Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has long been vocal about why we need more feminists in the world. But, the novelist’s latest book is a practical guide in how to raise a generation of feminists — something she believes is “more urgent now than it has ever been.”
Speaking at the Women of the World (WOW) festival at London’s Southbank Centre, Adichie said that recent political events mean conversations about raising feminist daughters have become “imperative”. Adichie feels recent events have revealed a world in which “casual misogyny is now permissible,” and where “you can boast about assaulting women and become president of what is ostensibly the greatest country in the world.”
Adichie says changes to policy and the law are necessary in the fight for gender equality, but her book book — Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions — deals with “mindset” and changes she feels can be achieved at home as part of family life. Adichie shared some of her tips for raising the next generation of feminists during her talk at the WOW festival…
1. Don’t tell little girls to be nice
“I feel so strongly that likability shouldn’t be part of a girl’s upbringing,” says Adichie. “I watch children at children’s play groups and it’s little girls who are constantly told to be nice…”
Adichie says this experience can reinforce the importance of being liked; something that could make it hard for girls and women to say no or to speak up if they’re being abused.
2. Don’t reward skewed notions of compromise
Adichie says women have been socialised to “reduce themselves” because society praises and rewards women for making compromises in relationships and family life. “There’s a sense in which women and girls are raised to think that your ability to sacrifice yourself, your ability to reduce yourself somehow contributes to your worth,” says Adichie.
“Don’t reinforce the idea that compromise is something a woman does because she’s the woman,” she continues. Adichie believes that reinforcing the notion that women must be the ones to make compromises is a way of controlling and keeping women down.
3. Teach boys that vulnerability is something to be proud of
Adichie concedes that while her new book is about raising a girl, she believes it’s just as important to raise boys feminist. “We have to start to smash and dismantle the way we have constructed masculinity,” she says. “We have to teach little boys to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is something to be proud of.”
4. Assign chores based on ability and interest
“The worth of a woman isn’t in how well she can cook or how well she can clean.”
Adichie says that when she was growing up, she and her brothers were given household chores by her mother. But, she was confused that her chores repeatedly related to cooking, while her brothers were never asked to help in the kitchen.
Adichie says that when giving girls and boys chores around the house, it’s important that the nature of those chores be similar. Don’t always give girls cookery- or cleaning-based tasks.
“The worth of a woman isn’t in how well she can cook or how well she can clean,” says Adichie. She believes that chores should be assigned based on ability and interest, just as jobs are.
5. Teach boys that toxic masculinity is toxic
Adichie says parents of boys should teach their sons to be ashamed of key aspects that define toxic masculinity.
“What if we teach boys to be ashamed of not being able to communicate, not being able to be in touch with their emotions?” says Adichie. At the same time, however, she believes this message also needs to be instilled in girls. “It’s important for us to teach girls that it’s OK for boys to cry,” she says.
Adichie says that by raising children as feminists, she believes the generation that’s coming will “not be as burdened as we are”. She hopes that by dismantling the prescribed gender roles as early as possible, a new mindset will emerge; one that champions equality.