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’.
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!