How to raise a feminist child: Lessons from award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the award-winning Nigerian author of literary gems such as Half of a Yellow Sun, and Purple Hibiscus.
Recently, the 40-year-old writer published a thoughtful manifesto on how to raise a feminist child, in the form of a letter to her friend Ijeawele who had just given birth to a daughter.
As the mum of two young boys, I felt compelled to read her words because I feel that feminism should not be restricted to only females or mothers of daughters.
The movement to create equal opportunities and rights for females arose because of the divide that (still) exists in many areas between males and females.
So, as parents of boys, it’s our responsibility to raise sons who understand the reasons for this chasm, and more importantly, strive to do something about it.
It’s also our responsibility to learn how to raise a feminist child.
Here are five of the most valuable lessons in this manifesto, that all parents should read regardless of whether they have a son or daughter.
For many people, the word ‘feminism’ raises imagery of screaming females marching down roads (bra-less), making various strong, unreasonable demands from males.
But for Adichie, this is not what true feminism is. It is, and should be, contextual.
She says, “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.”
From this as a starting point, here are five things to remember in order to raise a feminist child:
Motherhood is a glorious thing, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood
Mums, never say sorry for working. Adichie quotes pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders in this regard: “Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”
Adichie urges us all to stop thinking about motherhood and work as mutually exclusive. And even if you don’t love your job, simply by loving what your job does for you – the confidence and financial empowerment it gives you – you are teaching your child many valuable lessons.
Domestic work and care-giving 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 duties at work and at home.
“Remember in primary school we learnt that a verb was a ‘doing’ word? Well, a father is as much a verb as a mother,” says Adichie.
She also urges us to reject ‘the language of help’. A father is not ‘helping’ by looking after his own child.
He is doing what he should.
“When we say fathers are ‘helping,’ we are suggesting that childcare is a mother’s territory, into which fathers valiantly venture. It is not.”
We couldn’t agree more.
‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.
Adichie presents a strong case against gender roles. She argues, “If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential.”
She asks parents to teach their kids self-reliance instead of gender roles.
Regardless of gender, children should learn how to do things for themselves so that they can successfully and independently fend for themselves some day.
Both girls and boys should learn a multitude of practical life-skills, whether this is fixing a physical object, cooking or cleaning.
There should be no placement of kids into traditional gender-prescribed roles. This also means being aware, as parents, of the various innocuous ways this may happen: via pink/blue clothes, buying cooking toys for girls or trucks and cars for boys (and more).
A husband is not a headmaster. A wife is not a schoolgirl. Permission and being allowed, when used one sided – and it is nearly only used that way – should never be the language of an equal marriage.
Feminism Lite is what Adichie defines as “the idea of conditional female equality.” She gives these examples:
– A woman should be ambitious, but not too much.
– A woman can be successful but she should also do her domestic duties and cook for her husband.
– A woman should have her own but she should not forget her true role as home keeper.
She explains that being a feminist is like being pregnant: you are or you are not. Likewise, you either believe in full equality for women or you do not.
If she were not to go to school, and merely just read books, she would arguably become more knowledgeable than a conventionally educated child.
Set an example to your child and read with them, to them, for them, and for yourself. Books will help your child understand and question the world, says Adichie.
In turn, this broad knowledge will assist your child to become whatever they want to: a singer, chef, scientist or teacher.
Without a doubt, books open the world to children.
Here is Adichie’s full post – it’s long, but it’s completely worthwhile reading!
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