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Types of African Feminism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5549 words Published: 5th Jun 2017

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The primary reason for the difference in the African feminism and Western feminism is the fact that it has developed in a different cultural context. In today’s ever changing world, African women are diligently trying to redefine their roles in ways so that they can make themselves more receptive and carve out an activism which is more aware of the culture. This is not an entirely unforeseen challenge, since the taboos of gender hierarchy, the status of female being always ancillary, and their struggle to carve out a niche for themselves within traditional African culture has been prevalent since ever.

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The types of African feminism which emanated in various parts across the continent do not grow out of eccentricity within the context of industrial societies which is in contrast with the western feminism. In the West, economic and social inclination historically caused the women into leading more active roles in the economy, and feminism prevalent in west has always given more preference to women’s struggle for control over merely an entity for reproduction and sexuality. However, the experience for African women has been different since ever. The debates on African feminism do not focus on theoretical questions, the female body, or sexual identity. Rather, like many of its Third World counterparts, African feminism is distinctly heterosexual, supportive of motherhood, and focused on issues of “bread, butter, culture, and power.”

The issue of clitoridectomy which is practice in Africa and with some tribes it is practiced as a ritual is one that African women are whole heartedly working to resolve. African women are now trying to investigate new ways to inculcate their own views of women’s development into African development principles and the non government organizations as well. Since the early nineties, the effects of national policies on women have been highly critized by the women leaders from both inside and outside of government. The women of Africa had to pay a heavy price for their criticism of the national policies where the political leaders and the military victimized them by disrupting the demonstrations, the markets were burnt and some of the women were also jailed and that’s not it, they were also forced out of the public positions to curb this menace. However these hardships of reformation in economic structure and democrization have inspired them towards greater courage in raising their voice against the distress and focusing attention on women’s status within their societies.

Although present African literary criticism is a result of the influence from the west, assessment and the evaluation which are relevant to the African encounter must be stemmed from methods native to African art traditions. The vitality reflected in African life today arises from the traditional consciousness which entrench the arts in all forms of life. In pre-colonial Africa, this intricate relationship exhibited a ceaseless search for ways to improve contemporary condition and wedged creativity in all areas of life. Colonial impact promoted disconnection from African traditional reality and existence which ultimately lead into cultural, social, political and other forms of disjoints.

According to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the involuntary extrication from familiar ways of knowing was recorded in narrative form: There is a well known story amongst the crowd – that the Mubia told the people to shut their eyes in prayer, and when later they opened their eyes, the land was taken. Significantly, parts of the new account of events and experiences emphasized on African people’s extrication from traditional land and arts. As a result, African literature began early to investigate the changing aspects of present African existence and the literary criticism was set out of action in the exploration of the explicit expressions of the new, script oriented legacy. Further, the colonial education system omitted the woman resulting in her social, cultural and political disarticulation in the new indulgence. Her ensuing silence has yet to be taken care of in present African experience.

The scarcity of African literary genres that reinforce the African woman’s involvement in the recreation and upkeep of the vision of large social group provides evidence of her silencing and evident faintness in Africa’s encounter with the West. Her involvement is more manifested in the postcolonial arena. Although the African writers did not keep her out from the emerging culture that overwhelmed African experience for a mostly exterior audience, her depiction became challenging in the present setting which prepared rules for her partaking in the new indulgence.

This seems a small issue except that the duty of reaffirming the African woman’s existence was left to educated western African men who, themselves, were insufficiently engraved in the new dispensation. Held back with the duty for self-repossession and the risk of a lost native land, a substantial number of early writers visibly enunciated the African male. For quite a long phase, depictions of the African female in this period after colonialism reverberated with the idea of community and or the female principle. While most post-independent Africans are acquainted of the vitality of art in African society, that understanding however is hardly ever used to substitute the new African narrative agenda in compliance with traditional customs. This is because of the fact that an accession of the colonial experience pre requisites that most elements within familial inheritance be re theorize as obstructions to creativity and advancement. As a result, most of the present narratives re-inspect the known African world or find the rediscovered terrain defined by the colonial conflict.

Recipient of conditions of underdevelopment-already-in-progress, they admit the violence of the contemporary African city with its bright lights that disguise corruption and immorality. And, such acceptance deduces harmony with a modern African state. Such a result is at odds with the extensive belief that African ways of knowing emphasize on the dominance of community because it takes for granted a narrative vision that depicts characters whose experiences are non-important to societal objectives and goals. This study of the African woman pursues to go beyond current pressures to normalize the hardship and disagreement in the African woman’s experience. Rather than assisting her full domestic and international involvement, such pressures obstruct her and slows down the African advancement. A brief survey of some existing viewpoints in present African literature will exemplify what I mean here.

An established view in African literary criticism is entrenched in the need to carve out a niche for the female African writer and critic within the present literary tradition. This methodology stems out of the years of silence and struggle that many African women scholars experienced in the academic arena. Many African women scholars were against the silencing which seemed backed up by a male-dominated African literary criticism. In theory, activist feminism is of the belief that only the African woman can persuasively explore her experience. This school strives for authentication of the African woman through in-depth assessment of other exclusionary traditions. Subscribers also agree that: ‘African feminist condemnation is definitely engaged criticism in much the same way as enlightened African literary condemnation grapples with decolonization and feminist criticism with the politics of male literary supremacy.

Though most followers believe that ‘for African feminists, the double commitment to women’s liberation and African emancipation becomes one, they find that Negritude, for example, was unreasonable in making romantic and mythic images of the African woman. Also, the African male writer and/or critic’s praise of African motherhood is seen as domineering and unpleasant because their expressed views agree to ‘other prescribed female role which is at the core of most African poetry. However, this school’s line of reasoning ignores the fact that the creation of mythic African womanhood is corresponding with the proposition that the African woman’s world be seen through her own eyes.

By assuming an approach to liberation that is universal in scope or nature, African liberation and African women’s freedom, this route evokes a glorification of the African woman with ‘mountains on her back.’ It uses a post colonialist feminist notion that asks for a conceptual filter of inclusion by exclusion, to set up hindrances similar to those whose removal remains part of its plan. But stated assurance to the cause of the African woman’s emancipation is usually present as a major concern. Significant analyses supports an argumentative research programmed that comprehend the African woman’s emancipation as a struggle against non-feminists, perceived archconservative and men.

Borrowing from activist acclimatized believes, this research programmed readdress the African woman’s world for her, setting boundaries that are based on what she must see rather than on her reality. However, this school agrees to the existence of pockets of power which ‘allowed’ women by identifying characteristics of women’s involvement in decision-making institutions within traditional African communities. Generally, it faults all men for keeping power to themselves and, in particular, African men for not belittling and incapacitating African traditions that seek the continuation of oppressive roles for the African woman. Missionary Feminism: This school of thought uses a more ethical route. Some characteristics of feminist awareness ground the thinking of most believers. One of its earliest expounder was Amanda Berry Smith, a 19th century African American missionary in Africa. Part of her report on African women presents most of the issues that current missionary feminists deal with and deserves quoting in detail.

Account is filled with the usual stories of barbaric morals, the art practices of a witch and the darkness projected for non-Christians. Within her narrative, her own rights to conduct the religious worship to the Bishop is not considered domineering because the Bishop needed her services and the ‘backward natives’ were too uninformed to eat by the clock.

Unable to recognize herself as a returning native, Smith fails to see that the sword-carrying African male ‘walking ahead’ and his troubled wife are both victims of slave raids that demanded able-bodied African men to defend women and children from invaders of African bodies for the trans-Atlantic slave dealings. Continued narrow-minded reading of this African family caravan is based on the evidence that armor-wearing and glorious-white-horse-riding men are gallant, non-African innovations while cutlass or spear-carrying African men are ancient and domineering. In other words, cutlass or spear-carrying men cannot? Safe guard or protect women or children in misery.

But this way of looking at Africa is contemporary. For example, in Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’, Netie is both preacher and social critic in fictional Olinka and echo prevailing US views of Africa and African women. Also, Walker’s holding the Secret of Joy encompass this burden of social criticism ‘on-behalf-of’ tyrannized African womanhood into the area of activism in creative writing. As per the narrative objectives of Walker’s works, African women are either intrinsically incapable of seeing the degree of their own subjugation or they lack required impartiality in their thoughts and writings about it. Among the works of African-born women writers, Buchi Emecheta’s writings best demonstrate this school of thought.

This approach intends to readdress the African woman toward a better way of life. It explores issues like the cruelty of polygamy; the irrational anticipation of mothers who cannot bear to see their daughters choose different lifestyles; the incapability of the modern African woman to decide about feminist ideas and attitudes and, of course, ‘FGM which stands for female genital mutilation. It persuades by promising to put African women at the centre and realization “through the” expression of the discrimination they experience in fictional form. Using the consciousness raising approach, it induces the need for a ‘crucial union of westernized, feminist and African culture.

Crucial to this school of ideology is the idea of the African woman’s transformation into a self sufficient, independent individual. However, her independence requires the nullification of African conception of sharing and community because these bind the woman to tradition.

It calls for new kind of sharing involving favorable reception of the West and western feminist ideals which indicates alteration to a new equality. Drastically there is usually no proposal to western women to share western cultural customs with African women or their own Africanized sisters. Those who follow the ideology of this school assume the African past is predictable and malicious and they seem amazed at the African woman’s incapability to cope in a transitional society that lacks independence and access to self-authentication mechanisms at the international level. Efforts to validate supportive traditional structures are perceived as lack of creativity and emerging romanticism. Also, challenge for the African woman involved in the conversion process is the classification of the present African male as a ‘modern’ man who is yet distinct from modern men.

Publication in African languages is seen as confining access to African women’s works, and the knowledge of a European language envisage resourcefulness. Typical of this approach, recommendations command continued burden of traditional restrictions that control women’s behaviors. Although usually involved in issues of women’s growth, the missionary feminist’s evaluation is not suggestive about which culture’s constraints should guide behavior; but it is never ambiguous about the benefits of European language choices. Given the complicated relationships between language and culture, the proposition that local advancement is improved through publication in English or other European languages demands precise responses to the postcolonial knowledge.

Focusing interest on the perceptual distances created between Africans by slavery and colonialism, this approach also maintains a secessionist vision that refuses to acknowledge African progress on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s continuing elicitation of Africa as the Dark Continent and accusation of people of the African Diaspora as dreamers of needless, if not impossible, dreams is a test to African and African Diaspora scholarship, unity and advancement. Given this school’s missionary center of attention, statements like ‘African society’s narrow-mindedness of one’s right to choose one’s fate rather than consider the common good. Create a quandary for the would-be African missionary feminist. Also when interpretation like the following are offered as admissions of limited feminist realization or indicators of retarded progress, it becomes hard to question these same assertions as legitimate indicators for the relegation of African American women in highly developed countries like the United Nations.

Whether it is the cruelty of polygamy, African-descended women’s rape and exploitation in United States’ slavery, or current ceilings on the African feminist’s hope, it will be easier said than done to use ‘the master’s tools to take to pieces the master’s house. Despite our annoyance with history, all African-descended women are accountable for the expansion of research programmed that is receptive to the unique locations we dwell in. In the final investigation, the missionary feminist’s plan does not state publicly the West as a haven for the knowledgeable, optimistic and tradition-free, contemporary African woman. That is the dare for all women of African descent. Opposing to this school of thought, the new African woman is not an fragmentary version of the western feminist. If, as Audre Lordeimply, growth does not depend on a western-based adaptation agenda, then transcendence of existing subjugation must not mean that the present-day African woman will be better-off in a customized colonialism.

Neo-colonial Feminism: Colonialism’s exclusion of African womanhood, the all-encompassing ambivalence regarding postcolonial thematic constructs, and the ruthless reality of present-day Africa’s snail-paced financial growth – all create unique troubles for the growth of research agenda on the African woman. Identifying locations for revolutionize and new methods of endurance in the postcolonial state are the chief focal point of this school. Questioning the modern African woman’s views of alteration, some concerns of this school lie on top with those of missionary feminism; but some of the methods are analogous to those employed by activist feminism.

This school points out the African woman’s need of development in refined idea and action, insisting that adjustment to changing norms must be accompanied by accomplishment of power within the changing society. Changes in the domestic ground and the work place are emphasized. Hardly ever challenging, neocolonialist feminism focuses on the African woman’s sense of her identity. As result, the major targets are her thoughts and awareness of security in African constructions of comprehension.

This approach exposes enunciation of established bases of the postcolonial woman’s achievements and makes her inability to exploit the resulting negated the reason for seeking advancement. Circumscribing her through the discharge and omission of ideas that authenticate her points of origin, this school makes it hard to develop present-day economic and ideological markets that hold up the African woman’s intellectual products.

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Even though neo-colonialist feminist idea acknowledges this weak market, it argues that the present-day African woman’s advancement depends on her exclusion from the encouraging background of African ways of knowing. Rather than accept that the western educated African has evolved the capability to include two or more cultures, neo-colonialist feminist thought maintains that such aptitude predicts the lack of a important African worldview. An argument of this nature precludes the odds that pre-colonial African thought is open to ideas about women’s self-sufficiency, and concludes that feminism is far-off to the African woman’s experience.

Key fraction of the neo-colonialist feminism’s call to the African female is established on the expression of the nonexistence of an autonomous point of view about women in the works of male authors. As a strategy, this approach encourages removal of the African woman from the African base by isolating women writers’ works through the implication that their successes are beyond African men’s.

Writers like Aidoo, Sutherland have made distinguishing offerings to the genres in which they work – Aidoo in the short story, Sutherland in the play, in the novel. They have managed to build up their themes in such a way that their selected forms are undividable from the way in which they see women and society in general. In each case, the chosen form reflects the experiences of the woman. Finally, Sutherland’s plays time after time build up analogies between the role playing of the theatre and sexual role playing in society.

Therefore, while the African woman writer’s achievement facilitates her removal from African society, it restructures her as an event in western literature in Africa. The point here is that separating the African woman from African society is at odds with African ways of knowing. Knowledgeable or not, African men, like other men from different societies, represent neither an independent cultural nor national union. Although it is not necessary that men and women always be in agreement on all fronts, Africa’s development is coextensive with the acknowledgment of the existence of a familiar base, shared experiences and heritage.

It is vital to affirm here that western feminism posits a different viewpoint, not a separate society, culture, politics and so on, from western male controlled customs. In general, western feminism assumes the legitimacy of woman-as-woman as it redefines western knowledge bases while validating women’s constructive partaking. This fact is essential to the different approaches that notify western white feminisms and the freedom struggles of women of color in general and African women scholars in particular.

Most ingenious writers in postcolonial Africa presuppose the influence of an African narrative belief and customs in their works. Although depiction of the African woman’s experiences confirm her position and authority within African conception of the world, it has been difficult to define the utility of these associations in the scripto-centric, new indulgence. Colonialism’s premature spotlight on writing as a male-dominated activity created hindrances for the education of women and the early investigation of women-centered ways of knowing in the African awareness. This made it complicated to comprehend women’s progression in the changing society. African feminism explores the writing of the African woman on the continent and the diaspora. Recognizing her circumscription in many areas of modern-day understanding, it emphasizes the requirement for an expansion of limitations so as to assist justification of her partaking as woman-as-woman. African feminism asserts the African woman’s narrative and viewpoints as routes to understanding her experiences.

African feminism more often than not adopts a descriptive standpoint and emphasizes understanding of African cultures and social systems. Insisting on a different way of reading Africa’s written narratives, it presupposes that the African story in a European language has more than one level of meaning. Also, in accordance to writers in other parts of the world, the place of the African writer is unique on the basis of language and history. This for the first time we have a group of writers dedicated to polarity of audience. Interpretations by the African feminist school include general and encircling views and close readings of selected texts.

This school of thought deliberately take concepts of African womanhood retained in African American culture from slavery to the present as well as the unlike meanings of African womanhood inside the conventional African knowledge base. African feminism insists on sustained application of concepts which uphold a structure of knowledge that assumed her visibility essential for effective partaking. Refusing to be downgraded to the position of a friendly ‘other’ who endorses her own suppression, African feminism emphasizes that current self-articulation reinvigorates a sense of completeness embedded in a viable past. Although it is in accordance with activist feminism on the requirement of developing an objective African feminist archetype, it rejects its challenging strategies that limit investigation of pre-colonial Africa’s constructions of knowledge to gender conflicts.

In this view, references to sensible adjustments made by women of African descent using the African awareness in times of inconsistency are useful. For example, this school sees women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth as resisting and combating disabling epitomes through the use of ingenious applications of African customary assertions of women’s intrinsic freedoms. The concept of pleasant cohabitation is supposed at the core of the African knowledge base. For the modern African woman working inside unrecognized African and western systems of knowledge, the potential of this school of thought are never-ending.

As Wa Thiong’o notes early in his career, the African woman’s magnificence ‘in the tribe’ must foremost be recognized by herself rather than by an unknown, conflicting worldview. Clearly, persuasive African literary significant and logical strategies should have the potential to accept and practice Africa’s right to an all-inclusive tradition. This does not prohibit learning from and borrowing from other cultures. But it requires continuous revisions of multi-dimensional research programmers in hunt of fundamental ideals and significant change.

Nwaononaku even though the African feminist approach remains perceptive to issues that are significant to the present-day African woman, it does not go far enough in its exploration. This is because it usually appraises her losses and announces her beauty through textual exploration of well-known postures like the actuality of grandmother roles or the extensive family in African societies. This approach creates inkling that in-depth explanations and analysis are not essential for developing feasible methodical strategies when researching African women’s life and literature. To a certain degree, this attribute of African feminism creates false universalisms, which in turn give rise to difficulty in the commencement of new analytical frameworks to advance research and creativity using such explanations. While African feminist scholarship is brilliant, it principally mirror existing understanding and emphasizes textual readings.

This work instigates a new approach to the understanding of the African experience by increasing the scope of relevant aspects of public structure. Working from the postulation that prior to the African woman’s voice was silenced through slavery and colonialism; it was heard within societal structure that assumed women’s partaking as important to normal cultural practice.

For example, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a priestess and a healer whose responsibility allows her have power over of spaces that the fearless Okonkwo is precautious about entering. Certain of these spaces and the societal situation on a moonlit night, she runs through the town with a sick Ezimma on her back. All through Chielo’s race that night, her voice calls out compliments to distinguished community personages and agbala. Suggestive of only self-confidence and reliance on a rich ideological resource base, Chielo’s voice shows no hint of subjugation or concealed womanhood. The fact that Ezimma recuperate after the encounter with Chielo also articulate about Chielo’s power in agbala.

Important to the re-envisioning of African womanhood here is the inconsistency of agbala. Always in alliance with women, agbala is a prophesy, a force ahead of human understanding and might. But it is also the name given to a man without a title (Achebe 1958). The brave Okonkwo quiver in the attendance of the former and despise the latter. Agbala is an early hint of the woman’s location in a traditional Igbo.

Embedded in Igbo narrative customs, Nwapa does not refer straightforwardly to the Igbo practice of multi-voicing. Like Achebe, Nwapa also employ and investigate the concept of duality-in-existence. Within the practice of duality in which all has its contrary and accompaniment, Nwapa, the narrator, names everything at least twice. To start with, the traditional narrative mode presupposes that narrative land exists as an accompaniment to the world of the living. It is observed as an equivalent universe whose world revolves in ways analogous to the world of the narrator and her/his audience. Through narratives, society members name the contents of Spirit-land, the complement of the world of the living. Through imagery and reference, the narrator provides the way to and the proximity with Spirit-land. These references and symbols are vital to the relationship with the community’s ancestors and are essential to African life and living. The woman-as-mother is the most important narrator to the child. She teaches the child about the society’s ways of understanding and perception. In this way, the woman-as-mother happens to important to the essential development and continuation of the community. Chielo, racing through the town with Ezimma on her back symbolizes this role and function.

There is no male counterpart to this role of the priestess in African life. And, Okonkwo must chase later and stay in the shadows as woman- as-priestess and agbala renegotiate the child’s wellbeing and persistence. Important here is the fact that the procedures of ritual and negotiation are rooted in narrative tradition and practice. Like Achebe, Nwapa also makes use of this association in Efuru in which the most important characters have praise names – the complement of given names. According to Achebe names mirror the situation of one’s birth and family conditions.

Nwapa’s manifestation of Efuru in her variety of roles and functions model customary narrative practices and modes. On the foremost and most obvious level is Efuru (the lost one), the unproductive woman. As an infertile woman, this character challenges the notion of Nneka – Mother-is-Supreme – a notion Achebe introduces in his investigation of Okonkwo’s exile in Mbanta, his mother’s home of birth. Agreeing with Achebe’s expression of duality-in-existence: Wherever something stands, something else will also stand beside it, Nwapa present a character whose incapacity to be physically fertile will create a major quandary expressed by Nneka: what happens when the woman is devoid of child? Do women with no children share in the authority that motherhood endows on mothers in the society?

By the story’s end, Nwapa crack the puzzle by presenting Ugwuta-Igbo as a complement to barrenness – Uhamiri, the woman of the lake. For the disabled condition of unproductiveness, the beautiful Uhamiri’s plentiful wealth provides an differing and necessary complement. Efuru’s wealth makes available to her alternate opportunity to motherhood. She utilizes it to take care of Ogea, Ogea’s parents and others in the society who would else have no access to the compassionate interventions associated with motherhood. Budding from the complicated web of relationships is an Efuru whose praise name, Nwaononaku (the one who dwells in wealth), is noticeable in an economically productive life. Efuru’s unproblematic profits in the marketplace mirror an ideologically rich resource base, which the society supports using the Uhamiri metaphor.

Understanding womanhood as an expansive structure for explaining women’s role in most African communities hence require an epistemological specificity and historical authenticity of African ways of knowing. An approach that belongs intrinsically from Igbo (African) thought, it permits for logical depth whether or not the woman is organically and/or economically prolific. By exploring fundamentally paired-outcomes within the epistemological dissertation, it becomes possible to elucidate the need for women’s participation.

In Nwapa’s Efuru ,for example, Nwosu and Nwabata look for out Efuru who agrees to teach and take care of their daughter, Ogea. Eventually, Efuru also start to take care of Nwosu and Nwabata. Since Nwosu is Efuru’s sister, prevalent African customs allow both to recreate Ogea as Efuru’s maid as a way to lessen despair and anguish for Nwosu who has lost his yams to flood. Nwapa’s narrative project is decisively based on Igbo notion and practice of dialogue and rhetoric. As an alternative for proverbs, she uses dialogue to re-examine the issue of male death as an accepted form of payment for any death asserting the dominance of a mutual search for life.

Deriving her visualization from Igbo narrative customs, she stresses the scope to which Ikemefuna’s death by Okonkwo’s hand is incoherent not only with Okonkwo’s character but with Ugwuta (Igbo) thought and character. Structurally, Ogea’s arrival in Efuru’s family is introduced using a framework that is analogous to that which presents the arrival of Ikemefuna to Okonkwo’s household. This construction signals Nwapa’s decisive use of Igbo rhetorical modes to employ Achebe’s presentation of the use of male death


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