What does it take to raise your daughter to be a feminist? Writer and feminist scholar, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was asked this question by a close friend and transformed her response into the newly released book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Adichie’s sage advice is absent of the tradition loaded in most motherly words of wisdom. Instead, Dear Ijeawele promotes the progressive mindset necessary for raising the next generation of women to be true feminists. The book lays out 15 suggestions that range from handling romantic relationships to addressing double standards. Of all the recommendations, rich with stories from Adichie’s experiences as a girl, the one I found most powerful was to teach her to love books.
As a young child, books became my solace. Being raised in inner-city Detroit, I faced challenges that included a disparaging school system and lack of economic opportunity. My tenacity to read books shielded me from many of the negative effects of my environment and instilled in me a vivid imagination, cultural competency, and strong writing skills. Adichie points out in Dear Ijeawele, that reading is best modeled to a girl by her mother. I can admit that if it wasn’t for my mother’s addiction to books (suggested by Oprah’s Book Club, of course), I may have never desired to read books for myself. From childhood to adolescence, my literary palette grew and I transitioned from Harry Potter books to rich novels that had unconventional and vibrant women characters throughout them. In these books, I learned how to view myself and developed many of the unapologetic characteristics Adichie believes all young women should have in life.
Adichie writes in Dear Ijeawele that books “will help her in whatever she wants to become— a chef, a scientist, a singer, all benefit from the skills that reading brings.” Knowing this to be true, when I returned to Detroit after college graduation, I wanted to expose girls in my neighborhood to the magical power of books. Three years ago, I created Progressionista, a book club program for girls where they meet a professional woman each meeting. It was my hope that if I exposed girls to women with amazing careers and connect it to her love of reading that they would have a desire to read as well. Incredible women, that include health professionals, artists and scientists, volunteer their time each month to introduce fiction reads related to their profession. The enthusiasm that engulfs each girl’s face not only as they meet each woman but as the get their hands on each book lets me know that reading is a must-needed element of girlhood.
In wrapping up both Women’s History Month and National Reading Month, it is important to connect how many women in history were catapulted to greatness because of books. In Dear Ijeawele, Adichie is sure to make the distinction that she isn’t talking about schoolbooks but “books that have nothing to do with school” because often the books that teach us the most are those that we deeply enjoy. In an effort to create a beautiful future of the next generation of women, I am doing my part in teaching girls to love books. I am hoping one day they will pick up books that challenge society’s norms and strengthen their power as women. I hope Dear Ijeawele is one of them.