Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie doesn’t mind if you don’t like her.
Too many women worry about being liked, she says, and that’s not only misguided, but damaging.
“It’s not your job to be likable. It’s your job to be yourself,” she says. “Someone will like you anyway.”
Millions of people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie anyway. She’s the best-selling author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. She’s the face of a makeup company. The title of her 2013 TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists” is emblazoned across designer T-shirts worn by celebrities such as Rihanna, Natalie Portman, and Jennifer Lawrence. Beyoncé sampled her speech in a song. She’s won a MacArthur “genius” grant, a National Book Critics Circle Award – and been on Vanity Fair’s best-dressed list.
Now she’s written a book that might not sit well with everyone. But that’s OK.
“I need to speak my truth,” she says.
Her new book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, offers, as its title advertises, 15 ways that we – parents, mostly – can encourage girls to be strong, to plant the seeds of feminism. But more than that, Adichie hopes the book will help “move us toward a world that is more gender equal.”
Doing so means knocking down ingrained assumptions about how men and women think and behave, especially around domestic life. Among them: Stop assuming women are by default the primary caregivers. A father should do “everything that biology allows.” In other words, “everything but breast-feeding.”
That also means household work: “The knowledge of cooking does not come preinstalled in a vagina. Cooking is learned.”
The question that irks her most is whether women can have it all. “That’s very backward,” she says. “It’s a debate that assumes women do all of the child-raising and domestic work – and we give her a special cookie when she works outside the home. When dad picks up a kid one time, he gets seven cookies.”
Adichie, who has a 17-month-old daughter, says those conversations should begin at the beginning. It means holding the same expectations for a child regardless of gender.
“When I go to play groups for toddlers, I can’t help noticing parents always telling the girls to give a toy back, to sit down; the boys, not as much,” she says.