A Critical Analysis of Feminism in Africa

A Critical Analysis of Feminism in Africa

A Critical Analysis of Feminism in Africa


Chapter One of A Critical Analysis of Feminism in Africa



The struggle for women’ right began in the 18th century during the period of intense intellectual activity known as the Age of Enlightenment.

Feminism is said to be the organized movement which promotes equality for men and women in all spheres of life ranging from political, economic to social spheres. Feminists believe that women are oppressed simple due to their sex based on the dominant ideology of patriarchy. Ridding society of patriarchy will result in liberation for women, men and minority religions and ethnic configurations.

Feminism can also be said to be a system which directly or indirectly oppresses women through it’s social, economic and political institutions. Throughout history men have had greater power in both the public and private spheres especially in the African settings. To maintain this power, men have created boundaries and obstacles for women, thus making it difficult for women to attain or hold power. There is an unequal access to power. Patriarchy also includes the oppression of ethnic minorities.

Feminism ideology can take many different forms. In early 1970’s, women started developing a theory which helped to explain their oppression. Pockets of resistance began to organize and challenge patriarchy. By the 1980’s, however, feminists started disagreeing on particular issues linked to feminism. What was once one theory, began to branch out into many theories that focused on different feminist issues. Today, there are as many definitions of feminism as there are feminists. Each definition of feminism depends on a number of factors including ones own beliefs, history and culture.

In traditional Africa the woman is an object of constant scorn, degradation and physical torture. In the past, women did not exist as individuals with personalities to defend. They rather existed as mere docile and exotic accompaniments to the males. Throughout that period, women lacked a voice to articulate their dilemma and their points of view. They, thus, accepted their fate without resistance. Such passive stance results from societal conditioning through questionable cultural practices. From birth, through childhood and adolescence, to adulthood, Africans receive from society and others around the messages and feedbacks which launch them into roles and behaviors considered appropriate for males and females respectively. Most often, female are accorded inferior roles and such long years of cultural suppression and intimidation, unfortunately, misled the women into an underestimation of their capabilities and self worth. Encased in such a cultural mystique, the African women were particularly driven by a community sense since culture obviates individualism. In those days, these women, in addition to experiencing the same oppressive social condition as their male counterparts in a developing world, were subjected to extra repressive burdens arising from the socio-cultural structures of patriarchy and gender hierarchy. These years of subjugation have, however, produced in today’s women relentless questioning of the status quo. They protest against dehumanization, political enslavement and social oppression. They rationalize that the running of the Africa world is not the preserve for males and thus there should be absolute equality of both sexes in all spheres of life. Such a reaction is termed feminism, which is an ideology that urges, in simple terms, recognition of the claims of women for equal rights with men.

According to Cora Kaplan (162) Literary text are constructed from within ideology, and the reality they articulate is dependent on the historical culture which surrounds them; so too are the literary critical claims about their truthfulness or authenticity determined by the culture from which they arise. Helen Chukwuma (xiv) specifically contends that African feminism is dedicated and informed from within, from social realities that obtain. One of such realities is the persistence of sexist socio-psychological paradigm despite the efforts to overcome “the androcentricism which informs social life”. (Uko, 33)

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The persistent sexism in Africa is, however, matched with women’s continued aggressive demand for equal places in men’s former citadel of power and privilege. The chorus African women say to men “whatever the case maybe, you will never again hear us pronounce the words of the Virgin Mary, ‘thy will be done’ while smiling at your despotic power”. (Josephine Felicite in Moses, C.G. and Rabine, L. 308-309). They argue that it is better for men to desire from them those noble and generous feelings which must exist between equals than those mercenary feelings which a slave has for his master. Consequent upon this quest and argument, there is a recent definition of womanhood in the context of the African cosmic order: “A human being endowed with all the capabilities and talents required to effectively function and make impact on all levels of life within society” (Adeife Osemeikhiam, 21).

Notwithstanding the above stance, there still abounds in Africa, evidence of gender stereotypes which simply means a collection of commonly held beliefs or opinions about what are “appropriate” behaviors and activities for males and those that are “appropriate” for females. As a result of this, even though men support women’s condemnation of their (women) societal deprivations, men’s language still betrays subtle inclination to sexist socialization.

The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, Sexism is exemplified firstly as attitudes and institutions, often unconscious that judge human worth on the grounds of gender or sex.

It is explained as prejudice or discrimination usually against women, based on their gender. Sexist socialization, therefore, refers to the process by which infants and children are brought up to imbibe attitudes and practices that discriminate against women on the grounds of their gender.

This work examines So Long a Letter with a view to highlight its characteristic language usage and as well as the psychological disposition that informs such use of language. Research findings by anthropologists, educationists and sociolinguistics show that traditionally, males use non-standard language; females use the language of rapport while males use the language of report; discursive language style is meant for women while men are given to the language of theories and abstractions; females use polite language meant to maintain harmony and strong relationship as well as to keep conversations open whereas males use the language of assertiveness and insistence. Women use the language of solidarity but men use the language of the expert.

Statement of the Problem

Men in Africa make women understand that they, the men, are the head of the  family that is, they are superior to women. They see women as being weak and as a result, women have no say in the activities of the community. They have no rights and are subjugated to do whatever he the men want them to do especially in Africa. Women are made to feel inferior and this breeds some sort of ill feelings in women.

Objective of the study

The aim of this study is to critically analyze feminism in Africa.

Significance of the Study

The study would be of immense importance in addressing the cases of female marginalization in the African society. The study would also benefit students, researchers and scholars who are interested in developing a further study on the subject matter.

Scope of the Study

This project is restricted primarily to critical analysis of feminism in Africa.

Research Question

What is the impact of language of feminism on the society?

What are the ways language of feminism can be improved ?

Definition of terms

Feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

Language: the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.

Society: the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.