am privy to read something from women who to a large extent understand what being a  Nigerian woman in a world of intentionally egoistic myopic women and men. As I read through each bullet point, I found my self deep in my own world, a world perfectly envisaged. A world where men treated women the exact same way they wanted to be treated. A world where the child didn’t literally belong to the man but both parents on equal grounds. A world where a man isn’t perceived a fool for doing what he ought to do. A world where boys are thought to award equal respect to the female gender and understand that women should never be objectified. A world where the woman isn’t gifted with dark clouds and rainstorm while the man gifted sunshine. I laughed at some of the things she said, but in reality I knew it wasn’t funny. Like when she said;
“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina”.

gender equal opportunity or representation
gender equal opportunity or representation

The first thing that came to mind after reading this was something my aunt said a while back, when we were having one of our various feminist talks. The topic from that day came up after we were done watching a Yoruba movie. Something about a marriage ending up in shambles because the wife wasn’t nurturing and massaging the man’s ego enough.
 I asked my aunt if all women her age acted and believed that cooking was a first class ticket to a happy home. She is friends with a lot of socialite ladies and she has had a lot of behind closed door women chatter with them, and feminist discussion within a gathering of women is almost inevitable, even if it ends up with them lashing out and cursing feminists for their belief. I asked her two questions that evening. The first being, why must a woman have to do the cooking and why it was nearly a taboo for the man to do house chores.
feminism 2
Her response opened my eyes, eyes I thought had seen lips say the most outrageous things to the level of hypocrisy and deliberate blind eye our mothers have chosen to turn towards these things. My aunt’s answer was that “every woman wants her daughter to be lucky enough to meet a man who understands and acts based on the norms of equality and fair treatment to his wife and women in general. But most mothers don’t want their sons to be the man that cradles his cranky toddler while his wife takes a nap or a son who goes to the market while his wife stays at home”. Who wants their son to be a dummy, right? I was perplexed to this response and most importantly her final question. It made no sense at all. It sounded in my ears like the case of an herbalist who has small pox and has the antidote, but won’t use it to cure himself or share with his people. If mothers don’t want their sons to be the idea of what  a reasonable human being should be, then where do they expect their own daughters to find these men? EBay perhaps.
Chimamanda said something that I once again found absolutely relatable;
“Our world is full of men and women who do not like powerful women. We have been so conditioned to think of power as male, that a powerful woman is an aberration”
This quote speaks to me about the recently concluded American Presidential election. The controversial Republican candidate Donald Trump won against gender equality and female rights activist Hillary Clinton. It is a known fact that Mr Trump has both publicly and privately objectified and disrespected the female gender in more ways than one, but to the surprise of the world, he not only won the election, but had 51% of his voters as women. I will not go into the how’s, and why’s as to why this is a very disturbing fact.
As I read the final chapter of Dear Ijawele, I saw nothing more than the words of a woman who knows what she deserves, a woman who has refused to settle for less, a woman who is perceived as angry, manipulative, unrealistic and dreamy in the eyes of majority of society, a woman who has refused to be carved to fit the imperfect shape of what her being should and shouldn’t entail. At the end of the article, I felt nothing but great satisfaction, the type of in-explainable satisfaction I get after an amazing meal  or a good read. I also felt a sense of responsibility towards my unborn children, to teach and imbibe in them the gospel of fair treatment. Dear Ijawele was indeed a good read.
we should all be feminists
 I decided to scroll down and see what readers had to say about what Chimamanda had to share. Some people understood her and some had contrasting opinions on her kind of feminism but the ones that infuriated me most are the ones that obviously refused to understand that even religion preaches to ” Do unto others what you want to be done to you”.
Almost everything in this article was basic common sense, but like a wise man once said “common sense is not common”. I decided to settle and allow those who were willing to ride along with the myopic band wagon say whatever made them sleep at night.
I do hope Chizalum gets to be her own person, someone genuinely true to herself because that is who she is and not become what society term’s as gender appropriate.
by Sefinah Lamii.

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