Dear Ijeawele, A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This small book is a simple write up where Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie advises a friend on how to raise her daughter to be feminist. In fifteen suggestions spanning marriage, identity and a subtle discussion on hair and sexual politics she basically prescribes a solution for parenting her friend’s girl child urging herself and her friend with a ‘determination to try’.

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I was beyond moved to write a response to this piece for many reasons I’m about to go into; however, this read is one of those ones that make you gasp with utter amazement at the truth presented in such simple language. At some points, this read affirmed my firm stance that time spent reading good material is never a waste. This read jolts you awake not from sleep but from the uneventful monotonous continuity that we sometimes go through book pages with until we hit that point in the narrative where we literally wake due to a truth we agree so much with! In the subsequent piece, I will cite aspects of Chimamanda’s arguments and add my thoughts and perspectives.

Chimamanda has always commented on hair in a way that has held so much insight and refreshment and once again, she tells her friend not to be tempted to conform to society’s definition of ‘neat’ for her daughter’s hair. She urges her friend to redefine ‘neat’. ‘Part of the reason hair is about pain for many girls is that adults are determined to conform to a version of ‘neat’ that means too tight and scalp destroying and headache infusing.’ ‘Don’t use a tiny-toothed comb that wasn’t made with our hair texture in mind!’  Amen Chimamanda, Amen! That tiny toothed comb that hairdressers so love! They need to get that straight neat line no matter how painful it is. After all, no pain no gain and your braids need to be nice like they would last for eternity so you had better endure that piercing division to save your own damn life! The one thing that I disagree with in this part of the manifesto though is the part where the author criticizes the amount of time used on little girls’ hair. ‘Imagine if we had not spent so many Saturdays of our childhood doing our hair. What might we have learned? In what ways might we have grown? What did boys do on Saturdays?’ This quotation is perfect until the line about what little boys do on Saturdays. What’s the point of the comparison? Granted. Women and girls waste time on hair sometimes. Time that could be used in other ‘beneficial’ pursuits; but then time waste is relative and one can still spend time on their appearance and ‘grow’ in other respects of their life. No one cares what boys do on Saturdays. If men/boys want to waste/conserve their Saturdays that’s fine. It is none of our business and we shouldn’t feel we’re missing out on ‘growth’ opportunities because of our hair or because of what boys are doing at that specific point in time. It is unhealthy to constantly compare the sexes, we want to be women because we want to and not because of the existence of men. At the same time boys should be boys and let alone to do with their Saturdays what they deem fit. Finally, their decisions must not make me make or unmake our plans.

At this point, I think the perfect segue is the addition of the fact that growing up as a light skinned Ghanaian girl, I received comments about my beauty and attendant blessings/remarks I have not fully understood until now. As a ‘beautiful’ girl I should be able to get a man simply for the above reasons. This mentality makes ‘beautiful’ girls feel bad when they’re unable to ‘secure’ men. Another narrative that I find distasteful is when someone goes like ‘you must have a problem if this beauty has not landed you a man’ or ‘you’re too beautiful to be struggling like this.’ Comments like this are disheartening and render ‘beauty’ transactional. A ‘beautiful’ woman’s inability to acquire material things in life including a man, translates into her ‘wasting’ of her ‘beauty’. The ironical twist lies in the same society questioning ‘beautiful’ women who are successful simply because the twisted social consciousness adheres to the thought that most things in life are transactional. Hence, ‘beautiful’ successful women must’ve definitely sexed their way up the ranks, a situation that is not always true. A woman’s beauty is hers and hers alone. Beauty is a blessing and relative and transient. Women aren’t made beautiful for men, women are created beautiful for themselves and mustn’t be made to feel that ‘beauty’ is a means to an end. If some girls understand this, they will dress up to please themselves and not feel like failures if they are unmarried by a certain age or have not reached a certain pedestal in life. God made you beautiful for a reason so start finding out why. If you find a partner that is thrilled by your ‘beauty’ remind them it is only skin deep.

Till this day I hold my dualism on cultural issues a true asset, but then I have also constantly wondered if I sound logical enough (and if I’m courageous enough) saying I have selected the bits and pieces of my culture which I deem ‘right’ and done away with the ones I deem ‘inappropriate’. Who am I to decide what aspects of my African-ness I want to pick and choose from?! This stance makes me uncomfortable because I wonder who taught me what was right and wrong? Was it intrinsic or had I been influenced/schooled as an African by white supremacist ideas to think that certain aspects of my African-ness were wrong? What standard enables me say a certain aspect of my culture is wrong or right? What is the determiner of wrong or right? So for example (and this is only an example) if I decided that female genital mutilation was wrong and decided as an African female to look down upon that cultural practice; what would I use as a reason

to condemn this practice? Would it be because the white man told me it is wrong or because I feel it is wrong from a feminist view point (of disempowering women sexually) or would I say it is wrong for health reasons? I digress though; however, the main point here is to point out that discarding aspects of the culture you come from based off of white supremacist prescriptions is dangerous. We must be able to weigh and decide for us and not because of what someone said we should do. Moving on, it felt reassuring to read that I’m not the only one crazy enough to want to pick and choose aspects of culture. The ninth suggestion where Chimamanda advises her friend to allow her daughter embrace parts of Igbo culture and reject the parts that are not beautiful resonated so much with me! To go into detail, that part of the manifesto criticizes Igbo culture for it’s materialistic tendencies. The same chapter goes on to cite Igbo culture as beautiful because it upholds the communal way of life. So in this scenario, the author urges to uphold and do away with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of culture.

Finally, I was blown away by the introduction of the term ‘feminism lite!’ ‘Feminism lite is the idea of conditional female equality.’ ‘Feminism lite uses the language of ‘allowing’.’ The lines that explain this further are; ‘A husband is not a headmaster. A wife is not a schoolgirl. Permission and being allowed, when used one-sidedly-and it is nearly only used that way –should never be the language of an equal marriage’. If wives constantly ask permission from their husbands and the reverse isn’t the case, who needs to be told that is not a healthy relationship? If husbands need to ‘allow’ their wives to do things, that still aligns well with the language of marriage being about ‘ownership’ and not ‘partnership’. What then is the difference between leaving your father’s house to your husband’s house? You literally live with another dad if you constantly ask your husband permission to do stuff when the reverse is not necessarily the case.

I want every woman to read this manifesto, period!

Le Misanthrope

The main issue in Le Misanthrope is hypocrisy and flattery versus blunt frankness.  This play falls under the category of a “comedie de mœurs” which is basically a type of comedy that mocks the practices of a specific social class in the society in which it is set. It also mocks the obsessions of the period; sadly these obsessions are not always positive. The 17th century French society witnessed a popularity of the”vie de salon” where well schooled people of influence and wealth met in “salons” to get acquainted with each other, converse and mainly enjoy the joys of the literary world. These meetings were hosted by people and in this particular play, the hostess is a lady named Celimène.  Like any other human gathering, these meetings had a lot of gossip and criticism of others. The host herself was being pursued by two men among the crowd that frequented her “salon” and Celimène gossiped about them pointing out their flaws and generally mocking them behind their backs. The two men eventually find out about her secret mockery of them and In this play the upper class in society is placed in the limelight. The element of satire is the hypocrisy that existed in French society at the time. The willingness to stroke people’s egos versus telling them exactly what you thought of them in a fearless way.
The Misanthrope, the protagonist of the play (an antisocial person) is totally against flattering people and opts to remain  blunt and upfront with his feelings and opinions about others much to the displeasure of many around him. This attribute drives him to leave his immediate abode, friends and country because he gets into trouble for speaking his mind. He is sued by an influential person whose poem he is painfully candid about. The misanthrope’s friend on the other hand, Philinte does not get into trouble because he duly flatters the poet, even lying about the verses’ quality. Brutal honesty  is the message of the play. What price are we willing to pay for honesty? Are we going to be honest to the very end or lie to protect ourselves and deceive others? In the opening part of the play, the protagonist Alceste  (the misanthrope) argues with his friend Philinte  about being honest and calls flattery or the eagerness to please a cowardly act, “une lache methode” (Philinte’s name has etymological references to gentility, kindness and friendliness hence a person who finds it hard to offend).

The other plot in the play revolves around the love that triangle (if we can call it that) that exists between Alceste, Celimene and her suitors. While Alceste remains grounded in the decision not to  be a hypocrite while deciding to be upfront with people, Celimene’s hypocrisy lands her into trouble as her suitors discover through letters that she has written to each of them with insulting remarks about the other suitor. Of one suitor she says “il me divertit quelquefois aver ses brusqueries et son chagrin bourru; mais il est cent moments où je le trouve le plus fâcheux du monde”  of another he says “pour l’homme à la veste, qui s’est jeté dans le bel esprit, et veut être auteur malgré tout le monde, je ne puis me donner la peine d’scouter ce qu’il dit, et sa prose me fatigue autant que see vers”. Of yet another she says “il n’y a rien de si mince que toute sa personne”. Following these events, all the suitors decide they are no longer interested in Celimene. This leaves Alceste to pursue her alone with no competition. Events preceding these and other sub plots in the play also have the same remote cause or subject matter which is hypocrisy.

Moliéres heros or protagonists are normally ones who are obsessed almost to the point of insanity with ideals they deem meaningful. Elects holds onto this act of being frank until the very end and similar structures or happenings are seen in other molière plays.