FEMINISM AS AN IDEOLOGY TO FIGHT FOR WOMEN RIGHTS IN THE SOCIETY

FEMINISM AS AN IDEOLOGY TO FIGHT FOR WOMEN RIGHTS IN THE SOCIETY

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.0       GENERAL INTRODUCTION

In every human society, the relationship between the man and the woman cannot be over emphasized. This relationship is mutual because neither the man can exist in a world without the woman or the woman without the man. This is because both need each other to survive .This is the big reality that humans must accept. Though the society recognizes this, yet it favours the man than the woman; this is because the man is regarded as the very type of humankind and woman is seen as relative to man. This issue has sprung up the women to action, because they need their place to be recognized and given the opportunity just as their male counterparts, and this brings up the idea of feminism. Feminism is an umbrella word for the fight of women’s right in every society.

The Oxford Advanced Dictionary defines the term feminism as an ideology that has its history in English linked with women’s activism from late 19th century to the present. Feminism is brought about by the yearnings of the woman in the society to bring about a change of affairs, because a woman’s voice also needs to be heard, female writers have implored different means by which these voices could be heard to demean the masculine voice. This female writers write about all that concerns the woman and how the woman should be given opportunity in legal, political, social and also cultural rights just as the man. The African society is a highly patriarchal society, so feminism was accepted as an attempt to liberate the African woman from the idiosyncrasy of belief about men. This belief is what feminist writers like Buchi Emecheta, Flora Nwapa, Ifeoma Okoye, Mariam Ba, Zulu Sofola, are fighting to counter in their many writings to the present. The main concern of these females is the problem confronting women; the female writers give manly qualities to their female characters and make the men to play a secondary role. This trend in female writers makes them feminist. It is important to say that female writers also gained approval in the society through the assistance of some male writers whose focus of writing are different from the female form.  Showalter (209) posits that “there is no any specifically male and female way of writing or approaching test,  because human imagination is essentially genderless” for example is critical reading in Sembene Ousmane God’s Bits Of Wood (1962) which portrays female characters as revolutionary activists. they take up the leadership roles to fight oppression in the society, the women march from Thiess to Dakar with no food and water, though many lose their lives in the struggle, except for those who are left to achieve success at the end of the railway strike. Ngugi Wa Thiong also shows the sterling quality of women in the African society. In a Grain of Wheat, women did not only stand by their men, they also participated in various active parts in the struggle for freedom and Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the jewel (1964) would be shallow without paying attention to the influence of the women in the play: the roles played by Sadiku and Sidi in the play are examples respectively.      

This study asserts the role or influence of regionalism on feminism in Nigeria from the two texts chosen: The Joys Of Motherhood by Buchi  Emecheta and Stillborn by Zaynab  Alkali,  where  women who desire  nothing  more than to be  good wives and mothers are undercut by the traditions and culture; where the relationship to motherhood , female subjectivity becomes everything or nothing in a patriarchal society where the man rules and decides.

1.1       THE ROLE OF NIGERIAN WOMEN IN CULTURE

The concept of culture has been defined in various ways. These various definitions range from its simplistic form to its complex form .Culture is being universally defined and understood as the totality of ways of life of a people or society. Sociologists, anthropologists and historians have offered a variety of meanings of culture and traits inherent in it like in and burial ceremonies, ethics and of course including philosophy of life (CESSAC 11).

Clyde (7) opines that culture represents the distinctive way of life of a group of people. An American anthropologist, Harries (27) defines cultures as a abstraction that summarises the patterns and ways in which the member of a population thinks, feels and behaves. Asimalafe refused to accept Harries definition in its totality but rather defined culture as: the total ways of life of a people that help to think, promote, implement, shape and predict their destiny” (3).

Looking at the common things in all these various definitions, Onwuejeogwu (9) sees culture as all material objects made by man ranging from stone implement to atomic energy; and all non- material things thought out and institutionalized by man ranging from values, norms, to ideas like marriage, economy, politics, religion, music, drama, dance and language. The material and non-material forms according to him interact and interweave to form new complete forms. In the context of this study, culture is defined as all the historically created designed to living explicit and implicit, rational, irrational and non-rational which exist at any given time as potentials guides for the behaviour of man. Olorunnipa (45), see culture as learned and shared; culture is transmitted from generation to generation and in this process culture is modified, renewed or dropped. It is both static and dynamic. Culture varies widely with respect to the roles they are assigned to different sexes. While one job may be regarded as a man’s job in one society, it may be regarded as women’s job in another; this division is with the exception of child bearing. Child bearing is one constant factor that determines the division of labour in pre-industrial societies. Because of child- bearing, women are less mobile and therefore sent to fill roles which they can perform closer to their houses such as housekeeping, weaving, midwifery and processing of food.

In examining women in culture, there is the need to develop them to be able to keep pace with development .Apart from the physical attractions, women are indispensable at home not only in the domestic work they do, but also in the taking care of the children. According to Oyesakin (20), women perform certain functions that make for  development, For example  they bear and  take care of the children, home and economically, they are helping hands to man. Again in Yoruba land, women sell what the man produces and provide the rescue when he is in financial difficulty.

Denise (10) describes the roles and duties of women in the family as wives, mothers and village politicians .He is of the opinion that women function in various capacities ranging from monarchs and warriors to founders of nation states.

According to Okonjo (25), women’s major roles in traditional Igbo society were played in the home as wife and mother. Her husband did “men’s work” which entails clearing the bush and planting yam to provide the family with enough yams until the next planting season, while the women planted crops like pepper, okro etc. Women made mats, pottery and wove clothes; they processed palm-oil, palm-kernels, and market them .According to Okonjo (14), it is a punishment to deprive a woman opportunity of attending the market. Levin (29), describes the function which a market fulfills in the life of the Igbo women when she says it is the battle field, their opportunity, their channel of expression, it is their club and theatre, their newspaper and their post office. Women are the main custodians of social, cultural and rudimental values of a society. This custodian role of women has been threatened by colonialism, modern technology and advent of western education where women are grossly under privileged.             

Northern Nigeria is a society with diverse cultures, traditional and religious beliefs. In virtually most parts of the region; men are the top leaders dominating the development of the society in all ramifications. Whereas men are regarded as national leaders and also tagged superior to women regardless of their age difference, women are treated and tagged as second class citizens; a property to be purchased by men and to be treated as such. The pride and dignity of a woman is coined and solemnly depends on men. Furthermore, the major religions in the Northern Nigeria to be precise also assisted in restricting women in a lot of ways because the woman is not allowed to speak publicly let alone at worship .The men take full charge in all the religious activities and otherwise.

The Northern Nigeria society is one that is guided by aspects of culture, traditions and beliefs without all this, a society ceases to exist. Like the traditional Africa value system many traditional African practices are fundamentally prejudiced against women hence they are gender sensitive. Little wonder, then that it is upheld as tradition in many parts of Northern Nigeria, for girls as young as twelve years to be married to men old enough to be their parents, or grandfathers in some cases. Parents determine and betroth their daughters before they are old enough to decide for theirselves .However, the girl child education in many northern Nigeria societies is at low percentage, due to their respective traditional belief as well as the high rate of poverty that almost occur in the region.

1.2       PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

This study examines feminism as an ideology to fight for women rights in the society most especially in a patriarchal society and also the need for women to become real subjects and to discover their true selves .It examines the effect of the cultural beliefs and norms of the two female writers on their different perspective of the word Feminism and how it has affected them in their different geographical regions in which they hail from. It also centers on the condition of Nigerian women from two regions; Buchi Emecheta representing the Igbo society of Eastern Nigeria, using Joys of Motherhood, while Zaynab Alkali represents the Northern part of Nigeria woman in Still Born.

1.3       SCOPE OF THE STUDY

This study focuses on regionalism in relation to feminism with a close study of the two selected texts written by two famous Nigeria leading female writers ;Zaynab Alkali and Buchi Emecheta, Stillborn and Joys of Motherhood respectively. It shows that the environment has an influence in making the woman who she is in the society but due to time constrain and space the work is limited basically to the two different regions from where the two selected novels are written that is the Eastern and the Northern region of Nigeria, Where important issues relating to the field will be discussed. 

1.4       JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY

In African culture, women have been subjected to oppression, depression, suppression, rejection, and segregation, unfair and undue victimization. Therefore, this work identifies the different roles women play in the society and to identify the various forms and means by which the gender roles they are made to play effects women. This study also brings out the beauty of women’s significance to the betterment of the society.

1.5       STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

This study is conducted to assess the influence of regionalism in the lives of these two female writers and to determine whether the traditions, cultural norms and values of the society play a role in giving the woman a place in the society to protect her own interests .The research also investigates how these cultural values affect the woman positively and negatively  and what  her society presents her to be. They are projected to constitute a problem in our present society because the predicament that women have been facing is becoming a menace to the development to the woman in particular and the human society in general. And to find the causes why women have been traumatized, degraded and exploited by the males. This study uses two texts; The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta and Still Born by Zaynab Alkali to show they have been.

1.6       METHODOLOGY

A general exploration of the selected texts with the aim of knowing the influence of regionalism on the two female writers chosen, and their view on feminism using Zaynab Alkali’s novel Stillborn and Joys of motherhood by Buchi Emecheta is made, It is primarily carried out based on contextual analysis of the two female writers to see how they view feminism from their different geographical areas and the pains that women from these regions encounter in their marriages in the hands of their partners all in the name of keeping the traditional role of the woman in their respective society. The secondary sources of materials will include journals, articles, and so on.  

1.7       THEORETICAL FRAME WORK

This work is based on the theory of feminism .Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal; to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, personal and social rights for women. This also includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Feminists typically advocate or support the rights and equality of women. Feminist movements have campaigned and continue to campaign for women’s right, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay to own property, to receive education, to  enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity, and to protect women and girls from rape sexual harassment, and domestic violence.

Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical or philosophical fields; it encompasses work in a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, sociological, economics, women’s studies, literary criticism, art history, psychoanalysis and philosophy. Feminist theory aims to understand gender politics, power relations, and sexuality. While providing a critique of these social and political relations, much of feminist theory also focuses on the promotion of women rights and interests. Themes explored in feminist theory include discrimination, stereotyping, objectification oppression and patriarchy. In the field of literary criticism, Elaine Showalter describes the development of feminist theory as having three phases. The first she calls “feminist critique”, in which the feminist reader examines the ideologies behind literary phenomena, the second Showalter calls “gynocriticism’, in which the “woman is producer of textual meaning”. The last phases she calls “gender theory’, in which the ideological inscription and the literary effects of the sex/gender system are explored.

Feminist campaigns are generally considered to be one of the main forces behind major historical societal changes for women’s rights, particularly in the West, where they are near universally credited with having achieved women’s suffrage, gender neutrality in-English, reproductive rights for women(including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property. Although feminist , advocacy is and has been mainly  focused on women’s right, some feminist including Bell hooks, argue for the inclusion of men’s liberation within its aims because men’s liberation within its aims are also harmed by traditional gender roles. Feminist theory aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experience; it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social construction of gender. Some forms of feminism have been criticized for taking into account only white middle-class and educated perspectives. This criticism led to the creation of ethnically specific or multicultural forms of feminism, including black feminism and intersectional feminism.

One of the key components of feminism is to end woman’s subjugation to her male counterpart, yet there are other oppressive forces that black women face that takes precedence over the perceived subjugation of the black woman by the black man. This represents an expectation and experiences of the black woman as one filled with the quest for knowledge, competence, and authority that surpasses the individual, but encompasses the group. This idea of community rather than individuality is further illustrated by the portrayal of a woman as the embodiment of her environment. In this way womanism does not focus indiscriminately on the experiences of the black woman, and their relationship with nature. It characterizes the woman as willful and capable, thereby constrating the image of a woman as subservient and inferior, in doing so, women empower women, and challenges them to break from traditional definition of womanhood.

A need for the term “womanism” arouse during the early feminist movement, which was mainly led by middle- class heterosexual white women advocating for social change in the form of woman’s suffrage. While the feminist movements focus on ending gender-based oppression, it largely ignored race and class-based oppression.

Author and poet Alice Walker first utilized the term “womanist” in her book In Search of our Mother’s Genders: a womanist prose. She explains that the term womanist is derived from the southern folk expression “acting womanish”. This womanish girl exhibit willful, courageous, and outrageous behaviour that is considered to be beyond the scope of societal norms. She goes to say that the womanist is:

A woman who loves another woman, sexually and/or non-sexually, She appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women emotional flexibility…(She) is  committed to the survival and wholeness of an entire people, male and female. Not a separatist except periodically for health…loves the spirit… Loves struggles, loves herself, regardless (11).

According to Walker, while feminism is incorporated into womanism, it is also instinctively pro-humankind. The focus of the theologian is not on gender inequality, but race and class oppression. She sees as a theory/movement for the survival of the black race; a theory that takes into consideration the experience of black women, black culture, myth, spiritual life and orality. Walker’s 1984 much cited phrase “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” suggest that feminism is a component beneath the much larger ideological umbrella of womanism (12).Walker’s definition also holds that womanist are Universalists. This philosophy is further invoked by her metaphor of a garden where all flowers bloom equally. A womanist is committed to the survival of both males and females and desires a world where men and women can coexist, while maintaining cultural distinctiveness. This inclusion of men provides Black women with opportunity to address gender oppression without directly attacking the men. In Africa proponents of the womanist are Okoye, Alkali, Oybiagele, Ogunyemi and Afolabi etc.




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