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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Can people please stop telling me feminism is hot? ‘

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The novelist has been accused of constructing 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 watches her day 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 spouse works 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 regards with the complicated love and condescension of the part-time expat.

Its an ambivalence with which many Nigerians regard her, too; last year, the workshop ended in a question-and-answer conference, during which a young man rose to ask the famous novelist a question. I used to love you, she recollects 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 merely 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 suburbs. 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 female 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 built into a cinema starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. Her essay, We Should All Be Feminists, accommodated from her 2013 TEDx talk, has remained on the bestseller listings, 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 book, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, an extended version of a letter to a friend who, after having her own baby daughter, 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 resisting whatever projections might be foisted upon them. We indicate each other baby photos and smile. Welcome to the world of anxiety, Adichie says.

The success of We Should All Be Feminists has attained Adichie as prominent for her feminism as for her novels, to the extent that now I get invited to every damned feminist thing in countries around the world. She has always been an agony aunt of kinds, 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 hatred that I hadnt experienced before as a writer and public figure.

This is partly why she has written the new volume, 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 way, a very basic set of appeals; to be careful with language( never say because you are a girl ), avoid gendered toys, promote reading, dont treat wedding as an accomplishment, reject likability. Her undertaking is not to make herself likable, her undertaking must therefore be her full self, she writes in reference to her friends daughter, a choice Adichie has come to elevate almost above any other.

That day in Lagos last summertime, her friends were furious at the cheek of the young mans topic, but she rather liked his gallantry and honesty in asking it. She replied in the same spirit. Keep 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 baby has stimulated Adichie suppose differently about her own parents, particularly her mom. Grace Adichie, who had six children and worked her way up from being a university administrator to the registrar, taught her daughter to love manner as well as books, and was a very cool mum whom she idolised as a child. Nonetheless, and in the manner of most snotty young adults, young Chimamanda went through a stage of being very superior to her mother. Now, the novelist looks at her daughter and gulps.

Adichie lately came across her own kindergarten reports. My parent keeps them all. You know what the teacher wrote? She is brilliant, but she refuses to do any work when shes vex. I was five years old. She laughs. I couldnt believe it. My husband 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 induced 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 giggle, 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 believe, 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 hurls 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 book, Adichies advice is not just to provide children with alternatives to empower boys and girls to understand there is no single route to be but also to understand that the only universal in this world is difference. In words of the evolution of feminism, these are not new lessons, but that is rather Adichies point. 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 book 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 denouncing the feminism of other feminists for degrading the word feminist by being insufficiently feminist, the book does raise questions about where one should be focusing ones efforts.

Chiara
Fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni wears Adichies Dior T-shirt during Paris fashion week, January 2017. Photograph: Edward Berthelot/ Getty Images

The proposition is that feminism has become so mainstream as to be an empty marketing tool, a mere motto on a bag or a T-shirt. Without being named, Adichie is implicated in this critique, given that last year she collaborated with Christian Dior on a T-shirt bearing the line We Should All Be Feminists; depending on ones opinion, this is either a perfect example of pointless sloganeering or a brilliant piece of preaching to the unconverted.

Im already annoyed, Adichie says. This idea of feminism as a party to which merely a select few people get to come: this is why so many females, especially women of colouring, feel alienated from mainstream western academic feminism. Because, dont we want it to be mainstream? For me, feminism is a movement for which the end goal is to make itself no longer needed. I guess academic feminism is interesting in that it can give a language to things, but Im not awfully interested in debating terms. I want people matrimonies to change for the better. I want women to walk into job interviews and be treated the same way as somebody who has a penis.

Still, one can see a theoretical profanity about the Dior collaboration: the words of a motion that should be concerned with helping low-income girls, used to promote and make money for a wealthy company. On the other hand: what is the damage?

Yes: whats the damage? Adichie says. I would even argue about the theoretically obscene. Theres a kind of self-righteousness to the ultra-left that is hard for me to belly. Its approach to poverty can sometimes border on condescension. I often think that people who write a lot about poverty need to go and spend more time with poor person. I think about Nigerian women who can hardly afford anything but who love style. They have no fund, but they work it.

Adichie mentions a TV soap opera that used to run in Nigeria called The Rich Also Cry, a terrible drama series, she says, that was very popular. But sometimes I think about that title. So, the creative director of Christian Dior is plainly a woman of some privilege. But does it then mean that she doesnt have gender-based problems in their own lives? Because she does. Does it mean she doesnt have this magnificent rage about gender injustice? Because she does. Wanting to employ that slogan was it going to construct the world a better place? No. But I think theres a level of consciousness-raising and a level of subversion that I like.

She doesnt believe it was a cynical marketing gambit? No. Sorry. Feminism is not that hot. I can tell you I would sell more volumes in Nigeria if I stopped and said Im no longer a feminist. I would have a stronger following, I would attain more fund. So when people say, Oh, feminisms a marketing gambit, it builds me laugh.

The bigger issue here is one of range. Adichies irritation with aspects of what she supposes of as professional feminism is that it runs counter to her ideas as a writer: that people contain multitudes. She is a brilliant novelist and a serious thinker, and she is also someone who makes no apology for her own trivial interests. Life doesnt always follow ideology, she says. You might believe in certain things and life gets in and things simply become messy. You know? I think thats the space that fiction, and having a bit more of an imaginative approach, makes. And that the feminist speaking circuit doesnt truly make room for.

There is much in the new book about doubled standards, including those governing the images of motherhood and fatherhood. I think we need to stop giving men cookies for doing what they should do, she says, and goes on to explain that her husband, who needs less sleep than her, tends to get up in the night to tend to the newborn. On the one hand, I realise that my husband is unusual; on the other, I feel resentful when hes overpraised by my family and friends. Hes like Jesus.

He probably senses shes about to go off the deep objective, I indicate, and Adichie smiles to recognise how impossible she is. I did all the physical work to produce her! Theres something fundamentally wrong with the route weve constructed what it means to be female in the world.

Chimamanda
Photograph: Stephen Voss for the Guardian

This is something she writes about in a lovely passage of the new volume about hair. As a child, Adichie and her sisters and every other girl she knew were routinely tortured with a metal comb to subdue their hair, something her brothers were spared. Im glad I wrote that, Adichie says. We had just come back from Lagos and my sister, God bless her, had already had a talk with me about my daughters hair. She said, You need to do something about it. With my family, theres an eye-roll and a here-we-go-again with her, and she said to me, Do you want me to send you a define of combs? And I was like, No, thank you. And I know its going to keep occur. But , no, Im not going to conform in that style. Im not going to have my child run through pain because society expects a certain neatness. It happened to me, its not going to happen to her. And Im ready to have all the combats I need to have.

The original letter on which Dear Ijeawele is based has been shared on Facebook, and while Adichie was in Lagos, a woman whod read it approached her in a shop and said, Heres my daughter, look at her hair. She had very loose cornrows that were not neat according to Nigerians. And she said, You inspired that. My daughter is happier, Im happier. And do you know, it was the highlighting of my month.

This is not just a question of image. It is also about time. Women have less hour than men, in almost every arena, because their responsibilities to look or act a certain style are more onerous.

It is one of Adichies bugbears that as someone who loves fashion, she is by default not taken seriously. When Boots approached her to be the face of its No7 makeup range, she said yes, because she thought it might be fun; in the end, she says, it became vaguely alarming. I have no sadness, but you wake up one day and think, what the hell have I done? There were too many of these paintings everywhere. Her point, however, is that its not that Im a feminist and made a strategic choice to speak about makeup and fashion. Its that I was raised by Grace Adichie in a culture in which you care about how you appear. Its a part of me I once concealed, because I felt that I had to to be serious. Now, Im merely being who I am.

Recently, Adichies identity has been tested in new ways. I wonder if she is less affected by President Trump than an American, on the basis that she is less invested in the American story. Quite the contrary, she says. As they were a part of me that needs a country I can think of as represent one that largely runs. Which is not a luxury that Nigeria can have. She laughs.

Someone said to me, Now that this is happening in the US, do “youre thinking about” moving back to Nigeria? And I supposed , no, because its not any better there. I admire America. I dont think of myself as American Im not. So its not mine. But I admire it, and so theres a sense that this thing I built in my head, its been destroyed.

There is also, she says, something familiar about it all. American republic has never been tested. You might have disagreed ideologically with George W Bush, but he still kind of followed the rules. Here, it feels like Nigeria. It really does. Its that feeling of political uncertainty that Im very familiar with, but not a feeling I like. Its ugly. But even worse, because America is so powerful, and so much at the centre of the world, these things have consequences for everyone. Nigeria doesnt have that kind of reaching, so our problems remain our problems.

In January, Adichie and her husband joined the Womens March in DC. It was fleeting, and symbolic, she says, but it gave me the smallest slice of hope. There are all of these people who seem to realise that America has changed by electing an unhinged person. On the other hand, theres a part of me thats very sceptical of too much sentimentality. I hope it translates into people organising and going out to vote.

Long before talk about piercing the filter bubble, Adichie instinctively subscribed to rightwing blogs and newsletters. She was an early watcher of Fox News, until it became too unhinged and ridiculous. But she has carried on, because Im interested in ideological subjects of concern and how people differ, and how we should build a society. Whats a welfare country? People who have less, are we responsible for them? I think we are. And I think I can make a selfish example, which is apparently what appeals to people on the right. People on the left say we should do it because we should be kind. And people on the right believe, Excuse me? But if you say to them, If these people dont get healthcare, they will go to the ER and your taxation dollars will pay for it, abruptly they sit up.

Chimamanda
Adichie with her husband, Ivara Esege. Photo: DDAA/ ZOB/ Daniel Deme/ WENN

As a result of her read, rightwing ideology is not something I think is evil, she says. Some. A bit. But, in general, I dont. I have friends who are good, kind people who are on the right. But Donald Trump is an exception. Its not an objection to a conservative, because I dont even think hes a conservative. My objection is an objection to chaos. Each day I turn on the news, Im holding my breath.

Trumps erosion of language is one of the most frightening things about him, but even progressives, Adichie says, can be sloppy on this front. In response to her new book, a reporter emailed her the question: Why not humanism?( instead of feminism ). To which, she says, I supposed, what part of the fucking volume did this person not read?

Its like the people who go around saying All Lives Matter, I say, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Right, which I find deeply offensive and very dishonest. Because we have to name something in order to fix it, which is why I insist on the word feminist or feminism.

This, she says, in spite of the fact that many of her friends, particularly black women, resist that word, because the history of feminism has been very white and has assumed females entailed white women. Political deliberation in this country still does that. Theyll say, Women voted for … and then, Black people voted for … And I guess: Im black and a woman, so where do I fit in here?

As a outcome, Many of my friends who are not white will say, Im an intersectional feminist, or Im a womanist. And I have trouble with that term, because it has undercurrents of femininity as this mystical goddess-mother thing, which induces me uncomfortable. So we need a word. And my hope is we use feminism often enough that it starts to lose all the stigma and becomes this inclusive, diverse thing.

This is her objective and her defence, although she still doesnt assure why she needs one. Her understanding of feminism is intertwined with her understanding that we all want to be more than one thing. And anyway, she recurs, Can people please stop telling me that feminism is hot? Because its not. Adichie appears magnificently vexed. Honestly.

Beware feminism lite: an extract from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies letter-turned-book, Dear Ijeawele

Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by it. You dont even have to love your job; you can simply love the confidence and self-fulfilment that come with doing and earning. Please reject the idea that motherhood and run are mutually exclusive. Our mothers run full-time while we were growing up, and we turned out well at the least you did; the jury is still out on me.

In these coming weeks of early motherhood, be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Expect to be helped. “Were not receiving” such thing as a Superwoman. Parenting is about practise and love.

Give yourself room to fail. A new mom does not necessarily know how to soothe a crying baby. Read volumes, seem things up on the internet, ask older mothers, or only use trial and error. But, above all, take time for yourself. Nurture your own needs.

I have no interest in the debate about women doing it all, because it is a debate that assumes that caregiving and domestic work are singularly female domains, an idea that I strongly reject. Domestic work and caregiving should be gender-neutral, and we should be asking not whether a woman can do it all, but how best to support parents in their dual responsibilities at work and at home.

Chimamanda
Photograph: Stephen Voss for the Guardian

Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite; the idea of conditional female equality. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women, or you do not.

Teach your daughter to question language. A friend of mine says she will never call her daughter princess. The word is loaded with premises, of a girls delicacy, of the prince who will come to save her. This friend prefers angel and star. So decide the things you will not told me to your child. You know that Igbo joke, are applied to taunt girls who are being childish What are you doing? Dont you know you are old enough to find a husband? I used to say that often. But now I choose not to. I say, You are old enough to find a job. Because I do not believe that marriage is something we should teach young girls to aspire to.

Try not to use words like misogyny and patriarchy. We feminists can sometimes be too jargony. Teach her that if you criticise X in women but do not criticise X in humen, you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women. For X please insert words like fury, aspiration, loudness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness.

Do you remember how we laughed and laughed at an abysmally written piece about me some years ago? The novelist had accused me of being angry, as though being angry were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism. But I recently came to the realisation that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism. Because in my indignation about sexism, I often feel lonely. Because I love, and live among, many people who easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice.

Teach your daughter to topic men who can have empathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than as individual equal humans. Men who, when discussing rape, will say something like, If it were my daughter or wife or sister. Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of crime as a brother or son in order to feel empathy.

Teach her, too, to question the idea of women as a special species. I once heard an American legislator, in his bid to show his support for women, speak of how girls should be idolized and championed a sentiment that is all too common. Tell her that women dont required to championed and worshipped; they just need to be treated as equal human beings.

This is a condensed and edited extract from Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, published under Tuesday by Fourth Estate at 10. To order a transcript for 8.50, go to bookshop.theguardian.com

Such articles was revised on 4 March 2017. It originally referred to Lagos as Nigerias capital. This has now been corrected .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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