The Rise of Feminism in the Nigerian Novel: An Overview of Nwapa, Emecheta andOkoye
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In the pre-colonial Nigeria, a peaceful atmosphere prevailed as there were no quarrelsover what roles that women played in the society along that of their male counterparts.The coming of the white man to the country changed the whole situation as the westerneducation, religion and culture were absorbed by Nigerians and this affected their newoutlook to life. The idea of freedom of women enshrined in such movement as feminismcontradicted most of the earlier beliefs held by the traditional African societies of which Nigeria is part. Feminism in Nigerian context assumes a different face from what isobtainable in Europe and other Western countries. The cultural differences existing in Nigeria make it difficult, if not impossible for men and women to share equal rights andalso be treated as equals in the social, political and economic spheres. No wonder adifferent term, ‘womanism’ is given to both African and Black – American womenwriting and that of their counterparts that engage in discourses on gender issues. Thisstudy is an overview of different consciousness created by some female Nigerian writersto combat and possibly discredit the traditional images created of them. It focuses on thewriters’ use of the novel as a means of women narrative discourses. Flora Nwapa, BuchiEmecheta and Ifeoma Okoye have distinguished themselves as strong voices thatdiscussed women issues and new dimensions to these problems. The result is that thenovel genre has projected women in different new faces of strong and successfulcharacters, contrary to the negative traditional image and perception earlier built of them.
Various definitions of ‘feminism’ indicate that the term stands for the ideas andmovements that have sought and still seek to challenge and possibly change the roles thatwere considered as belonging to women in traditional societies, this radical viewconnotes the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of both male and femalesexes. Although there is a general notion that the movement largely originated fromEurope, feminism is said to have manifested worldwide and is represented by variousinstitutions committed to activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. According to
Throughout most of Western history,womenwere confined to the domesticsphere, while public life was reserved for men. In medieval Europe, women weredenied the right to own property, to study, or to participate in public life. At theend of the 19th century in France, they were still compelled to cover their heads in public, and, in parts of Germany, a husband still had the right to sell his wife.1
Even as late as the early 20th century, women in the United States, as in Europe,could neither vote nor hold elective office. Women were prevented fromconducting business without a male representative, be it father, brother, husband,legal agent, or even son. Married women could not exercise control over their own children without the permission of their husbands. Moreover, women hadlittle or no access to education and were barred from most professions. In some parts of the world, such restrictions on women continue today. (UltimateReference)
Different scholars have traced various sources as the origin of the feminist movement.Biblically, the wife of Ahab, Jezebel is known to have exhibited a dominant trait thatmake scholars believe that she did not only champion this movement, but is studiedtheologically today as the spirit behind women’s consciousness of their rights, rebellionand love of power, especially when intended to be exercised over men. Other women inthe Bible include Deborah, Athalaiah and Delilah. In the 3rd century
, it was reportedthat Roman women filled theCapitoline Hilland blocked every entrance to the Forumwhen consulMarcus Porcius Cato resisted attempts to repeal laws limiting women’s useof expensive goods. “If they are victorious now, what will they not attempt?” Cato cried.“As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors.” (SeeUltimate Reference)
goes further to state that “for most of recorded history, onlyisolated voices spoke out against the inferior status of women, presaging the arguments tocome. In late 14
– and early 15th-century France, the first feminist philosopher,Christine de Pisan, challenged prevailing attitudes toward women with a bold call for femaleeducation. Her mantle was taken up later in the century by Laura Cereta, a 15th-centuryVenetian woman who published
(1488; “Personal Letters”; Eng.trans.
Collected Letters of a Renaissance Feminist
), a volume of letters dealing with a panoply of women’s complaints, from denial of education and marital oppression to thefrivolity of women’s attire.” (Ultimate Reference)The defense of women had become a literary subgenre by the end of the 16th century,when
Il merito delle donne
The Worth of Women
), a feminist broadside by another Venetian author, Moderata Fonte, was published posthumously. Defenders of the statusquo painted women as superficial and inherently immoral, while the emerging feminists produced long lists of women of courage and accomplishment and proclaimed thatwomen would be the intellectual equals of men if they were given equal access toeducation.
Feminism in Nigeria
Feminism in Nigeria assumed a different face from what is obtainable in Europe andother Western countries. The cultural differences existing in Nigeria make it difficult, if 2
not impossible, for men and women to share equal rights and also be treated as equal inthe social, political and economic spheres. Before the advent of colonialism, Nigerianwomen were subservient, humble and good supporters of their husbands. Cultureabhorred them from some social functions, religious rites and other traditional practices.It is obvious, for instance, that no Nigerian culture accepts a woman marrying a man,neither does the Igbo culture allow women to break cola nut before men or joinmasquerade cults. Some cultures are not dynamic and are intolerant of change. Due to the Nigerian cultural background, it is a taboo for women to do those things which cultureforbids them to do. No wonder a different term, ‘womanism’ is given to both African and Black – American women and their counterparts all over the world in the field of literary expression. Pulitzer price winning author, Alice Walker, coined the word‘womanism’ in her book,
In Search of Our Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose Feminism
The termwhich stands for black feminism was used by Walker to describe the perspective andexperiences of African and Black – American women and others who share the Africandescent.While the feminist movement focuses on oppression based on sexism, womanism focuseson the black woman’s experience of what the white men refer to as ‘worse oppression’ inthe form of racism, sexism and classism. Ideally, womanism connotes a more orderly and polite term where women, especially blacks, are comfortable with their culture.Supportive of the male supremacy, a typical womanist is not ashamed of her gender roleas a woman. She is appreciative of the fact that her role in creation as a mother andfemale specie is very important. To the womanist, men should be men and exhibit their roles while they (women) complement them. Their writings suggest however, that theyshould not be unnecessarily marginalized or maltreated like animals. If men should go toschool, then women should equally be allowed to go to school. Women should however,dress in their traditional attires that distinguish them as such, while men should dress intheir own. Unfortunately, what is obtainable in Nigeria today is a situation where thewestern culture has seriously filtered into the Nigerian scene.Education for most new generation Nigerian women means freedom to do what theywant. It can be freedom to sexually exploit gullible men, oppress weak men, theunemployed, sexually perverse and fortune seekers. Other women who are not welleducated use different mechanisms which they anchor on the concepts of fighting for human rights, fighting against gender inequality and religious extremism.Feminism The consequences of these actions, in the long run, are that sentiments and propaganda arew hipped up by such women to subdue men. In most cases, women hide under the umbrella that men have so long oppressed them and that it is now their turn to pay back.Feminism They use this strategy to procure employment, rule over men in their matrimonial homes,and engage in free sex with men of their choice as well as get involved with other issues that help them achieve many other goals. This situation is creating a serious problem,especially in situations where some mature women easily engage in immoral sexual relationships with willing men.Feminism In some cases, there are situations where pregnancies occur which these single ladies proudly own up and then they give birth to children that have no fathers. Feminism seems to offer a liberty to women to do what they feel likedoing without any moral restraint. These are observed in the selected texts for this study.Feminism.