The novelist has been accused of attaining equality mainstream: isnt that the phase? Plus an extract from her new Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in Lagos last summer, teaching a writing workshop as part of an annual schedule that considers her hour divided between Nigeria and the US. For much of the year, Adichie lives in a town 30 minutes west of Baltimore, where her Nigerian-American husband runs as a medic and the 39 -year-old writes in the quiet of a suburban home. When Adichie is in Nigeria, where her parents and extended family still live, she has a house in the vast city she considers with the complicated love and condescension of the part-time expat.
Its an ambivalence with which many Nigerians consider her, too; last year, the workshop ended in a question-and-answer session, during which a young man rose to ask the famous novelist a question. I used to love you, she recalls him saying. Ive read all your volumes. But since you started this whole feminism thing, and since you started to talk about this gay thing, Im just not sure about you any more. How do you intend to keep the love of people like me?
Adichie and I are in a coffee shop near her home in the Baltimore suburbiums. We have met before, a few years ago, when her third novel Americanah was published, a volume that examines what it is to be a Nigerian girl living in the US, and that went on to win a National Book Critics Circle award. A plenty has happened since then. Half Of A Yellow Sun, Adichies second and most famous novel, about the Biafran war, has been made into a cinema starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. Her essay, We Should All Be Feminists, adapted from her 2013 TEDx talk, has remained on the bestseller lists, particularly in Sweden, where in 2015 it was distributed to every 16 -year-old high-school student in the land. The talk was sampled by Beyonc in her anthem Flawless. Adichie has become the face of Boots No7 makeup. And she has had a newborn, a daughter , now 15 months old.
Adichie is still somewhat in the blast zone , not entirely caught up on sleep, but has published a short volume, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, an extended version of a letter to a friend who, after having her own newborn girl, asked Adichies advice on how to create her to be feminist. I have had twin daughters myself since our last meeting, so I am curious about her approach , not least because one of my two-year-olds currently identifies as Bob the Builder and the other as Penelope Pitstop. I would like to equip them to be themselves, while defying whatever projections might be foisted upon them. We present each other baby photos and smile. Welcome to the world of anxiety, Adichie says.
The success of We Should All Be Feminists has stimulated Adichie as prominent for her feminism as for her fictions, to the extent that now I get invited to every damned feminist thing in the whole world. She has always been an agony aunt of sorts, the unpaid therapist for my family and friends, but having the feminist label attached has just changed things, and not just among her intimates. I was opened to a certain level of hostility that I hadnt experienced before as a novelist and public figure.
This is partly why she has written the new book, to reclaim the word feminism from its abusers and misusers, different categories within which she would include certain other progressives, and to lay down in plain, elegant English her beliefs about child-raising.
Dear Ijeawele is, in some manner, a very basic situated of appeals; to be careful with language( never say because you are a girl ), avoid gendered toys, promote read, dont treat matrimony as an accomplishment, reject likability. Her task is not to stimulate herself likable, her chore is to be her full ego, she writes in reference to her friends daughter, a selection Adichie has come to elevate almost above any other.
That day in Lagos last summer, her friends were furious at the cheek of the young mans question, but she rather liked his fortitude and franknes in asking it. She replied in the same spirit. Maintain your love, Adichie said. Because, sadly, while I love to be loved, I will not accept your love if it comes with these conditions.
Having a newborn has induced Adichie guess differently about her own parents, especially her mom. Grace Adichie, who had six children and ran her route up from being a university administrator to the registrar, taught her daughter to love way as well as volumes, and was a very cool mum whom she idolised as small children. Nonetheless, and in the manner of most snotty young adults, young Chimamanda went through a stage of being very superior to her mom. Now, the novelist looks at her daughter and gulps.
Adichie recently came across her own kindergarten reports. My father keeps them all. You know what the educator wrote? She is brilliant, but she refuses to do any run when shes annoyed. I was five years old. She chuckles. I couldnt believe it. My spouse couldnt believe it. I must have been an vexing child.
Its not as if she comes from a family of revolutionaries. My parents are not like that. Theyre conventional, reasonable, responsible, good, kind people. Im the crazy. But their love and supporting attained that crazy thrive.
Unlike Adichie, who was raised exclusively in Nigeria, her daughter will be raised in two cultures and subject to slightly diverging social expectations. Already, Adichie says with a chuckle, friends and relatives from home are concerned that her mothering is insufficiently stern.
A friend was just visiting and she said to me, Your parenting is not very Nigerian. In Nigeria and, I think, in many cultures you control children. And I feel like, my daughter is 15 months, she doesnt have a sense of consequences. And I enjoy watching her. So she tears a page of a book? Whatever. She throws my shoes down. So? Its fun. I love that shes quite strong-willed. The joke between Adichie and her husband whom, to her intense aggravation, their daughter looks much more like is that her character cleaves to the maternal side. He says to me, Well, at the least we know where she got her personality from. Shes quite fierce.
In the new volume, Adichies advice is not only to provide children with alternatives to empower boys and girls to understand there is no single style to be but also to understand that the only universal in this world is difference. In terms of the evolution of feminism, these are not new lessons, but that is rather Adichies phase. She is not writing for other feminist writers, and presents some annoyance at what she sees as the solipsism of much feminist debate.
That morning, on the way to see her, I had read a review of a new volume by Jessa Crispin, entitled Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, a criticism of everything that is wrong with feminism today. If one can get over the eye-rolling facet of volumes by feminists decrying the feminism of other feminists for degrading the word feminist by being insufficiently feminist, the book does raise questions about where 1 should be focusing ones efforts.