The Role of Women in the Socio-economic Development of Nigeria
1.1 Background to the Study
Although women play very significant roles in various spheres of Nigeria’s development, their contributions to the growth of the country are, often, not acknowledged or encouraged. For instance, the role of women in the development of the Niger delta region of Nigeria, where the wealth of the country is being generated, has received little or no attention over the years even though they are actively involved in the developmental activities of the region. Certain challenges still face their efforts and make them seem insignificant to this region.
The significant place of the woman in the home and family cannot be disputed. Man may be the head of the family, but the woman is definitely its heart and lifeline. Without the woman, the family and, subsequently, the larger society, cannot function properly. Dora Chizea supports this notion with the following view of women:
[women are] the building blocks upon which the foundations of happy homes and families are built…The family, no doubt, is the unit on which communities are built. And the nation itself is built by communities. It follows, therefore, that if the building blocks, the mothers are poor, ignorant and unmotivated, the nation is likely to be poor, ignorant and unmotivated. For, how can a nation rise above the collective ignorance of its mothers? (10)
The roles of the woman in the family are diverse and as intriguing as the woman herself: wife, partner, confidant, mother, nurturer, provider, teacher, friend, counsellor, as well as the emotional and spiritual anchor. She is one who instills in her family, especially the children, moral and ethical standards, and does everything possible to ensure they are educated. She is also their number one advocate, critic and encourager. She works diligently to support her husband in ensuring and sustaining the welfare, health and stability of the family day in day out. Sometimes, she is a single parent who plays the role of man and woman, father and mother; this, however, does not hinder her efforts to give of her best to her family. She also plays numerous significant roles outside the dynamics of the nuclear family. These efforts on the home front, though sometimes invisible to the public eye, sustain the welfare, health and stability of the region and, inevitably, its progress and development. Unfortunately, due to gender inequality, the family is often a domain where many women are socially restricted, economically exploited, emotionally degraded and rendered politically passive and poor. This limits not only the woman but her entire family and community who would have benefitted from her resources. The following observation by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) places this issue in perspective: “[women’s poverty] results in deprivation in their own lives and losses for the broader society and economy, as women’s productivity is well-known as one of the greatest generators of economic dynamism” (“Women and Poverty”). Should women’s subjugation in the family and society be totally eradicated and their power to create, nurture and transform fully and effectively harnessed, there is no limit to what women can contribute to the growth and transformation of the nation.
Despite the great potentials of women, the fact remains that only few are mobilized and visible in the political arena of the nation. Surprisingly, however, women of the Niger Delta have carved a significant niche for themselves in this sector at the national and state levels, which does enhance the development of the region. Women such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Former Minister of Finance), and Arunma Oteh, former Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission and, currently, the Vice President and Treasurer of the World Bank are key players in the political arena of the nation. Also worthy of note is Florence Ita Giwa who represented the Cross-River South Constituency in the National Assembly and served on several committees including the Committee on Women Affairs and the Committee on Niger Delta. She also served as a Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on National Assembly Matters. Ita Giwa has remained an avid social activist whose commitment to the development of the Niger Delta and, especially, to the welfare of the indigenes of the Bakassi Local Government Area, has earned her several accolades.
Several others, among them Ipalibo Banigo (current Deputy Governor, Rivers State), are actively involved in various arms of government, holding vital positions in the executive, legislature, judiciary, and the civil service and making great contributions to the success of the federal and state governments. Without a doubt, their achievements, especially at the federal level, are a reflection of the potential success of the Niger Delta region. State governments of the region should, therefore, tap into women’s reservoir of talent and ensure their full participation in areas of governance such as policymaking and implementation. By encouraging and fully accommodating women in the political process of the region without intimidation, discrimination, and victimization, the political system will not only thrive, it will also be positively transformed for the betterment of all stakeholders in the nation.
In looking at women in the creative industry, Richard Florida aptly observes that “human creativity is the ultimate economic resource” (xiii). For this reason, the creative industry must be recognized and harnessed in the developmental process of any nation. Fortunately, Nigeria is replete with women playing active roles in the various fields of this industry. Several are writers, artists, designers, entertainers and communication experts in the mass media. The first published Nigerian female writer, Flora Nwapa, whose iconic work, Efuru (1966), is a constant reference point in literature classrooms throughout the world, is from Oguta, Imo State, an economic hub of the Niger Delta. Nwapa blazed the trail that prompted African women writers to tell their own stories in their own ways and advocated the need for women to shake off their passivity and speak against female oppression and represent the African woman in a new and positive light. For her, female writers must embrace the reality of the woman’s experience, project her power and affirm her being and becoming by making society aware of her “inherent vitality, independence of views, courage, self-confidence, and, of course, her desire for gain and high social status” (Nwapa 532). As Ernest N. Emenyonu significantly observes, one of the most appealing and enduring qualities of Nwapa as a writer and novelist is the realism of her themes (18).
In her works, therefore, Nwapa presents female characters that are resourceful, industrious and resilient – strong, independent and assertive women who strive to become highly successful and respected individuals; female protagonists such as Efuru (Efuru, 1966); Idu (Idu,1970); Amaka (One is Enough,1981) and Rose, Agnes and Dora (Women are Different, 1986) who recognize their self-worth and contribute in several ways to their personal, as well as the growth of their families, communities and societies.
Several other women writers in Nigeria have risen in Nwapa’s wake, prominent among them, Buchi Emecheta, an indigene of Ibuza, Delta State. Regarded as one the most prolific African women writers, Emecheta is credited with critically acclaimed works such as Second Class Citizen (1974); The Bride Price (1976) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979). Oike Machiko avers that Emecheta is a writer who is conscious of her role as an African woman writer and a representative of the African woman. Oike also identifies The Joys of Motherhood as a masterpiece which “brought Emecheta international fame as a writer who spoke to the world for African women oppressed by what was called ‘third world tradition” (61). Central to Emecheta’s works “is her depiction of the impact of sexism on the lives of women and the roles they play in society, and the challenges they face in the performance of these roles while struggling to defend their basic rights as human beings with equal dignity as men and…to develop positively and contribute their quota to the development of society” (Nutsukpo, “Marking Her Mark” 150).
Like Nwapa, Emecheta extols the virtues of the African woman, focusing on her character, strength, resilience, industry and her capacity to love unconditionally as is evident in Nnu Ego, the protagonist in The Joys of Motherhood. Emecheta recognizes the patriarchal system as being replete with repressive structures that stand in the way of women’s actualization, and urges women need to be conscious of these obstacles in order to overcome them. Evidently, Nwapa and Emecheta recognize education as necessary precursors to women’s positive development. They decry the economic exploitation of women and the denial of opportunities that would equip them to compete favourably with men in different spheres of society and to contribute more to the growth of society. They, therefore, advocate sisterhood as an avenue through which women can achieve consciousness-raising, self-awareness and assertiveness by supporting, encouraging and challenging each other for personal and societal development.
Currently building on the successes of the older generation of women writers of Nigeria are contemporary writers, among them, Sophia Obi-Apoko, author of two collections of poetry titled Tears in a Basket (2005) and Floating Snags (2009), and novelist, Kaine Agary, author of Yellow-Yellow (2006). These are women writers “…whose works are informed by an awareness of gender issues … [and who] are establishing clearer definitions of, not only their identities, but those of their fellow women” in the region (Nutsukpo, “Literary Traditions” 136). Like Nwapa and Emecheta, Obi-Apoko and Agary recognize the woman’s role in the development of, not only the Niger Delta, but Africa as a whole as “crucial for the survival of the race” (Nwapa 527). To enable women play this role effectively, all, writers especially, must create awareness of what the woman can do and, is capable of doing, and provide role models that inspire and empower women to contribute their quota to the development of society. Through their literary works, women writers of the region promote the Niger Delta, its peoples, rich traditions and cultures, arts, as well as its inexhaustible potentials; this attracts tourists to the region, thus aiding its growth. Also, many of their voices are strident in drawing attention to the plight of the region and its people and soliciting social change. Their efforts are, therefore, an important component of the collective contributions of women to the development of the nation.
African and especially Nigerian women writers are committed to issues that endanger their very existence whether it is political, religious or gender bias. The commitment of writers to only those issues that undermine them or their society is an indication that literature is political. Gender political discourse in literature is open to various debates as male chauvinist writers portray the idea of a submissive woman to the social-traditional structures, feminist writers project women that rise above the status quo and demand equity from their male counterpart. Others project the image of a rebellious woman who stand tall against the challenges and barriers created by social structures.
Until the conscious intervention of women writers and feminist critics, representations of the African woman in African literature were generally and patently infelicitous. This is seen in such works as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Wole Soyinkas’s The Interpreters, Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born and Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road. Whether this was willful or inadvertent should be a good object of another scholarly inquiry. Early African women writers such as Flora Nwapa, Mariama Ba, Aminata Sow Fall, Ama Ata Aidoo and critics such as Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Chikwenye Ogunyemi and Mary Kolawole were some of the interventionists in this regard. Whether consciously or inadvertently, a number of early African men writers, to be sure, also offered felicitous representations of women in their writings. Ngugi wa Thiongo, Nuruddin Farah and Sembene Ousmane readily come to mind. From the 1980s upward, there has however been what comes across as a conscious and steady mutation in the characterization of women in African literature from the balanced and objective to the partial and patronizing, and further to the radical and revolutionary by both men and women writers. Yet, in most of the attempts at correcting the negative portrayal of the African woman in African writings, women writers have, unsurprisingly, been the ones at pains to do so. More importantly, since the emergence of new creative interventions to challenge or redress the apparent imbalance in gender politics on the African literary landscape, attention has been understandably focused on the areas of immediate discomfort for the African woman, which are the domestic, the cultural, and the economic; to the neglect of the political. While the domestic, the cultural and the economic suggested here are, indisputably imbricated by politics, the political is conceptualized in this essay in terms of governance or political leadership. Notwithstanding many attempts at relocating women from the margin to the centre, they have hardly enjoyed real “centredness” in African literature, politically speaking.
In an essay originally published in 1998 but re-published in a 2007 anthology of criticism and theory on African Literature, Flora Nwapa, a pioneer African woman writer, raises critics’ concern about African women writers’ obsession with patriarchal issues in their works. According to her, one of the concerned critics at a conference where the paper in question was first presented had challenged women writers to “project into the future the figure of a female president” since “fiction may lead to fact” (2007, p. 531). Nwapa not only agrees to the idea, she notes that it is lofty and possible, especially given the fact that “various African governments are using women as resources in nation building” (2007, p. 531). Interestingly, she also observes that this noble task should be a charge of both female and male writers. The nameless critic’s remark, apparently made before 1998, appears unheeded by Nigerian women writers. From early writers like Nwapa herself and Buchi Emecheta to contemporary ones such as Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Abimbola Adelakun, Chika Unigwe and so on, excessive preoccupation with gender issues is still pervasive. These contemporary writers, especially those in the diaspora or those shuttling between the natal and diasporic homes are, however, taking on larger issues beyond gender. Perhaps it is more important to note that the remark by the critic Nwapa alluded to was clearly a call for a more intense imaginative power and prophetic vision on the part of African female writers, a need extendable to contemporary African male writers as well.
Politics of interest affects the behaviour of the writer and the characters projected in any literary piece in the sense that the writer’s emotions are upset by the ills going on in the society he lives which he tries to react to using his narratives. These narratives are, thus a product of the author’s emotions which are expressed in appraising or criticizing society in fictional works. The characters, similarly, are portrayed to convey the emotional stance of the author as they are reflective of how societal events affect members of society in real life. Just as in the real world, a person may react positively to societal ills, another may feel indifferent; while others may be emotionally demoralized as seen in the characters of Danbudzo’s Black Sunlight; fictional characters portray the different shades of human behaviours in society. Thus, writers write to express their emotions.
Emotions, therefore, become the backbone that guides the author to recreate societal events which negatively affect the sanity of its citizens in a bid to reconstruct such an ailing society. The writer becomes committed to societal happenings due to his emotional connections to these events as he cannot stand aside, and watch society being destroyed by human errors and excesses. Thus, emotion is implicitly the basis for literary narrations involving any societal issues like, for instance, gender discriminations. Issues of gender discriminations are tied to gender politics in literature where only adherents of the female course see the need to project issues that affect the female gender.
The reactions to feminist issues across the world resulted from the emotional feelings of gender critics to the plights of women. There had been some level of inactivity and disconnect of women in society for long which necessitated a resurgence in feminist movement in the 1960s. Yetunde Akorede, a literary critic in an interview gave a clue for the resurgence of this movement thus:
The agitation was prompted by the reality of women’s continued oppression, and the realization that women needed to evolve a theory and a strategy that would hasten the desired freedom from socio-political and economic oppression. This resurgence laid firm foundation for modern feminist movements and activities. The aim and objectives of propounders, adherents, critics, activists, radicals of feminist discourse is summed up in the following terms: Feminist ideology rests firmly on the proposition that women should be given equal rights and opportunities as men (17-18).
Yetunde’s explanations give vent to the emotional reasons why creative artists ventured into narratives that explore feminist ideologists. These artists are emotionally concerned with the plights of the woman and they recreate narratives that try to alleviate these inhuman conditions. They articulate the politics of gender discrimination, expectation and liberation. It is this ideology that articulates the yearnings of most women who become conscious of the negative impositions being a woman have brought upon them in their different cultural environments. The educated ones in particular, have reacted genuinely to the above challenges arising from emotional feelings. They have shown their commitment to tackling the challenges through literature, paper presentations, seminars and workshops within and outside Africa. Although different nomenclatures have emanated from such academic engagements, the fact remains that all the active players are tenaciously and doggedly working towards actualizing the emancipation of women from all forms of oppression. In view of the role of women in reconstructing society, this research examines the role of contemporary Nigerian female writers who through their poetic renditions have commented on the socio-political issues affecting society especially as they affect the female gender.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Contemporary Nigerian female writers have tried to fill up the vacuum created by the older generation of female writers who projected the traditional role of women as a challenge to their self-actualisation. Today, even though the situation has not changed much, modern female writers have recorded giant strides in educating society on the need to give the female gender equal opportunities as the male. In their various literary corpus, they present some of the challenges militating against women and project the modern as amazons who overcome the huddles placed before them by a chauvinist society.
Apart from female novelists who use their prose fictions to x-ray society, female poets have been in the background for years with their voices not fully heard. However, contemporary female poets are taking up the challenges to make their voice count by recreating social ills that bedevil the nation. This research considers the works of two prominent Nigerian female poets who have been making giant strides in the literary world. Their poems touch on socio-political issues that affect women and the society and they try to proffer lasting solutions to these problems as their own contribution to nationhood. In this light, the study will carry out a thematic analysis of Adimora Ezeigbo’s Heat Songs and Evwierhoma’s Out of Hiding respectively.
1.3 Aim and Objectives of the Study
The aim of this study is to project the role of women in the socio-economic development of Nigeria. The objectives are:
i. To examine the contributions of women in the socio-economic development of the Nigeria.
ii. To discuss the thematic pre-occupations in Adimora Ezeigbo’s Heat Songs.
iii. To examine the thematic concerns in Evwierhoma’s Out of Hiding
1.4 Scope of Study
This study is an examination of the role of women in the socio-economic development of Nigeria. Specifically, the research discusses the role of women in Nigeria using Adimora Ezeigbo’s Heat Songs and Evwierhoma’s Out of Hiding respectively. The study is limited to the thematic explorations of the texts and how the writers are able to contribute to the development of their society.
1.5 Justification of Study
The study is justified because of the following reasons:
i. It will examine the role of women in socio-economic development thereby projecting a positive image of women in society.
ii. It will contribute to past literatures on gender studies or feminist literature.
iii. It will be useful as secondary source materials to future researchers in feminist literature.
iv. It will be useful to students and teachers who may consult it for further research.
v. It will be useful for its contributions to knowledge.
The need for women to underscore their importance in society cannot be over emphasized. Women writers have taken to their pen to pour out their emotions on some of the socio-political issues off their time especially as they pertain to the female gender. Adimora Ezeigbo’s Heat Songs and Evwierhoma’s Out of Hiding are poetic works that project the feelings of these great Nigerian writers. In their thematic projections, they are able to express the situations of the country in contemporary times and proffer perspectives as to how some of these issues may be curbed.
This chapter reviews past literatures that relate to the topic of this research work. It discusses such aspects as: feminism and its various branches, women and social development, the politics of gender in literature, patriarchy versus post-colonial feminism and the negative representation of women in art works.
2.1 The Concept of Feminism
Women are still struggling every moment and are still looking for their rights. Feminism has generated an on-going debate all over the world and it has come to solve women’s problems and to put an end to the unjust treatment they face in society. It was the voice of women in times when they were not able to speak or to express their feelings and wishes.
Many researchers and scholars used the term “Feminism” and they tried to define and explain it differently. Some of them use it to refer to some historical political movements in USA and Europe. Whereas, others refer to it as the belief that women live an unjust life with no rights and no equality. Zara Huda Faris explained this idea, as: “…Women need feminism because there are women who suffer injustice …” (1) The term ‘Feminism’ has a long history; it represents women’s problems and suffering in addition to their dreams in equal opportunities in societies controlled by man i.e. his power, rules, wishes and orders. Zara Huda Faris added also: “…women have traditionally been dehumanized by a male dominated society, which they call patriarchy; and that it has always been better to be a man…” (2) Feminism has a history in the west linked with women’s activism from the late 19th century to the present, it is useful to distinguish feminist ideas or beliefs from feminist political movements, for even in periods where there has been no significant political activism around women’s subordination, individuals have been concerned with and theorized about justice for women. Despite the painful segregation and the hard inequality, women were able to stand up each time and they were able to speak and express their problems, feelings and wishes. In addition, women were able to spread it all over the world, make it a symbol of equality, and make all people believe that men and women deserve equality in all opportunities, treatments, respects and social rights.
The term Feminism appeared in France in the late of 1880s by Hunburtine Auclert in her Journal La Citoyenne as La Feminitè where she tried to criticize male domination and to claim for women, certain rights in addition to the emancipation promised by the French revolution. By the first decade of the twentieth century, the term appeared in English first in Britain and then in 1910s in America and by 1920s in the Arab World as Niswia. Feminism originates from the Latin word ‘femina’ which describes women’s issues. Feminism is concerned with females not just as a biological category, but the female gender as a social category, and therefore feminists shared the view that women’s oppression is tied to their sexuality. This was so because women and men’s biological differences are reflected in the society, and based on these differences, women have been treated as inferior to men. Whether as a theory, a social movement or a political movement, feminism specifically focuses on women’s experiences and highlights various forms of oppression that the female gender has been subjected to in the society.
Since Feminists are able to feel and experience the pain and suffering of women, they are totally convinced of what it means to be a “woman” in patriarchal societies. Feminists, therefore, seek to remove all the barriers to equal social, political and economic opportunities for women and object to the notion that a women’s worth is determined principally by her gender and that women are inherently inferior, subservient or less intelligent than men. These are the notions that feminists try to correct. Feminism, both as an intellectual commitment and a political movement, seeks justice for women and try to end sexism in all forms. There are many kinds of feminism and each of them gives the principles and conditions for giving woman her rights. They are briefly discussed below:
2.1.1 Liberal Feminism
Liberal feminism is a particular approach to achieving equality between men and women. It emphasizes the power of an individual person to alter discriminatory practices against women. It is considered as the most important kind of feminism, which works within the structure of society to integrate women into it. Its roots stretch back to the social contract theory of government instituted by the American Revolution. Liberal feminism aims for individuals to use their own abilities and the democratic process to help women and men to become equal in the eyes of the law and in society. By organizing women into larger groups that can speak at a higher level, push for legislation, and raise awareness of these issues; those taking a liberal feminist approach will use the resources and tools available in society to advocate for change.
2.1.2 Radical Feminism
Radical feminism is a movement that believes sexism is so deeply rooted in society that the only cure is to eliminate the concept of gender. It started to emerge in the late 1960s by the famous leaders T. Grace Atkinson and Shulamith Firestone. It denies the liberal claim that the lack of political or civil rights causes women’s oppression. It is a perspective within feminism that focuses on the hypothesis of patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex relationships based on the assertion that male supremacy oppresses women. Radical feminist aims to challenge and overthrow patriarchy by opposing standard gender roles and oppression of women and calls for a radical reordering of society. The reason this group gets the radical label is that they view the oppression of women as the most fundamental form of man’s domination, one that cuts across boundaries of race, culture, and economic class. This group of feminists claims that the root of women’s oppression is biological. They believe that the physical subordination of women by men is the primary form of oppression and others are secondary. Therefore, radical feminism believes that woman’s liberation requires a biological revolution. They raise the demand for the destruction of patriarchy.
2.1.3 Socialist Feminism
Socialist feminism also known as Marxist feminism or Materialist feminism is an important movement of feminism. It calls for an end to capitalism through a socialist reformation of economy. Socialist feminists view gender inequalities as intrinsic to the capitalist system, which makes vast profits off women’s unpaid labour in the home and underpaid labour in the workforce. Socialist feminist argues that capitalism strengthens and supports the sexist status because men are the ones who currently have power and money. These men are more willing to share their power and money with other men, which means that women have fewer opportunities and resources. Therefore, they tried to eliminate the capitalist system and replace it with socialism, which collectively shares the wealth created by human labour and has no economic stake in maintaining exploitation. Sexism benefits the capitalist, by providing a supply of cheap labour for industry. Women are in low paid, low status or even no paid work. It means that, Socialist feminists reject the idea that liberation for women requires the abolition of childbirth. They seek to analyze the subordination of women as linked with other forms of oppression, and attempt to unite the fights for socialism with that for women’s liberation.
2.1.4 Black Feminism
When speaking about women rights, equality and suffering, we can automatically refer to Black Women Segregation. Although feminism claimed in its symbols and goals to the equality of all women from every ethnic and social belonging, it did not give importance to the problems of black females. In practice, feminism concentrated on the needs of middle class white women in Britain and America while posing as the movement for the emancipation of women globally. Patricia Collins as one of the Famous black Feminists considered that feminism did not bring any rights to the black woman at all. Moreover, the black woman was separated from participating in any social, economic or political activities done by feminist organizations, which were controlled at that time with white women. In a way or another, women in every place suffered, were killed and raped but no one suffered in a violent and painful way like the black woman. Both men and white women classified black women as the lower class of women. These is why many black women started to revolt against this unfair classification and make them create another variant of feminism called “Womanism”, a term coined by Alice Walker in one of her great collection of essays which was titled: “In Search Of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose” (1983). Thus, Womanism established a new space for the black female literary experience to express their wishes and dreams. This ideology ‘womanism’ focused on the unique experiences, struggles and needs of black women but it was not able to stand in the face of male orders and control and in the face of White Feminism’s unfair activities. Feminism continues to expand its concerns and approaches as there are various waves of feminism which are the first (seeks voting rights for women), second (remove the objectification of women) and third wave feminism (seeks complete equality of the gender).
2.2 Women and Social Development
The role of women is important in our society in which men are still dominating and playing the most important roles. In the last few years, Women’s position in society has been greatly overseen in comparison to their profile in the past; when they were seen just as housewives and their only role is taking care of children and obeying male orders. Moreover, they were not allowed to do any kind of jobs outside their homes like voting, studying or writing. A Century before, women started to think about the importance of their roles in society. All over the world and by all means, women wanted to change their oppressive situation or traditional roles in society; this led to a series of strikes, marches and protests that aimed to prove their equality to men. During the first and second world war, women participation in society emerged because she replaced man who went to the war inside and outside the house. In addition, she worked double shifts to earn more money for family support.
Women were kept away from learning and education because knowledge would make them question the obligatory power of the conventions and beliefs, which held them in their place; and it would show them how to achieve their freedom, and might even encourage them to assume leadership. Therefore, Feminist researchers and writers emphasize the importance of education in women’s life like Marry Wollstonecraft who paved the way for other feminists to look for equal opportunities in learning. Educating men and women is key to economic and social growth and sustainable development in all countries. Raising the educational levels and literacy rates of women is one of the most effective investments for increasing female productivity as well as enhancing the well-being of families and children. In some areas where women are becoming more educated than men, the challenge is making better use of women’s qualifications. In developing countries, reducing gender inequality in literacy and in primary and secondary education is essential to reducing poverty and accelerating economic development. In all over the world, governments started to realize the importance and the necessity of educating females not only for her benefits but also for the development of society in all the domains. They started to encourage parents to let their children especially girls to study to decrease the level of illiteracy. Recently, the African countries started to help female children to enter school especially children from the rural areas. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2005, the World Bank found that 83.6 girls for every 100 boys were enrolled in primary schools. Primary school enrollment figures do not tell the whole story because the gender gap in higher levels is more dramatic where there are more boys than girls, which has resulted to the lack of leadership capacities.
Catherine Beecher was among the famous feminists who were asking for the education of women. She added to her work a general propaganda for the woman’s education, and she devised large plans for its development. In 1852, she organized the American Woman’s Educational Association to help American women to have education, honorable position, and remunerative employment. She was able to affect the opinions of American girls and raised their awareness in the importance of education. Finally, Education should be considered as important as voting and working and should be in the priority of all the governments because educating women helps them to be productive to themselves and society as we now have more women occupying professional positions and contributing their quota to societal development. By improving the educational capacities of women, they would be able to form the characters of girls and boys; and by building their personalities, they are building better societies.
2.3 The Politics of Gender in Literature
The politics of gender in literature is an issue that continues to dominate literary criticism for decades and is still counting. The commitment of feminist writers to only those issues that affect them or undermine their existence in society is an indication that literature is political. There is the belief in the idea that gender in politics is universal and individualistic to the society from where such literary works emanate. Prose writers like all other genres of literature have used their writings to express themselves in realistic manner on the various issues affecting their society. However, what is brought to the fore is directly or indirectly about issues that these writers are concerned about. Every writer will only express their grievance at issues that undermine their society’s very existence and forego those issues that rarely affect them. Thus while male chauvinist writers may be calling for the total submissions of women to the dictates of traditional society, feminist writers may be calling for the complete overhaul of the system in order to give equality to women.
This point underscores the idea that literature is political as literary works only express the concerns of any individual writer and what they are committed to in society. Nigerian prose writers may favour discussions on bad leadership, feminism, unemployment, religious fanaticism, terrorism etc. rather than talk about issues of migrant problems in America. This is because literature mirrors the society from which it emanates. One aspect of literature that could be termed political is the discussion on gender biases. A lot of writers have touched on this issue as it affects their own immediate society. The discussion on gender politics is one that has received attention over the years. However, the discussion is still on, taking new forms and shapes depending on how society responds to issues of gender equality.
One problem with the discussion of feminism is that scholars, especially female scholars, are not in complete agreement as to what the concept is or what should constitute its focus. While some American feminists may take the high road and subscribe to radical feminist approaches like lesbianism, African feminists may subscribe to liberalism and the equal support between both males and females in society. Thus, gender politics in literature is still being defined and redefined as writers wake up to new issues and challenges facing the woman.
First, Buchi Emecheta came up with feminism (with a small “f”) aimed at reflecting the psycho-cultural depravities given to women, their children and their clans. Then, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie came up with STIWA which stands for Social Transformation Including Women in African (Stiwanism). Such coinage helps her to discuss the needs of African women today which she claims in an exclusive interview in (1989) that: “This new term “STIWA” allows me to discuss the needs of African women…in the tradition of the spaces and strategies provided in our indigenous cultures for the social being of women. (cited in Olaniyan & Quayson, p.550)
Alice Walker, a prolific leading black American feminist, came up with womanism; that “black women should speak up for themselves to avoid misrepresentation” (67). Cleonora Hudson-Weems prefers Aficana-womanism which advocates an Afro-centric kind of feminism for African/Caribbean women. Running through the above nomenclatures, the observable fact is that they all deal with a struggle of which women are the focus and that the struggle is aimed at women liberation. Developing or generating such nomenclature to capture the African women’s experiences is a testament of the emotional response to the issues of gender oppression. With different coinages, African women, through emotional responses, have made several comments and agitations to create awareness and to ameliorate the anomaly of how women are perceived and treated in African setting. For instance, it is discernible from the above that feminism is not an alien ideology or concoction designed to estrange adherents to their culture and tradition but designed to reappraise the status-quo and eschew conservatism, parochialism and obsolescence. It is also in a bid to reposition marriages and relationship between men and women for more cohesive, compatible and compassionate relationship and coexistence.
The gender problems facing African women are not the same with their western counterparts. Western women are not majorly discriminated against by their men. When it comes to education, in fact, they enjoy lots of appeal from parents and government. Apart from this, they are given free hand to choose their partners, even at tender age, with or without parents’ approval. They are allowed the choice of either raising children or not. In the West, women are not castigated for giving birth to only female children except in Africa, women are treated as if they determine the sex of their children. When it is a male child, the husband has won. If, however, it is otherwise, the woman has won. When it is all male the man is powerful whereas, if it is all female, the man is lazy and the woman is stronger – for which she must be castigated and treated with contempt. In all the above situations, African women, especially those in the rural areas, face lots of hardship. The situation of our women in Islam-controlled countries or the Northern part of Nigeria is more precarious. It is obvious, given the stark realities of the condition of African women, that feminism or whatever nomenclature it is given, is more relevant to Africa than any other continent. It, therefore, becomes essential to take a look at polygamy, forced marriage, prostitution, barrenness and childlessness vis-a-vis their impacts on African women, and this is what feminist’ writers try to react to in their writings given their emotional connections.
Female characters in the novels and plays by African literary artists have undergone transformations since the entry of the women writers on the literary scene. Women writers such as Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Mariama Ba draw their characters from the socio-cultural circumstance in order to redeem the poor image of women in male writings. The representations of women in male writing were stereotypical as they always presented the female characters as victims who had no choice about what confronted them and could do little or nothing about changing it. The male writers were not alone in this as even a notable female writer, like Flora Nwapa, in her Efuru (a book), depicts a heroine whose attempts to defy set limits create ripples in her world, while still unable to disentangle herself from the debilitating social web. Such a character (Efuru) ends up accepting their situation as given and help to entrench the persisting cultural norm.
In some African communities, for instance, the number of women a man has as wives determines how comfortable and rich he is, especially in the indigenous African setting. It may also determine how wealthy he is going to become because having many wives and countless children who work for him in whatever vocation he is engaged in, be it farming, hunting, blacksmithing, palm wine tapping, tying and dying, artistry and others, will essentially result in acquisition of wealth. In urban areas of Africa, polygamy is gradually on its way out. Men do not wish to have more than one wife though they may have extra-marital partners, they do this pretentiously, unlike in the past, when they flaunted it to everybody, even their wives. Nowadays, the problem really is in the rural communities.
Achebe is not considered a feminist but in some of his works like Girls at War and Anthills of the Savannah, there are traces of protest against male domination. For instance, in Anthills of the Savannah, there is a gender struggle which gives strength to the female gender. There is an example of protesting without appearing to protest as can be seen at the end of the novel where a naming ceremony is conducted which defies all known traditional norms. A naming ceremony is traditionally conducted in Africa by the men folk, with the accompaniment of alcohol and kola nut. But its conduct in the novel is devoid of alcohol, kola nut, and the ceremony is coordinated by a woman, who gives the baby a male name. This ostensibly portends a protest against the excesses of male domination in a traditional African society, a protest against an unambiguous role accorded the men folk by the traditional African cultural milieu. Taken together, the various components that make up this strange naming ceremony represent a comprehensive repudiation of the oppressiveness and injustice that have led to such widespread misery and suffering of women in Africa. Yet none of the participants believes they are doing anything extraordinary, much less engaging in protest of any sort. The true import of this action is pointed out by the old man who was supposed to do the naming: ‘in you young people our world has met its match. Yes! You have put the world where it should sit’ (27). Thus, Achebe makes a point against patriarchy where females are subjected to the dictates of tradition in Africa. Achebe also portrays Beatrice and Elewa, the only two female characters in the novel, to be strong, assertive and supportive of the men they are in love with (Chris and Ikem) even till when they meet their death in the hands of the dictator Sam.
In some parts of Africa, daughters are used to raise money for the family’s survival as they are practically sold to their husbands to improve the family’s financial situation or solve some pressing needs or issues. According to Anyga, “this issue is tied to cultural traditions that see the women as a tool for material possession.”(126) Forced marriages have led to maltreatment of women by men who feel that after paying such huge amount as bride price the woman has become a property at the mercy of the purchaser. Forced marriage has also led to escapades by girls who detest such act, only to escape into more dangerous situations such as rape, prostitution, and worse still, women and child trafficking. They are forced into this as an aftermath of escape from home which must have hitherto exposed them to hunger, accommodation and upkeep problems.
The issue of forced marriage to solve financial problems or to raise the family’s status is the theme of Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa. Ananse sees his daughter, Anansewa as a means of amassing wealth or at least making life more comfortable for the family. Therefore, he decides to trade his daughter among four chiefs. The following excerpt substantiates this: Ananse: Don’t frown, my daughter. Have patience with your father. You are a child yet, in spite of your body development, you cannot see as far as your father can. There you sit looking lovely, and it’s exciting for you to go out in all your beauty. That is all you know.
Anansewa: I implore you, father, I’m not ready.
Ananse: Finally, when I breath my last and die, will my coffin be drawn in a fine, private hearse instead of a municipal hearse? Will the people who come to my funeral eat salad and small chops and drink good whisky, instead of chewing bits of cola and drinking cheap gin and diluted Fanta? Tell me.
Anansewa: [Hesitating] So, father, do you desire all those things? Haven’t you condemned many of them often? You have pool-poled them haven’t you?
Ananse: Of course I have. Some of them are absolutely absurd. Empty vanities. But you see, my child, I’m trying to use this index to show you how all is well at home. So set your machine talking to help your father out [Walking away]. As a result of a most cracking of my brains, I’m at least able to see a little hope gleaning in our future and I’m directing my steps towards it (p.11,13).
One can imagine the frivolities of life for which Ananse intends to sell her child to the highest bidder in the name of marriage. No courtship, no love, and she is just a child who still needs to learn a lot from the family before getting involved in marital affairs. In such unholy wedlocks, the girl-child will have nothing to contribute because she is married off when she could not take decisions of her own, when she has not contributed anything to the socio- economic development of her family, let alone her society. Consequently, there seems to be no end in sight to this incongruent attitude considering the fact that the Nigerian economy is in comatose. Therefore, the idea to use what one has to get what one wants will always take its toll on the girl-child as she grapples with forced marriage. The gender issues in literature is indeed politicised as every writer approaches gender bias from the point of view of their personal interest and understanding. The problems against the female gender continue even till modern times and writers have continued to raise awareness and conscientisation of society using their works.
2.4 Patriarchy versus Post-Colonial Feminism
Post-colonial feminism, as one of the relatively recent but no less powerful tenets in modern humanitarian theories, has since its formative days been struggling against many social ailments that have been gnawing at post-colonial societies since and even before the days of decolonization. To wit, adepts of post-colonial feminist stand indexed patriarchy as the root cause of the ailments; patriarchy, in its traditional (pre-colonial), colonial and modernized versions. Thus, according to Wikipedia, “patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property at the specific exclusion of women, at least to a large degree. In the domain of the family, fathers or father figures hold authority over women and children. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage and descent is reckoned exclusively through the male line, sometimes to the point where significantly more distant male relatives take precedence over female relatives. Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. […] Patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father” and comes from Greek […] (Wikipedia, p14)
Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which adult men primarily hold power. […] It is the institutionalized subordination and exploitation of women by men that is the crux of patriarchy; this can take many forms […]. (Wikipedia, p16)
Feminist theory defines patriarchy as an unjust social system that enforces gender roles and is oppressive to both men and women. It often includes any social, political, or economic mechanism that evokes male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.
Thus, feminism is generally defined as “a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education, employment and other spheres.” (Wikipedia, p2). The specificity of post-colonial version of feminism basically lies in the postulate that “In many different societies women, like colonized subjects, have been relegated to the position of ‘Other’, ‘colonized’ by various forms of patriarchal domination. They thus share with colonized races and cultures an intimate experience of the politics of oppression and repression.” (Post-Colonial Reader, p233)
Moreover, women were in reality, as part of colonized races and cultures, subjected to colonial as well as post-colonial politics of oppression and repression. To outline the basic tenets of patriarchy in its diachronic aspect, the quote below is a selection of observations by renowned scholars about pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial state of women.
First, it should not be forgotten that in formerly colonized societies patriarchy as the main (if not the only) model of gender relations had ruled long before the colonization came to its onset. The essence of pre-colonial patriarchy, in relation to traditional African society, was expressively formulated by Australian researcher Kirsten Holst Petersen, when she wrote: “My sense of humour has always stopped short at the pleasant little joke about Okonkwo being punished not for beating his wife, but for beating her during the week of peace” (Post-Colonial Reader, p237) – stressing that as such beating of wives was considered to be quite normal in the society described in Things Fall Apart. It also should be remembered that traditional patriarchy prepared a “fertile ground” for its development in colonial and post-colonial period, when it, first, conglomerated with “imported” forms of patriarchy brought by colonizing powers. According to the Nigerian scholar Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí, “African women suffered a ‘double colonization’: one form from European domin¬ation and the other from indigenous tradition imposed by African men. From my perspective, it is not coloniza¬tion that is two, but the forms of oppression that flowed from the process for native females.” (256). This view is supported and developed by Rosalind O’Hanlon, who states: “Colonial officials and native men came to share very similar language and preconceptions about the significance of women and their proper sphere and duties. Women who broke the codes of silence and sub¬servience became the objects of extreme hostility, which, in some cases, succeeded in silencing outspoken women.” (quoted in Loomba 222).
Ania Loomba, a well-known literary scholar and theoretician from India, asserts that in the colonial environment “the strengthening of patriarchy within the family became one way for colonized men to assert their otherwise eroded power”. Even “arguments for women’s education in metropolitan as well colonial contexts rely on the logic that educated women will make better wives and mothers. At the same time, educated women have to be taught not to overstep their bounds and usurp authority from men. Too much education, like too little, results in bad domestic practices” (Loomba, 219).
Post-colonial societies, as put by Trinh Minh-ha, “are characterized with ‘the policy of ‘separate development’” (Post-Colonial Reader 247) – meaning that in many post-colonial societies women, although supposed to be released from any form of “old” and “new” oppression, are in many cases even more marginalized and discriminated against. As put by Ania Loomba, “Patriarchal aspects of indigenous cultures […] are constantly being amplified and strengthened, in some cases by postcolonial states and in others by fundamentalist group¬ings within the state.” (Loomba 229).
Thus, Kirsten Holst Petersen makes a sort of summing up of the tasks that women are faced with in the post-colonial situation, when she writes about the reflection of feminist issues in the works of two prominent African writers, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Buchi Emecheta. “Ngugi’s ideological starting point seems to me ideal. ‘No cultural liberation without women’s liberation.’ This is a more difficult and therefore more courageous path to take in the African situation than in the Western one, because it has to borrow some concepts — and a vocabulary — from a culture from which at the same time it is trying to disassociate itself and at the same time it has to modify its admiration for some aspects of a culture it is claiming validity for. . . . [But] Buchi Emecheta . . . can recreate the situation and difficulties of women with authen¬ticity and give a valuable insight into their thoughts and feelings. […] To her the object seems to be to give women access to power in the society as it exists, to beat men at their own game.” (Post-Colonial Reader 238).
Robert C.J. Young in his Postcolonialism: a Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2003) sums up the essential objectives of post-colonial feminism in the following way: “At its most general, postcolonial feminism involves any challenge to dominant patriarchal ideologies by women of the ‘third world’. Such political activism may consist of contesting local power structures, or it may be a question of challenging racist or Eurocentric views of men and women (including feminists) in the first world. In the postcolonial state, postcolonial feminism begins from the perception that its politics are framed by the active legacies of colonialism, by the institutional infrastructures that were handed over by the colonial powers to elite groups, or appropriated by later elites. All women working for equality against the many obstacles embedded in such a framework engage with these kinds of realities in the post-colony” (109).
“Postcolonial feminism is certainly concerned to analyze the nervous conditions of being a woman in a postcolonial environment, whether in the social oppression of the post-colony or the metropolis. Its concern is both with individual problems and with those that affect whole communities. For this reason, it places greater emphasis on social and political campaigns for material, cultural, and legal rights; equal treatment in the law, education, and the workplace; the environment […], alongside the social challenge of everyday patriarchy, typically supported by its institutional and legal discrimination: domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, honour killings, dowry deaths, female foeticide, child abuse. Feminism in a postcolonial frame begins with the situation of the ordinary woman in a particular place, while also thinking her situation through in relation to broader issues to give her the more powerful basis of collectivity. It will highlight the degree to which women are still working against a colonial legacy that was itself powerfully patriarchal – institutional, economic, political, and ideological.” (116)
Needless to say, that women’s writing in all the post-colonial societies has from the very beginning of post-independence era (and sometimes earlier) became one of the most powerful vessels of propagating feminist ideas in the corresponding audiences and beyond. Women’s writing in Africa is no exception; as put by Anthonia C. Kalu, “The dearth of African literary genres that support the African woman’s participation in the (re)creation and maintenance of societal vision provides evidence of her silencing and apparent invisibility in Africa’s encounter with the West. Her participation is more overt in the postcolonial arena. […] A major concern here is the re-entrenchment of women and/or female-related aspects of selected statements into contemporary discourse. The focus is to examine the society’s capacity to maintain harmony and equilibrium” (Kalu 2000).
2.5 The Negative Representation of Women in Other Art Forms
Women have been misrepresented in society by literary artiste and the image of the woman as a victim of male subjugation is continually portrayed in other art forms like in the films. This negative image will continue if female Nollywood film makers do not step up to use the screen medium as a tool for reconstructing the traditional image of the woman. The negative profiling and stereotypes of dehumanizing roles played by women on screen which are validated and re-established through repetition become the raw materials for women filmmakers to re-create a new and realistic identity for Nigerian women. Against this background, the cultural practices that devalue women, has been projected in Nigerian films and female film makers in Nigeria have continued to use the screen medium as a tool for redefining the image of women in today’s society.
In this light, some Nigerian films have x-rayed some of the cultural practices that devalue women and pose a threat to their security and by extension, to the security and development of the society. Herein stands the place of feminist film critics who, having recognized the cultural products that do not favour women in cinema, propose a feminist perspective to film narratives.
Cultural practices of widowhood rites where grieving wives are subjected to sundry inhumane treatments must be jettisoned. This practice is replicated in films like Yesterday, Mother’s Cry and Living Dead. Nnenwa in Mother’s Cry and Patricia in Living Dead respectively are to be stoned to death, simply because they are women. Nnenwa, a widow, is accused of stealing a chicken to keep her son, Ejike alive, while Patricia is accused of witchcraft and is also to be stoned for killing her assumed dead husband, who later appears in the company of policemen to prove that he is not dead, but that he has been mistaken for the dead man.
In Living Dead, Chris (Kanayo O. Kanayo) suddenly adopts a lifestyle of drinking and sometimes falls by the roadside while his wife, Patricia (Edith Azu) goes to work and tries her best to pay the house rent and caters for the family. Patricia inadvertently becomes the breadwinner of the home at the loss of Chris’s job. In spite of her sacrifices, her in-laws, especially Adaobi (Franca Brown) would not let her have peace because she (Patricia) is not yet pregnant. Adaobi calls her a witch and a diabolic woman who has subjected her brother to a house-man while she, Patricia, works so as to assume authority in the home. Patricia finally becomes pregnant and laments over the absence of her husband who is assumed to have been brutally murdered by ritualists, having stayed late in the night, drunk. Adaobi and family members shave Patricia’s hair, wash the corpse for her to drink and make her to swear of not having a hand in her husband’s death. Patricia could not fathom the reason for her misery.
The village women beat her up, tear off her clothes as they say to each other “let us teach her our tradition and custom”. However, when her mother-in-law confronts Adaobi and her team for this wicked act, Adaobi replies: “mama, she has killed your son, my own brother. If you will allow it, me, Adaobi will not allow it.” The shame and pain Patricia goes through in the village propels her to say to her friends: “I came ready to face them, ready to face the humiliation.” She adds that “I want to prove to them that I didn’t use him for rituals.” Patricia also says, “I know they want nothing short of disgrace and death for me.” She is called a witch and her penalty is that she be stoned to death. According to one of the women in the “Umuada” group who are responsible for all the calamities meted on Patricia, “Patricia is only going through our traditional burial rite.” As the villagers stone her, Chris appears with a group of policemen explaining that he was detained for drinking and has been mistaken for the dead man. Realizing it was a mistaken identity, Patricia asks Adaobi, “I hope you have satisfied yourself. I also hope that you are satisfied that I’m neither a witch nor I killed your brother for ritual.” Despite a proposal for marriage made to Patricia by her former male friend, and the attempt by Alex (Patricia’s brother) to make her forget about her wayward husband, the self-sacrificing spirit in her (Patricia) would not let her forsake her husband. This demonstration of faithfulness and resilience and courage in women as seen demonstrated in the character of Patricia deserves commendation.
Nigerian women who have lost their husbands in cultures where similar practices are prevalent have sundry heartbreaking tales to tell. However, in line with marital duty and sanctity, Patricia explains to Alex that Chris was a good man and that he only started drinking when he lost his job, and that “why shouldn’t I help pick him up now that he is down?,“ besides my child should have a father,” because she is now three months pregnant. Despite her painful ordeals, Patricia decides to go through more sacrifices of her image in order for her unborn child to have a father. This experience is similar to Okerri’s submission that “No man can be tolerant enough to accept a wayward wife but a woman is characterized by suffering, toiling, and pains, and she is compelled to stick to her marriage vows especially when a child is involved in the relationship” (62).
Their plight is clearly stated by Femi Shaka in his article “History, Genres and Texts of the Emergent Video Film Industry in Nigeria,” where he observes that Characterization is also handled along the traditional lines of gender hierarchy in African society, such that the male seems always to be the subject in narrative with the female functioning as an object of male spectacle or vilification, serving more to be seen than heard. Where women are characterized as very loud and adventurous as in Glamour Girls (1993) by Kenneth Nnebue; the femme fatale image is made to read as a signifier for waywardness and promiscuity (Shaka, 22).
The culture of representing women in films both as objects of admiration and symbol of suffering and toiling has strongly revealed the magnitude of insecurity and threat to their existence in a patriarchal society. These kinds of practices should be expunged from our culture by female filmmakers who should see it as their duty and responsibility to project the beautiful sides of women. Okome however pushes the blame back to women as the perpetrators of their own plight. He asserts that women constitute the bulk of video audience yet, they are a contributing factor to the stereotypes: “While women constitute the bulk of video audience and are said to indirectly dictate thematic preferences for the entire popular public of the video film, the discourse of their presence is anything but flimsy constructions based on the notions of inherited stereotypes of women perpetuated by male patriarchy. Women are objectified and expressed in the artistic configuration as bodies of desire and pleasure” (cited in Yeseibo, 45-46).
Living Dead may have been a film produced from a man’s point of view with the intentions to perpetuate patriarchy; however, it will be more worrisome to see films produced by women projecting women within the trajectory of cultural practices that debase women. In this light, the film Troubled King 1&2 (2013), produced by Mariana Isiguzo, and Uche Nancy as the associate producer also follow this same trend. In Troubled King, women leadership is represented in its worst form where a mother, Patience Ozokwor is portrayed as a thug and gangster leader of the slum dwellers. On the other hand, in the urban scenes, King Donald (Kenneth Okonkwo), a reigning king and a doctor is portrayed as a terror and a bullying husband who whips his wives for meager offenses like breaking of car light. For example, Queen Adaku receives severe flogging from her husband, the King for breaking his car light and she cries, complaining to her mate: “why did he have to beat me up like I’m a child?” The King has a problem impregnating his four wives who have not been pregnant for the past seven years. In desperation for acceptance as the King’s favourite, one of his four wives, Lisa fakes a pregnancy and becomes the darling of the King which results to his banishing Constance, one of his wives from the palace and dissolving their marriage, because she slapped his “pregnant” wife Lisa in reprisal. Constance is happy to be out of the palace and for leaving “that brute of a King.” In exhibiting his male audacity over his wives, King Donald refuses to accept a refund of his bride prize from Constance’s father, and he bans him from coming to the Palace. King Donald, despite his life of affluence and opulence, there is no peace in his palace, thus he flogs Queen Ada for breaking the headlight of his car, sends Queen Constance home for fighting with Queen Lisa and finally deals with Queen Lisa for faking her pregnancy.
The film, Troubled King is written by a Nollywood female screenwriter who is expected to adopt a feminist point of view in creating her female characters. Her film reflects a patriarchal culture of negative stereotyping and exploitation of women which re-emphasizes a male’s point of view in film narration. Women should utilize the film medium to their own advantage to experiment with alternative modes of narration to reposition women in culture. Thus, the film medium, like other creative art media should serve as potential avenues to test women’s creativity.
In Yesterday, the cultural practices that pose danger to a woman’s security are divers and numerous. Elo (Liz Benson) at the loss of her husband was subjected to the following: black clothes were given to wear, she was locked in an ash-filled room without taking her bath, she sat on the floor for days. Also, she was starved of food, almost raped by her late husband’s elder brother, and her son was taken from her during her forceful confinement, the bath water from her husband’s corpse was given to her to drink (which she refused to drink), etc. Similarly, the house built by her husband was confiscated by her husband’s elder brother, Matthew (Ejike Asiegbu) and other painful experiences are some of the cultural practices that pose danger to women’s security inhibiting them from contributing their quota to national development.
Cultural practices that depict the true strength and life of Nigerian women ought to be projected to the world to appreciate the diverse nature of our ways of life and the sacrifices and contribution of women to the development of the African continent. The onus to promote a new culture for women in films lies in the hands of Nollywood female filmmakers. In simple term, the duty to promote and transform culture lies at the door steps of the actresses who are a veritable medium and tool through which cultural practices embedded in any society are transmitted to the viewing audiences around the world. There is, therefore, a required synergy between actresses and women filmmakers, more especially feminists, towards ensuring achievable results. By so doing, such films that lay more emphasis on practices that highlight the pivotal role of women in the Nigerian society would certainly help secure the dignity of the African woman before the world. Also, filmmakers from other cultures of the world would have a glimpse of the place and role of women within the Nigerian culture.
This chapter presents the analysis of Adimora Ezeigbo’s Heat Songs from its thematic preoccupations. The writer uses the themes to x-ray society as it affects all and most importantly the women. By projecting some of these thematic projections, Adimora is admonishing society to review the value it places on the female gender and acknowledge her role in shaping a better society.
3.2 Thematic Analysis of Adimora Ezeigbo’s Heat Songs
In a layman perspective, the theme refers simply to the message a writer wants to pass across to the audience. The theme can be main or major which is usually the central focus/message the audiences are to hold on to from the corpus, while the minor or sub-themes refer to other issues that also may be learned but are not key issues per se. By projecting the theme, the writer projects her thoughts and perspectives concerning certain socio-political issues bedeviling society. In Heat Songs, Adimora takes on the following issues:
3.2.1 Women Recognition and Empowerment
The need for society to give better value to the women and recognise her role in nation building has become a major concern of gender activists and feminists overtime. Traditional African society has assigned a preconceived role and position to the women which limit their great potentials. Adimora in the poem, Power to the Women opined that limiting the woman is tantamount to limiting society because with her potentials fully tapped into, the woman can transform society to a larger extent. No matter where the woman is found, she should be given the right support or empowerment to express her full capabilities. This will in turn reflect positively in the society where the woman is allowed to bloom. In her own words,
Is millions helped
In the home
Equity should be
This must be
The poet’s admonition is one that should not be taken likely at face value because it is true that training the girl child is yielding more value for any family than expected. It is the girl child who uses her resources to train other siblings and family members even in her marital home while her husband focuses on his immediate family. A man may in the long run neglect his extended family or parents with the excuse that his immediate family is his priority but the woman does not limit herself to her immediate family. She caters for the needs of her children by supporting her husband and extends her hand of fellowship to others like her siblings, parents, friends and external relations. In fact, the woman is concerned with the issues of all and looks towards their wellbeing thereby helping a larger number of people ‘millions helped’ to stand on their feet. Thus, the traditional notion that empowering a girl child is a waste of resources is old fashioned and fallacious as women are doing greatly for their families and societies when they are empowered; and in some cases, better than the male child. The poet says equity should be the watch world as both gender deserve equal opportunity: “Equity should be the game” (p61).
Furthermore, the poet states that improving the woman is tantamount to societal development, not just for women but for the young ones. This is succinct because women’s lives are key to any developed society. Little wonder that Africa still lags behind in global strides in development because of the shackles placed on her women. But Aidmora’s voice is a clarion call while reminds society of the need to make a headway through the support of her women. The woman will not only improve herself but in turn help society by improving the children entrusted in her care. Indeed, the woman is not a selfish being like her male counterpart who only concerns himself with his own personal growth. In view of this, she says:
Is key to improvement:
For women’s lives
For children’s lives. (p61)
3.2.2 Education as a Panacea for Women’s Struggle
The only way women can be made to be self-actualised is in the area of equal educational opportunities like the male. The nexus between gender empowerment and education can never be over emphasized; for the woman can come to terms with the issues in her society only when she is enlightened through sound, quality education. This is also the gospel preached by the gender activists, Zaynab Alkali in all her prose works. Adimora says that:
is to nutrition
I is to health
is to education
Key role players
Women in family
From the above, the only way for the woman to be enlightened is through education. No matter how much society pretends to want to empower the woman without education, she will continue to be limited in so many ways because ‘knowledge is power.’ When sound education has been achieved, the woman can now assume the her key role in society by playing her quota for the better of society. The woman performs many important roles that should not be overlooked and the poet itemizes three of them:
Key role players
Women in family
The above paragraph of the poem agrees that the woman does not play fiddle roles or should be considered in such light because ‘key role players’ are ‘women in family’ according to the poet. They feed the family by making sure that all the children including their husbands wake up to a good plate of well-cooked meal. With food in the stomach, all members of the family can go about their daily activities dutifully and physically well prepared for the development of society. The woman does not just stop there, she is considered the doctor of the family, taking care of her husband and their children whenever sickness comes. It is no wonder that least person in a household to fall sick is the woman. She exerts all her energy for the well-being of other family members and still withstands the pressures from sickness. This invariably proves the woman to be the stronger breed in society.
The woman also functions as the first teacher the children will have before going into a formal environment. It is no surprise that most children are closer to their mothers than their fathers because the woman gives all her time to their personal growth and development even among those who also double as the children’s father (single mothers). The woman thus contributes directly and indirectly to society’s development and it is high time she is recognised for this instead of being served the bitter pills of gender inequality by an insensitive society. The poet cautions that to achieve a holistic society where development is easily achieved, the opportunities presented the women must be equal to those of the men: “Gender equality/matches hand in hand” (p61)
3.2.3 African Male Perceptions or Value on Male Child
Africa has long placed much importance on the male child that it has become an obsession even to the detriment of the female gender. Just as in the time of old when a woman comes out of labour, the husband is quick to enquire from the mid wives the gender of the child. The reaction differs depending on what the ear is told. There seems to be much jubilation whenever we hear “it’s a boy!” than “it’s a girl!”
It is a work in progress that some men do not storm out of the hospital when mid wives announce that it is a girl child. In about half a century ago, this was the likely reaction but the situation is not completely different today as it has assumed other forms of reactions such as giving more values, and better treatment to the male child. In another way, the gender issue has been linked to other animate and inanimate things. For instance, while Yam is considered the king of crops for a typical African farmer, cassava is seen as women’s crops. This is what Flora Nwapa talks about in her poem, Cassava Song and Rice Song (1986) where Africa majorities celebrate yam yearly but do not do same for Cassava that does more work for them than yam.
Similarly, in the poem, “African Male Lizard,” the poet decries the overreaching influence of the lizard due to the much value placed on it as a male which is not the same for female lizards. Some cultures ascribe some totem to the African male lizard and this immunes it from attacks by members of society. For instance, when a lizard is needed for traditional medicinal use, the male lizard especially the Red Neck is usually preferred. This singular value gives the male lizard a lot of respect and special reverence which other lizards do not enjoy. It goes about freely without being harmed. This perception of value placed on the male against the female is being challenged by Adimora in this particular poem. She says:
With my hammer head
Wielded with force of gravity
I subdue all and sundry –
The elements to my will
My harem to my charm
Freely, oh, freely I roam
Scaling walls, hills and descending with ease
Into valleys and vaults (p60)
Such privileges can also be seen even in the lizard world where male lizards attract the attention of female lizards and conquer them at will after a brief chase. This is similar to how the man conquers the woman and feels she is at his beck and call in traditional society where the woman’s role is tied to serving the pleasures of the man. The African male lizard moves freely:
At my beck and call
Copulating with all my charges
Consorting with old and young
Never being challenged
By dead or alive (p60)
The poet says that such special treatment given to the African male elephant is to the detriment of the female lizards that are always inhibited, hunted or crushed at will because there is no traditional importance placed on her.
…come rain come shine
food for my privileged stomach
The poet believes that such undue values placed on the male whether metaphorically or literally puts the females at risk of being inhibited, shackled and limited which brings out the selfish stance of the males in society. The rules were created to favour them, “food for my privileged stomach” (p60) and put the woman in an awkward position, “leftovers for the underprivileged other” (p60). Such selfishness! Only the male child enjoys such selfish privileges which only scathe the female child’s freedom. Again she says:
left overs for the underprivileged other
and sand for the deprived many
freedom is sweet
but sweeter in solitary enjoyment
at the expense of the other
living in bondage (p60)
Society, for the poet, must come to terms with the idea that the girl child has as much, if not greater value, as the male child and they must begin to treat her as such if any meaningful development must be achieved.
3.2.4 Cultural Encumbrances to Female Potentials
In the poem, “Chicken Gizzard” Adimora satirizes some traditional beliefs that limit women and oppress their gender. The saying that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander becomes applicable here because certain cultural practices place the male at advantage to their female counterpart. For instance some African culture believes that chicken gizzard should be the sole reserve for the male while females are forbidden from consuming it. Adimora considers this belief ludicrous and a sheer prank to disadvantage women from benefiting from the health benefits of the chicken gizzard. She says:
of ancient culture
this meat is a taboo to you’ –
his vulgar spite-coated voice
assaults her long-suffering ears
chasten by a din of dos and don’ts–
dressed in any form: (p58)
The poet believes that cultural dos and don’ts are used by the chauvinist society to promote masculinity while limiting feminine potentials and freedoms. It is always the male that all traditional and cultural matters favour while the women are left in the shadows to suffer the shackles of such practices. When the woman protest such practice, they are hit with the line “the tradition is secure, sure/it’s no delicacy or food for your kind/as our ancestors decreed/so it will remain time to come” (p58)
The poet calls all women to stand up against such selfish traditions and practices that put them at disadvantage, limiting their potentials and putting them under continuous bondages. Such traditions are but “gizzard monopoly is but one/of several inhuman games, acts/of malevolent posturing” (p58). Women must not continue to tolerate such acts but must rise against it in one voice. It is only when she protests and does away with such practices will she begin to realize her worth and place in society.
a grin intervenes, Sheepishly
then raw rage charging forward
teeth grinding, she grabs the gizzard
wrenching with might, freeing it
from the bloody carcass
…Plunk! With passion, into the bin
She flings it, eyes fuming, nose flaring
‘yah! There goes your grisly gizzard!
And you cruel custom as well!’ (p59)
Whatever is not good for the women should also not be good for the men! And whatever aspect of culture that suites the men should also suite the women! Enough with gender discrimination!
3.2.5 Encouragement of Social Values
Adimora shifts focus from gender disparity to encouraging society to breed good generation of youths with moral values. She celebrates the undiluted song of Majek Fashek’s “Send down the Rain,” noting its originality and strong impacting rythms.
For me Rain King is still tops
Among revered reggae maestros
Music at its best I’d say,
In the tradition of Bob’s
West Indian heavily
Syncopated rock music.
Majek for me any day (p35)
It is high time society celebrated what is positive and not what is negative. For instance, the Big Brother Nigeria is a show that airs yearly, celebrating groups of youths in an apartment exhibiting immorality for the sake of prize money. It is surprising how some big companies pump in monies to support such a show and the winner is usually rewarded with huge sums of millions and a car but the best student in any government competition hardly gets up to a million Naira, let alone car gifts. This is same for Miss Nigeria pageant where naked girls are celebrated and the winner goes away with huge sums of money and car gift with endorsements from big brands, but no one gives such money or even an endorsement to the best graduating students or anyone that invents a technology that is capable of changing the lives of Nigerians.
Little wonder, our society continues to degenerate as it only celebrates mediocrity and rejects hard work. The poet cautions that we must encourage our youths even those in the creative area to produce good songs in the line of Majek and Bob Marley, and not the trash they sing to confuse this present generation about the true essence of morality. The youths must imbibe what is good and shun negative acts:
let’s tell our youths
to excel in creative impulses
and produce like masterpieces,
let’s export good music not cocaine
let us market talent not fraud (p35)
In all, society has a lot of roles to play in the growth and development of this nation. First the place of the women must be all-inclusive and then social values and talents must be encouraged instead of the negativities we import from the West. There is the need to go back to those traditional morals that was beneficial to us in the time past and throw away those that limit us especially the female gender.
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