Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has continued her tiresome rants about women and men in Africa, much to the chagrin of residents on the Mother continent. With all due respect, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions honestly does not warrant any serious analytical criticism, for it contains only jottings from a stream of consciousness—much like the Makola list I scribble before heading off to the fish market. Although an old proverb would have you pay it no mind, the world today is one where even the most idiotic of memes goes viral, so therefore, it remains prudent to beat the dead horse once more.
This topic of bringing western feminism into Africa is a dead horse, though Adichie is determined to revive it in Blackface. I read these (literally) small pages with an open mind, but saw nothing new, only ideas that have been discussed thoroughly and in more depth by numerous feminist ideologues in the western world, yet these feminist theories and their corresponding jargon of “gender expectations” and “gender socialization” from which Adichie liberally draws are nowhere cited. The intention is that we read this hackneyed discourse anew. This time the mouthpiece is an African woman whose essay has been so liberally edited by the western feminist cabala that “her ideas” should appear not only fresh but also culturally relevant, right? Except that they are neither.
The endeavor to tackle a broad and ideologically complex subject such as feminism proves to be too steep a contest to accomplish in a text so short and in a discussion so shallow. Throughout Chimamanda presents her uninformed opinions as broad, sweeping incontrovertible truisms. For example: “Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice.” Or: “studies show that girls generally stop playing sports as puberty arrives.” Searching for any grounds for these assertions is an act in futility. In fiction writing, gross claims do not have to be substantiated, but such statements in nonfiction render the entire work seriously flawed if not completely sequacious.
The writing is also disjointed—witnessed by the number of breaks throughout the text—and unfocused. At times it reads like a dating and relationships handbook, at other times like a teaching assistant’s stab at an introductory lecture. Subjects like psychology, biology, anthropology, and sociology of gender, not to mention topics like genomics and procreation, require extensive treatments by knowledgeable experts. Adichie understands none of these fields and, accordingly, addresses all of them concurrently while notoriously oblivious to her own kind misdeeds.
In doing so, Adichie professes to tell the world how she imagines raising a baby girl to be a [western] feminist. Immediately this premise strikes me as odd—that a person who strongly renders gender and sex meaningless, a person who believes vaginas and penises are interchangeable, would go about dispensing advice specifically for baby girls and not all babies. So much for gender equality. Anyhow.
This text shows no deep understanding of African peoples, where they come from, what their philosophies of life are, how they come to know what they know, or why they do the things they do, and it shows wanton disregard for Africa’s more than 12,000-year struggle to civilize the world. Yet, being the westernized African, Adichie knows better of cultures she does not understand nor produce, of the philosophical foundations of Igbo cultures whose innerworkings are beyond her reach. Chimamanda’s claim to Igbo culture only serves to give her license to dismiss it. She is that “House Negro” from the sanctuary suburbs who speaks of the urban communities she has only driven through, but knows absolutely nothing about, let alone, intimately.
She often lays claim to Nigeria and Igbo by saying “our culture.” Sure, she is more Igbo than the white boy she may have dated or the western women she befriends, which allows her to speak, in the minds of her western readers, authoritatively on the “African condition.” Make no mistake, however, Adichie is blind to the contributions of the societies that gave birth to her; she sees little value in African institutions that while unnamed in the eyes of Lagos city dwellers have built entire cultures. In fact, she has the bravura to insult women like me who respect and revere our cultural history and tradition—a word most dreaded by neoliberal spokespersons (for it warns: do attempt to change this).
In her characteristic condescending fashion, she writes: “People will selectively use “tradition” to justify anything. Tell her that a double-income family is actually the true Igbo tradition because not only did mothers farm and trade before British colonialism, trading was exclusively done by women in some parts of Igboland. She would know this if reading books were not such an alien enterprise to her.” Apparently, according to Adichie, people who use the word tradition never read books! But she, the self-proclaimed smart one, commits countless anachronisms to attribute western terms like “double-income” to describe cultures and civilizations that predate these modern fictions.
To an African woman, her advice to mothers on dealing with new babies—“Read books, look things up on the Internet, ask older parents, or just use trial and error”—is downright laughable. New babies have entered the world for millennia. Throughout this span of time, women have developed complex knowledge systems within African institutions like the family and community to handle affairs of childbirth and childrearing. But Chimamanda, characteristic of the western educated Africans and their idols in the west, would rather ignore the creation of any knowledge in Africa. Her willful ignorance leads her to suggest that more valuable information on childrearing can be found on Google or through experimentation than in an Igbo village. Her attempt to dismiss, in a single text, institutions that have evolved over 12,000 civilizational years and several thousand before that is pure cultural blasphemy and feminist vituperation.
Building the nation upwards from the fractal units of the solid family structure involves food production, cooking, childrearing and rituals, all traditions, which global neoliberalism threatens to torch to the ground with flimsy philosophy such as that presented in Adichie’s pamphlet. Cooking is not a learned life skill as Adichie describes it (although it might be, as practiced in the west), but in Africa cooking is an art form rooted in cultural history and tradition. Yet, nothing repulses feminists more than kitchens. Because feminists truly believe that pepper soup is some accident of happenstance that occurred by serendipity in some dreadful kitchen by an angry woman cursing away her husband and children, and not a carefully studied product of medicinal value that is highly revered.
Such feminists fail to think critically about recipes and food. They fail to understand that silly debates between Nigerians and Ghanaians; Southerners and Northerners; Igbos, Hausas, Ewes, Yorubas, and whoever, about whose Jollof or technique of cooking Gari (Eba), atop the fire or away from it, is better, are not silly debates at all, but deliberations deeply rooted in philosophical and epistemological foundations of the culture, history, and tradition of ethnic groups whose women have toiled year after year to make incremental advancements in method that have accumulated to produce monumental, though often overlooked, systems of ritual practice. But Adichie would rather genuflect before her western world that can’t cook and rather enslaves cultured women of the South in so-called glamorous restaurants to cook and teach them what has taken time, work, toil and expertise to develop.
Historically and in present civilized societies, art and culture have not been taught exclusively in schools (for money) and mastered through homework exercises; they are developed at home and within communities. The framers and makers of thousands of years of African culture, history, and tradition were intent on institution building. Indeed, the family is the fractal upon which all societal institutions are replicated and mirrored. The neoliberal capitalist who is cleverer than Adichie understands this and wants to demolish these institutions in exchange for his own, in the name of: we can nurture your children in our daycares (you don’t need your grandmother), we can teach you in our classrooms (you no longer need your traditional institutions), we can feed you in our restaurants, bars, pubs, and food trucks (you no longer need a kitchen at home)—for a price, while we put you to work in our factories!
On numerous occasions, Adichie’s words scorn family and community. Of course, this is the point. Our sense of community should be replaced with liberal or rugged individualism one way or another: “Teach her [the African girl] self-reliance. Tell her it is important to be able to do for herself and fend for herself.” Meaning, teach her that nothing should come at the expense of self—self-gratification, self-pleasure, and individualism! Although when carefully examined the [Ayevu] cunning altogether point to the two-faced neoliberal concerted effort since Phillip Hoffman, which Nancy MacLean details: equality, sure, but not for Blacks, or it goes against our concept of “liberal individualism.” What happens to this African girl when every restaurant, every farm, every river and the air above her head are owned by this two-faced American dollar? Will western feminist ideologues whose research is funded by this dollar and who clandestinely hide behind Blackfaced feminists in Lagos and Accra protect the African girl from the heist of her labor?
With culture, the delicate and intricate fabric that holds a community together, comes expectation and responsibility. This expectation and responsibility is to the family and community. Neoliberalism makes the pronounced shift to eradicate the family-community-culture trifecta to instead replace it with obligations of expectation and responsibility to the government and corporation, to a job. Rather than having organic institutions like the family and community develop over millennia to dictate what you should and should not do, the neoliberals destroy those meaning and knowledge systems to erect their artificial institutions—puppet governments, predatory corporations, and their laws—that override local communities to set expectations and responsibilities, that tell every child what to do and not to do.
Why should I trust someone outside of my community and give them power over what goes on in my village? What happened when the colonial system intruded upon traditional Africa has yet to be resolved, and as of yet, there has been no reconciliation to traditional Africa. Still with simple minded essays like Adichie’s, people from cities, and those who have lived on university campuses all their lives, who have no understanding of my community, believe they ought to have a say in affairs that are detrimental to my society!
Adichie’s essay, while ripe with cocksure arrogance (how many writers in their essays would refer to themselves as “widely-read?” or would say “the household help is human” and “always to greet the driver”), lacks self-awareness of its own ideological underpinnings. What comes shining through is an underlying servile devotion to neoliberal fancies. Feminism and neoliberalism, together, make one happy marriage. Whether willingly or unwittingly, Adichie is a twibil in USAFRICOM’s soft power play, a mouthpiece for neoliberal ideology, the new fast blossoming gathering of looters currently storming our African shores in the same way colonialists arrived here a few hundred years ago.
To neoliberals, gender is useless in the form of communities doling out expectations but is useful to sell things. Obviously Chimamanda does not understand this as she asks: “Why not just have baby clothes organized by age and displayed in all colors?” This is precisely what traditional African cultures do in wrapping children in cloths and dress that is interchangeable by sex. Meanwhile, modern westernized Africans and their idols in urban America, Britain, and France would rather sell clothing and toys demarcated by gender, because blue-for-boys-pink-for-girls satisfies the profit motive.
As per neoliberal doctrine, all contributions to the world should be made through paid work. (Though the irony is that most genuine contributions to the world happen in the opposite manner.) The goal is to monetize everything. Every human interaction should be monetized, remunerated, taxed and completely controlled.
Yet conversely Adichie accuses Igbo culture of being concerned with money making: “Igbo culture also focuses a little too much on materialism, and while money is important—because money means self-reliance—you must not value people based on who has money and who does not.” Are these truly the words from a woman who has bound content, the length of a short blog post, for sale? But Igbo culture—one of many African cultures that gave the world civilization, and not to mention some badass Jollof, to run with for free—is the materialistic one? No, it is the westernized Africans and neoliberals who are solely concerned with money and the goods that can be purchased with it.
The neoliberal mindset is that everything has a price. Our motivation for any act should be monetary. If a child does not want to read, one should, according to Chimamanda, “Pay her to read. Reward her.” In fact, when a baby is born, that very connection when a child is placed upon her mother’s bosom is monetized. Likewise, neoliberals believe cooking, caring for children, and even breastfeeding are “work” and should have a price.
There is no profit from the outside if Africans have strong and stable and wholesome families and communities, so neoliberals aim to destroy them, albeit covertly, over time. For example, herbalists once trained intensely for upwards of seven years to master their craft—the traditional art form of using herbs found in Nature and other noninvasive technologies for healing. Neoliberalism has already all but destroyed the institution of herbal medicine and told our men and women to go to their institutions (for money) and train to become “doctors.”
Global geopolitical powers aiming to expand their dominion to control and profit from African communities can only fully achieve this goal through cultural imperialism, which will only be mastered if there is control over women. A primary branch of this—besides marketing campaigns for “women’s rights,” “women’s equality,” and “girl child education”—is garnering support for feminism. Women through feminism are encouraged en masse to abandon their children, families, and communities and join the paid labor force.
Chimamanda is enamored by work and the dollars that women like herself can earn if only they value institutions outside of the family and the community and immerse themselves in the paid labor force. She cannot help but express her love for neoliberal ideology in her shameless promotion of work.
“Never apologize for working… Love what your job does for you.”
“Our mothers worked full-time while we were growing up, and we turned out well.”
“Please reject the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive.”
“You know that Igbo joke, used to tease girls who are being childish—“What are you doing? Don’t 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?”
A partner, a family, a community has been replaced by a job. Let us, if we follow this advice, teach young girls to aspire to jobs. We should all work to obtain money. We should all hold jobs to buy gadgets like remote control helicopters for our children, because that will make them better people who will contribute more to the world. Because women will have much more power in the world if only they leave their homes for forty to sixty hours every week, if only they spend as little time with their children as their employer allows, if only they leave the decisions like preparing the food that goes into their children’s bodies to outsiders, notwithstanding the evidence that communities following these practices have debilitating health issues and high rates of deterioration.
The confusion Adichie presents is that women should aspire to the job “chef” but not to hone culinary skills within an institution of the family or community culture. Women should aspire to involvement outside of African institutions; cultural prestige is only assigned to that which the African did not create. Work such as sewing and cooking, in Adichie’s mind, are only valued in so far as they take place outside of the home, only in so far as they are hired to perform these acts, only in so far as they receive money in exchange for their work. It is not enough for the family or the community to benefit, the individual woman must receive money (from someone) to be valued.
According to Chimamanda, women should not sew clothes at home, for that very act is demeaning and of little value. Women should not value anything tied to the home. But her thought does not progress beyond this notion to consider: where then are the clothes she purchases at the mall made, and who sews them? Surely women perform these tasks, but instead the work in the home that Chimamanda does not value is outsourced still to women, but to women in sweatshops or in prisons where they are paid cents on the hour to labor for neoliberal capitalists. Are women, then, more empowered when they sew clothes at home and actually own the products of their labor, or as feminists who work but own nothing and oftentimes cannot even afford to purchase that which they labor, like factory robots, to mass produce? Does the opportunity to scrounge together meager earnings give women power and equality? I am inclined to say, no.
Regardless of these universal conditions of transnational (and usually racial) oppression, so long as the man in power is not in their households, these feminists will suspend the belief that a man is not controlling their outcomes! Is it not a man who provides a woman with those self-earned dollars upon which they base their independence? Whether the blood dollars materialize from a fellowship, a publishing company, or a significant other, are they not from some man? Is it still unbridled feminism and empowered work when a man organizes the paid labor force and signs that paycheck?
Neoliberals will stop at nothing to impose their ideology on every corner of the Earth. They believe they are always right. The neoliberal agenda would like nothing more than to diminish that which makes social groups unique and distinct. It is beneficial for them to weaken group identities, because porous local cultures make it easier to impose amorphous yet rigidly capitalist global cultures. So they set loose a new breed of cultural blasphemists to shift public opinion in favor of eradicating cultural distinctions between social groups. They launch a war on identity to replace multiple womanhoods with a single global feminism.
Russians have a name for neoliberals deployed by the west to undermine national heritage and culture: “useful idiots.” While unabashedly ignorant of their own history and traditions, useless to their people, useful idiots are useful for the west in that they are used as vehicles to force-feed western philosophies to unsuspecting locals.
The current power of that foreign currency the dollar is what accomplishes the spread of flimsy philosophy around the world. It is what manages to get Adichie’s words printed and translated in several languages and targeted unidirectionally to Nigerians and Africans unsolicited. Alas Africans bear the burden of unwanted advice in this form—when useful idiots, whose words in their own African tongue would be ignored to great effect, use their English or French to override the African institutions and educational systems that rendered them average human beings, and return to the continent resurrected from intellectual banishment with imported diplomas. Adichie’s essay reaches the height of ultimate ignorance for a useful idiot hired by western neoliberal institutions newly taking root in African affairs.
No matter the intention and efforts of a useful idiot who proudly declares, “I recently came to the realization that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism,” the rest of us will still fight the violence and brutality of racism everywhere we see it. We will not divorce ourselves from the violence and brutality of racism to rather privilege the mundane affairs of men and women relations and how we navigate them.
No matter the useful idiots who proclaim, “Teach her to embrace the parts of Igbo culture that are beautiful and teach her to reject the parts that are not.” We will proudly embrace the cultures and traditions our Ancestors spent millennia developing.
For Chimamanda, women have no special place in the world. She says that “women actually don’t need to be championed and revered; they just need to be treated as equal human beings.” However, in Africa, we choose to revere women. We choose to call Earth—Mother. We choose to call Africa—Mother Africa. We choose to worship a Supreme Being—who is both a Woman and a Man!
For liberals, however, it is their way or nothing! Adichie’s newfound liberal intolerance is petulant, as displayed in the statement: “That a woman claims not to be feminist does not diminish the necessity of feminism. If anything, it makes us see the extent of the problem, the successful reach of patriarchy.” In other words, if you are not a feminist, you must be consumed by patriarchy. This is what you get when you disagree with liberals. You must see the world through their view otherwise they have a label for you, and to convert you is their next project.
Today, smart, thinking westerners are moving away from the flesh-eating idiocy of neoliberal feminism, which is marketed as equality between genders but is in actuality laced with agendas to enervate communities. There is swift movement towards embracing the communal values set forth by African traditions. In fact, many upper middle class western women are trading in their weekly trips to the grocery store for so-called backbreaking work in their backyard gardens. But westernized Africans, with their entirely paved compounds to park their V8 engines, have only newly mastered the old western scripts and so are hell bent to instruct their people to follow beaten paths that have long been abandoned.
Adichie implores: “Social norms are created by human beings and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.” Though I insist: We would rather keep our social norms of creating culture and developing strong families and stronger communities and revering women, thank you very much.
More, I challenge Chimamanda to not wish to impose her newfound American life, and those lessons from a racist imperialist society only in its infancy of existence (and some would argue already in some form of decline), upon Nigeria. A nonfiction attempt that informs western neoliberals how much they can learn from African cultures and traditions would be of greater use to the world. Of course this exercise in self-love would require that Adichie actually respect her Grandmothers and Ancestors and not try to advise them posthumously. It would also require that she center Africans and not write sentences that “otherize” Africans like: “Let her know that slim white women are beautiful, and that non-slim, non-white women are beautiful.”
African cultures and traditions are multitudinous, have existed since the beginning of humanity, and have invented human civilization. Having survived and thrived for millennia, with millennia worth of knowledge to impart, would it not be more apt to consider what U.S. women can learn from Nigerian women and African cultures? Only that would mean jumping off a dead horse and shedding one’s preconceptions of the homeland.