The Current

How to raise a feminist: a manifesto by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is many things: a respected writer, a vocal feminist and the face of a cosmetic line. She shares how her experiences, growing up in Nigeria and living in the U.S., inspired her to write a manifesto on how to raise a feminist.
'I do not accept that feminism and femininity are mutually exclusive," says writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie whose recent book shares suggestions on how to raise a feminist. (Wani Olatunde)

Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. 

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That's the first suggestion from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's feminist manifesto shared in a Facebook post to her friend Ijeawele, who had given birth to a daughter and asked for Adichie's advice on how to raise a feminist. The letter to the friend inspired the book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is someone who doesn't like to be tied down in any one role.  As a writer from Nigeria with several novels published, she broke out of the literary world to embrace the world stage for her ideas on feminism, race and politics.

The Nigerian-American writer doesn't stop there. She became an instant pop icon when Beyoncé used her Ted Talk on feminism in her song, Flawless, she's on best-dressed lists, and is the face of Number 7 — a cosmetics brand, owned by the British pharmacy, Boots.

Ngozi Adichie has excelled at breaking boundaries and that's what she wants for her daughter's generation.

She says growing up she didn't really know what feminist meant. It wasn't until an argument as a teenager with a male friend exposed the word.
'What I care most about is reading and writing. If I couldn't do either I really don't want to live,' says writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"He said to me, 'you know you're a feminist.' And he didn't mean it in a good way," Ngozi Adichie recalls.

"Later when I looked it up I thought, 'yes that's exactly what I am.'"

After this awakening, she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti being feminist just simply meant being aware.

"I was always alert to to even the most nuanced differences in how male and femaleness was constructed."

Ngozi Adichie attributes her roots as a storyteller for helping create a slightly removed position as an observer.

"I always felt that I was a watcher, that I was watching and watching means that you can't but notice that men and women and girls and boys that the world treats them differently."

Teach her that 'gender roles' is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should do or not do something 'because you are a girl.'

"'Because you are a girl' is never a reason for anything. Ever," she writes.

Ngozi Adichie says there is still a lot of work to be done with gender justice.

She defines what it means — to be a feminist is to acknowledge "there is a lot that is wrong with the construction of gender in every society in the world."
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with her Prize for Fiction Award for her novel Half of a Yellow Sun, June 2007. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

She argues it's not just about acknowledging that women — because they are women — have been deprived of political economic, social — not just rights — but opportunities. It's also about wanting to make it better.

"For me feminism is always contextual," Ngozi Adichie tells Tremonti, and suggests the solution to gender injustice does not have one single answer.

"I've become much more aware of how the solution has to be a conversation, an action plan, a change but whatever it is, it has to involve men and women."

When it comes to raising children, she says it's important to teach boys that vulnerability is a good thing.

"We need to teach boys that it's okay to cry. And we also need to teach girls that it's okay for boys to cry because I think that's often a problem as well."

Ngozi Adichie says girls too have absorbed these ideas of gender roles and this false expectation begins early.

Beware the danger of what I call 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. 

"Feminism isn't sort of this cloak that I put on in the morning and take off at night — it's who I am," Ngozi Adichie declares.

"And so in some ways I suppose it then becomes how do I live my life, and there are things I believe strongly in … things I just will not compromise on, the things I refuse to laugh about."

She explains that gender is shaped by race and by class and her experience of gender is also shaped by being black and living part-time in the U.S., "where race is such an identity marker."

"In Nigeria, it's really just gender."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry.