I recently read this book called “Dear Ijeawele” which is a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions on how to raise a feminist daughter. You will be surprised on how this book, which is just under 60 pages, can influence you. I may not be able to do justice to the book with this ordinary post of mine, but I’ll try my best to pass on these suggestions in the best way I can, because you all need to hear this out!
Suggestion One: Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give to your child. You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love what your job does for you – the confidence and self-fulfilment that come with doing and earning.
Suggestion Two: Do it together. And please reject the language of help. When we say fathers are ‘helping’, we are suggesting that child care is a mother’s territory, into which fathers valiantly venture. It is not. The father doesn’t deserve any special gratitude or praise, nor do you.
Suggestion Three: Teach her that the idea of ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. ‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever. The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Domestic work in general is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. Have you realized how early the society starts to invent ideas of what a boy should be and what a girl should be. Helicopters. Dolls. Blue. Pink. Comics. Fairytales. Didn’t you just categorize these things into two genders in the flick of a second. Gender roles are so deeply conditioned in us that we often find them difficult to unlearn, and so, it is important to try to make sure that she rejects them from the beginning.
Suggestion Four: Beware the danger of ‘Feminism Lite’. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Reject this entirely. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.
Suggestion Five: Teach her to read. Books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to become.
Suggestion Six: Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions. A friend of mine says she will never call her daughter ‘princess’. People mean well when they say this, but ‘princess’ is loaded with assumptions, of a girl’s delicacy, of the prince who will come to save her, etc. So decide for yourself the things you will not say to your child. Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women. Teach her that women actually don’t need to be championed and revered; they just need to be treated as equal human beings. It makes me think of chivalry, and the premise of chivalry is female weakness.
Suggestion Seven: Never speak of marriage as an achievement. We condition girls to aspire to marriage and we do not condition boys to aspire to marriage, and so there is already a terrible imbalance at the start. The girls will grow up to be women preoccupied with marriage. The boys will grow up to be men who are not preoccupied with marriage. The women marry those men. The relationship is automatically uneven because the institution matters more to one than the other. More important, every woman should have the choice of keeping her name. It is the name that I have had since I was born, the name with which I travelled my life’s milestones, the name with which I have answered to since that first day I went to kindergarten. Also, I prefer Ms. because it is similar to Mr. A man is Mr. whether he is married or not, a woman is Ms. whether she is married or not. Women should not be expected to make marriage-based changes that men are not expected to make. Here’s a nifty solution: each couple that marries should take an entirely new surname, chosen however they want as long as they both agree to it.
Suggestion Eight: Teach her to reject likeability. Teach her to be honest and kind. Teach her to stand up for what is hers. Tell her that if anything ever makes her uncomfortable, to speak up, to say it, to shout.
Suggestion Nine: Give her a sense of identity.
Suggestion Ten: Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance. Encourage her participation in sports. All kinds of sports. Any kind of sports. Not only because of the obvious health benefits but because it can help with all the body-image insecurities that the world thrusts on girls. Also, try not to let puberty get in her way. If she likes make-up, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject feminity. Never ever link her appearance with morality. Never tell her that a short skirt is immoral. Make dressing a question of taste and attractiveness instead of a question of morality. If you both clash over what she wants to wear, say things like, “That dress doesn’t flatter you like this one”. Or doesn’t fit as well. Or doesn’t look as attractive. Or is simply ugly. But never ‘immoral’.
Suggestion Eleven: Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as ‘reasons’ for social norms.
Suggestion Twelve: Never, ever link sexuality and shame. Or nakedness and shame. Do not ever make ‘virginity’ a focus. Teach her to reject the linking of shame and female biology. Why were we raised to speak in low tones about periods? To be filled with shame if our menstrual blood happened to stain our skirt? Periods are nothing to be ashamed of. Periods are normal and natural, and the human species would not be here if periods did not exist.
Suggestion Thirteen: Teach her that it is NOT a man’s role to provide. In a healthy relationship, it is the role of whoever can provide to provide.
Suggestion Fourteen: Not all women are feminists and not all men are misogynists. Teach her to identify this difference.
Suggestion Fifteen: Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. Teach her never to universalize her own standards or experience. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people. Tell her that some people are gay, and some are not. Tell her about different religions and different cultures. Don’t raise her to be non-judgemental. Raise her to be full of opinions, but her opinions should come from an informed, humane and broad-minded place.
So, these were my favourite parts from this book. I hope it stirs you somewhere. I hope you find the courage in yourself to believe that you have the capability to do anything and everything you want… not because your gender permits it, but because your capability to dream permits it. I hope I see a world soon where everyone identifies himself/herself as a feminist. Let’s try to change one person at a time.