The past two decades have witnessed an increase in the number of women seeking power, equity, recognition and fairness in all places starting from the boardroom, to the households and even to religious places. There is an influx of women in offices and very few in the houses to take care of the household chores. The empowerment of women is to blame for this, says the affected masses on twitter, facebook, social commentary and many other places and perhaps there is no doubt about that. If women retained their traditional roles, recognizing without dissatisfaction the superiority of men over them, then none of what we’re witnessing now could be happening. But what really was the motivation of the actions of the women reformists who emerged?
“Her teenage years were the epitaph of sorrow. She was orphaned as a kid, got married at 16, divorced few years into the marriage in London and was left to fend for herself and her children in uncharted waters. Filled with scars and a bitter pill to swallow, she begun penning her adversities with so much pain. She turned them into page turners.”
That paragraph from The Daily Sun of April 16, 2010 can easily summarize the life of Buchi Emecheta, one of the early female writers to emerge from West Africa and who lived through the harshest traditions of Eastern Nigeria. She lived at a time when Igbo women were perceived as inconsequential among her people. Her fiction has borrowed heavily from her experiences and as a result, her writing has been categorized as feminist in many places by reviewers and critics. Dr. Emecheta admits that she is a feminist but this of course comes with a price. The attitude she gets from readers especially the menfolk is far from neutral.
Buchi Emecheta’s story reads like that of many other early female writers who have emerged from Africa. They have been judged severely on the basis of what they write, yet they are simply writing about their experiences. On this list, there is Bessie Amelia Head (S.A), Fatmatah Conte (The horn of Africa) and Florence Nkiru Nwapa (West Africa) whom critics say was against the marriage institution because of the way she handles male characters in her books; Eustace Palmer, a literary critic, says in a critical piece of EFURU in Africa Literature Today vol 22, that all male characters in that book are underdeveloped, representing the writer’s own weaknesses in understanding the male species. Another reason Flora Nwapa is in bad books of male critics who consider her a feminist is because she was quoted in an interview with James Adeola that was published in the book In their own voices: AFRICAN FEMALE WRITERS TALK saying,
“I think the message is that, and it has always been that whatever happens in a woman’s life, marriage is not the end of the world; childlessness is not the end of everything… there are a hundred and one other things to make you happy apart from marriage and children” This and other principles of Nwapa have been discussed further in the book The Legacy of Flora Nwapa.
Whereas some people are grateful to these writers for taking time to illuminate and bring to attention the plight of many women of their time, some are still skeptical about their work and they are held responsible for the ‘deviation’ of African women from the norm. In the AFRICAN LITERATURE TODAY vol 22, Ama Ata Aidoo says that for a long time, the art of writing was a reserve for men and many people got used to reading the male perspective. When the female writer came in, she wrote from the female perspective; she wrote about how women felt about having a co-wife, how women felt when their opinions were low-priced and as a result of these, the early female writer has been seen as a bad influence by some people.
Lauretta Ngcobo In their own voices: AFRICAN FEMALE WRITERS TALK adds that, “Male writers fix ‘her’ in the context of the village where she illustrates the so called ‘ordered’ life. This is no doubt a nostalgic recapturing of a reality that is in fact slipping through the figures of history.”
Africa as a continent has come a long way and women who have contributed to the molding of their gender and even the male gender all over the world should be appreciated and celebrated. The female gender in particular has a lot to be thankful for; women can now go to school without any form of discrimination and study whatever they want in most parts of the world; also women have ceased to be seen as properties and now get to be recognized as independent entities.
But for the wheels to get here, they started somewhere. Very many women laid down their lives so that this generation and other generations of women would be people of self-pride, confidence and esteem in themselves. Most of these women were/are feminists who going by the ideal definition, were women who believed that both men and women should be accorded the same chances in life. Buchi Emecheta is one of these women. Her existence was a rugged terrain for most of her early life, but she eventually found light and has since used her experiences to educate the down-trodden African women through her writing.
All the themes in Dr. Emecheta’s books which are largely autobiographical border on the untold stories of female victimization and deprivation. But Buchi Emecheta rarely admits that she is a feminist and do many other women writers who have been put into that category simply by virtue of being female and writers professionally. Flora Nwapa for example preferred being called a ‘womanist’ instead of a feminist and looking at the circumstance of the female writer, her preference makes sense.
An article written by Silas Nyanchwani was published in the Books and Culture column of the lifestyle magazine in the Sunday Nation of October 23rd, 2011 titled; “THE DANGER OF FEMINIST LITERATURE”. The angle from which the author tackled the matters raised in the piece clearly shows that, women writers still have a long way to go in their struggle to convince the readership that, theirs is not an attempt to displace the menfolk. According to that article, all female writers are feminists who are brainwashing their gender. Also in that article most female writers have misconceived ideas of who men are and they write from a misinformed perspective.
In Africa today, the simple mention of the word feminism evokes all kinds of reactions with very few people assuming a neutral stand. Most people are always on the extreme, feminism is bad and should be wiped out or feminism is good and should remain around. So what really is feminism in Africa? What is the role of feminism in Africa? What are the merits and demerits of feminism in Africa? Why should feminism be or not be abolished in Africa? All these are questions that should get proper answers before any decision on feminism in Africa is taken.
Originally, feminism was simply a theory that believed women should be accorded the same statuses as their male counterparts. That idea metamorphosed over time and this depended on the circumstance of the African woman. The earliest group of feminists for instance sought to make it clear that women were human beings and not properties to be owned.
Then came the second group of feminists. Majority of these emerged after the first group had been hearkened to. By this time also, women were being allowed to hold senior positions at work, go to school and help in making decisions, especially those that directly affected them. In Africa we’re still at this level of feminism.
Although some barriers have been lifted and attitudes checked, we still have some African women who cannot go to school because they are women and some companies cannot promote women to certain positions because they are women. That alone is enough to tell us that, even if we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go in the struggle for fair chances between men and women.
True feminism has a role in ensuring that women are not denied the basics of life just because they are women. True feminism doesn’t narrow one’s mind to believe that men are the sources of the problems women go through like the unchecked feminism, but rather it makes women aware of who they are, their environment, what to expect and how to deal with whatever that comes. It is simply being sensitive to what happens to women without necessarily blaming it on the men.
Feminism, depending on the time it emerged and the country of origin, had different causes and goals. Our duty is to our own cause, our own goals. Looking backwards at what women have done in the past; it seeks to demystify the actions of women in the past and what they were able to achieve by such actions. Using this information, African women are able to voice their opinions about failed regimes, political decisions and many other things. Feminism has roots and the abandoning of these roots is a major cause of misinformation that is a key characteristic of the wrong idea of feminism that some people have in their heads.
One of the main reasons why feminism is viewed through a negative spectacle is the misdirected idea that feminists are “anti-men”. Also, the existence of a group of feminists with wrong ideas; ideas that don’t really have sense because they depend so much on generalizations. This kind of thinking has led people to believe that feminists are antimen campaigners who don’t see any good in what the male species do. True, these kinds of feminists exist and in their eyes, virtually everything a man does is to dis-empower a woman. These feminists are misleading and tarnishing the existence of the feminists who have been there before and did their very best to make strides for women to be treated equally. It is almost impossible to capture a complete picture of a woman who has realized all her dreams without the inner determination that gives the power to rise above the societal setbacks. The only challenge is for the same society to stop seeing her as an enemy.
ALT vol 22, Exile and African Literature Today. James Currey, Boydell and Brewer. J.Currey,1990.
In Their Own Voices, African Women Talk edited by James Adeola.
I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.