2 February 2017

Nigeria: Emecheta - the 'Old School' and Feminist Literature

AS the literary world deliberately giving a nod to mourn one of its rare, female gems, Buchi Emecheta, WO examines contemporary Nigerian literature by women writers; and how well their themes align with the feminist tradition.

Feminism, according to the dictionary, is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity, and to protect women and girls from rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.

Until the 20th century, the number of female writers in Nigeria and Africa could be counted on one hand as they were few in number. Before then, female writers were not acknowledged by critics as women were expected to be taking care of their homes. Times have changed and female writers have come a long way; some have even gone as far as being Nobel Prize winners.

Feminist writing

A few of these women, who took the literary world by the horn, not only wrote good stories but had the zeal of writing good feminist stories.

Interestingly enough, some of the younger generation of female writers have told Woman's Own feminist writing has not fizzled out with the passing away of this gtoup of writers but that in as much as they do not want to be tagged as feminists, they are still following in the steps of the older generation of female feminist writers.

Toyin Akinosho, publisher, Africa Oil & Gas report, is of the school of thought that feminism is just an ideology. He was of the opinion that "You do not have to be a female writer to be a feminist in the actual sense.

"Just because I am a female, I can work and fend for myself and other does not necessarily mean feminism. Whereas non feminism in a light way basically means the man is the overall boss or that you have to be submissive to him."

What made the likes of Buchi and Flora fall under that category is because they wrote and began to use that medium to give voice to women. A woman being independent and strong does not mean that these women are feminists the way ideologists woulddefine a feminists. However, in the African context there are strong, independent women who see no contradiction in being submissive to their husbands in the marital setting.

This type of woman does not portray feminism in the real sense. I would rather say that these writers in their own capacity gave women a voice and opinion. Authors like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and others did not pay attention to such.

Strong characters

For the last 40 years when these female writers wrote their books, women did not have the strong characters to give voice to their frustration.

I won't call them feminists but rather female writers who gave voice to women and their plight. They are not opinion writers rather they identified that women have a role to play in the society. They put characters in their novels that showed that women had contributions to make in the society, whereas in the books of Chinua Achebe, the women are silent and subservient to their male counterparts. That was the style of early African literature, but when females start writing, using female characters as protagonists, this feeling about feminism began to show.

Patriarchal dominance: The truth is that I just don't want to use the word feminism but I think because of them, you now have so many women who could come out and write their stories. They were coming out at the time when the dominant story in Nigerian literature was patriarchal. That's a very important statement they were trying to make.

The word feminism from the western culture much much more than they thought. Western understanding of feminists is very broad. In their writings, they projected feminism as major characters to be heard, but in the real sense, back at home, the women still obey their husbands, undertake domestic chores like taking care of children without deliberately giving a nod to feminism in its real sense which is basically sharing every domestic chore equally between husband and wife and observing the rights attached to it as practiced in Europe America and other parts of the developed world.

Older female writers as pace-setters: The women we admire like Buchi and the rest set the pace but we should also remember that Buchi said she doesn't define herself as a feminist, although she writes powerful literature. These days, people are not ashamed to be called feminists. I would rather just be an advocate for gender equality because femininity is some kind of trend right now and anything that becomes trendy soon to loses its

Female empowerment

So for me, I believe that right now the text is stronger, the message is stronger and when you have such strong literature, people will abuse it. There is a lot of abuse and ignorant messages from quarters to water down the true essence of what writers like Chimamanda are doing. When you have such a strong African woman springing up internationally, there will be resistance. So I believe Buchi Emecheta and the others set the pace and the other young men and women are carrying the message even farther.

Joy Isi Bewaji, a writer and modern day feminist opines that if there was never an era where so many people were talking about female empowerment, it is actually now. Bewaji defends her statement by saying that "Chimamanda writes a lot about female empowerment in her own way. We all write about that. Anybody who believes in gender equality, whether they agree that they are feminists or not have tried to empower women with their literature. Lola Soneyin writes powerful scripts for women."

Anwuli Ojogwu, another young writer opined that "I think that everybody embraces feminism in different ways. Feminism is based on one's experiences. So to accuse young female writers of not being feminists enough would be unfair. Within feminism, there are many subtexts or sub topics There are people who fight for equal pay, maternal equality, and many causes within the female circumstance. I would say that Nigerian young writers are assertive. Whether they project enough feminism may not be clear or boldly stated. There are young Nigerian female writers I know who are assertive. For a society like ours, I think that is bold."

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