Gender Ideology and Social Crises in Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds and Men Without Ears
Abstract of Gender Ideology and Social Crises in Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds and Men Without Ears
Academic exploration into gender issues in literature and culture has taken a new dimension. The trends in writings and discourses have been to observe the female sex at domestic background. The roles played by the women as mothers, sisters, custodian, home managers, family maintainers are enumerated through character portrayal in literature. Also, female writers have gone beyond exposing the inequality among females and males in the society as they have started exposing the ills of society thereby correcting them. This essay using the sociologist framework examines the theories of social problems and gender disparity as treated in the novels of Ifeoma Okoye.
Chapter One of Gender Ideology and Social Crises in Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds and Men Without Ears
Generally, literature is not developed in a vacuum. Literature is a simulacrum of reality and every work of art is a product of its social and cultural milieux. Consequently, every writer is a product of his/her socio-cultural and historical milieu. The African novel as a medium of literature is not an exception because the society remains the material that inspires writers. Every society has gone through one experience or the other; such experiences are what writers depict in their writings. The purpose of such depiction is either to appraise or criticize the trend. Mostly common in Literature is the depiction of the unpleasant realities of life. It is in this light that a discussion of the works by Ifeoma Okoye becomes relevant.
The works of emergent writers have ceased to give attention to patriarchy as the only system that subjects women to oppression. Consequently, their works show a great deal of consciousness, serious concern and interest in their political, economic and social environments. Okoye’s state of social consciousness is depicted in her novel; Men without Ears (1984) as she identifies the ills in the society and thus makes an attempt to correct the perceived socio-economic and political imbalances. The most frustrating of these societal ills is the issue of money ritual making with human blood and flesh as exemplified in the novel. Also, women serving as subordinates to men in their private life of familial setting are common phenomenon in the African tradition. Abuse of the female gender (especially wives) has been in existence for centuries and it would continue to exist, if not curtailed by emergent actions of the female writers. The issue of childlessness in matrimonial homes has also captured the attention of female writers. Such writers see these structures and manipulations as constituting danger to both the female and male members of the society. As it is often witnessed, wife is always blamed for any discrepancy and her reaction to this could be detrimental to the sustenance of her matrimonial home.
Definition(s) of Terms
Ideology: According to oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Sally Wehmeier), “Ideology’’ is a seen as “a set of ideas that economic and political system is based on: Marxist and Capitalist ideology”. In another sense,
“An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things as it is in the common sense and several philosophical tendencies, or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of the society” (a received consciousness or product of socialization.) (Wikipedia:2010).
The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer change in a given society, and also to provide adherence to a set of ideas where conformity already exists. For instance, one of the social issues that have generated concern in Africa as an ideological concept is that of prevailing patriarchy in the African society and this needs to be changed. This is the reason Ifeoma Okoye like other feminists has made her stand known in a bid to correct the ugly situation. For academic exercise of this nature, there is a need to define patriarchy. According to the Merrian Webstar’s Online Dictionary, “Patriarchy” is defined as a
“Social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male; control of disproportionately larger share of power by men.
Now, issues in gender ideology would be discussed.
Gender: It is a sociological term that has more than one valid definition. In ordinary speech, it is used interchangeably with “sex” to denote condition of being a male or female. In the social sciences however, it refers specifically to socially constructed and institutionalized differences such as gender roles. However, the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, uses “gender” to refer to “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women” (Wikipedia:2010).
Gender is a socio-cultural construction and ideological determination, a way of representing and defining “others” contingent on sexual differences. Gender is therefore, at the core of power relations and social representation in the society such that it becomes imperative in literary discourse. This differentiates gender from sex. (Wikipedia:2010). As Lizbeth Goodman et al (1996:vii) observe, “Gender refers to ways of seeing and representing people and situations based on sex differences while sex “is a biological category: female and male”. (Wikipedia:2010). This perspective is corroborated by Sara Mills (1989:242) who also sees gender as “a socially constructed masculine or feminine as opposed to the biologically determined difference of sex. Such contours of difference, to Homi Bhaibha (1995:32) are “agonistic” but also have two potentials of “shifting and splitting”.
The major components of gender are masculinity and femininity. According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (Sally Wehmeier), Masculinity is defined as “the quality of being masculine” while femininity is also defined as “the fact of being a woman; the qualities that are considered to be typical of women”. The feeling of belonging to a gender, masculine or feminine, has different meanings: First, a biological meaning that refers to primary and secondary sexual characteristics; Second, a sociological meaning that has to do with real and symbolic roles that society attributed to men and women, and finally, psychological meaning that consider the ensemble of traits belonging to either gender. This has to do with individual mind as they consider the differences between man and woman in any society with their minds. Ifeoma Okoye has presented the woman as being psychologically disturbed when they are attacked by childlessness and this makes them suffer the defeat of being the second to their husband. This is how Ije feels herself to Dozie in Behind the Clouds (1982).
According to Lorber (1994:30), gender ideology is defined as “the justification of gender statuses, particularly, their differential evaluation. Kroska defines gender ideology as “the attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights, and responsibilities of women and men in society”. Gender ideology about the family, in the African society is seen for example, as men fulfill their family roles through instrumental, breadwinning activities and women fulfill their roles through nurturing, homemaking and parenting activities. It also refers to attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights, and responsibilities of men and women in the society. (Amy Kroska:2007).
Gender ideology is a much debated and pressed subject in literature. Globally, the role of gender plays out as such that the male figure acts as the sole provider, while also conducting himself as the head of the household, making major decisions that are only allotted to the paternal figure while female figure acts as maintainer of the household. The domestic responsibilities constitute ideology in the sense that it is the expectation of the African society that females should be responsible for domestic work as ideology itself is a set of ideas that constitute someone’s goals, expectations and actions.
The roles of female in African society are not the same if compared with that of male. This ideology has been the major dominants in the works of early African writers. For instance, in Things Fall Apart (1986), Chinua Achebe made this remark:
You have not eaten for two days, said his daughter Ezinma when she brought the food to him. ‘So you must finish this.’ She sat down and stretched her legs in front of her. Okonkwo ate the food absentmindedly. ‘She should have been a boy, he thought as he looked at his ten-year-old daughter.
For the fact that that Okonkwo appreciates Ezinma’s concern for his well being yet he still considers the fact that she is a female who is only in charge of domestic work while Nwoye, his son is not portrayed in the novel, as having anything to do with domestic works.
The universal roles of men and women usually remain constant, however, as time progressed and changed, so did gender ideology among genres of literature. Gradually, as the colonial period diminished, women began to have a voice as characters and as authors. Though not very popular in American literature, the struggles, hardships and concerns of women began to show up. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a renowned Romantic author, generally used male characters to execute his ideal on “human nature about sin and guilt, and about the peoples of the intellect and the pleasures of the heart” (Hawthorne:682).
Presently in Africa, the realities of issues that affect the gender are being promoted by many authors in order to mobilize and sensitize females against the existing coded cultural dictates and policies that hinder the welfare of female. Measures that relegate the female to the background on a second class cadre are now being discussed and strategies for protecting female rights and their fair treatment at all level of existence, (social, domestic, national, economic and political affairs) are now being articulated and accentuated as contributory seeds of change for gender inequality. This has gone a long way among the elites and educated ones in Nigeria but yielded low result among the vast majority of people especially, the illiterates.
Feminism is a form of criticism which is the struggle for women emancipation. “Feminism is a worldwide ideological and political movement directed at changing the existing power relations between men and women in a patriarchal society” (Joseph, 2003:161). Men in such society hide under the guise of male supremacy to subjugate women. Feminism can also be defined as ideology of social commitment to the struggle for female liberation in the society. It started with women movements in the 1960 in Nigeria with exhibitions to depict the skills of women in various disciplines. The examples of women movements are Women Liberation Movements in Nigeria and Black feminism, lesbianism in America around 1970.
History of Feminism
Feminism started with the idea that human rights should be given to women. This idea was put forward by some politically committed activists in the 18th and 19th centuries such as Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill. Later, feminists in the early 20th century also claimed that women should be allowed to vote and there were many protests. These women were called suffragettes. This is because they were fighting for universal suffrage which means everybody is eligible to vote. The suffragettes staged many protests for their rights. Some women even committed suicide to show how wrong it was that they could not take part in politics. After women received the vote, feminism worked to make all societies more equal for women.
Many nineteenth-century American feminists like Elizabeth Cady Starton and Susan B. Anthony, were the first activists in the struggle for the abolition of slavery. In the eighteenth century, there were the women’s organizations that organized exhibitions to portray the skills of women in the various industries, arts, professions etc. An example of various exhibitions is the first World Colombia Exhibition in Chicago in May 1983. It was headed by Bertha K. Palmer. The exhibition advocated for the new women who have the ability to contest with the man in all ramifications of life. Many more organizations sprang up after the successful outing in Chicago.
However, the emergence of organizations (women) brought an end to the first wave of feminism, which centered on debates about material, women’s individual and collective socio-political interests and self determinations. Later, feminism moved from mere organizations and was introduced into writings and readings by female artists in the early 19th century. The early feminine writers agitated for the rights of women to man’s homage, respect and gratitude for her services to him and demand that fidelity in marriage should be considered to be as important for the husband and the wife.
Social Crises/Social Problems
According to oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the word ‘social’ in this context is described as “connected with society and how it is organized” for instance, we have social problems, issues and reforms. Also, the same dictionary defines ‘crises’ as “a time of great danger, difficulty or confusion when problems must be solved or important decision must be made”. It can also be said to be a time when a problem, a bad situation or an illness is at its worst point. In view of the above, social crises are the crises that have to do with society and how that society is organized and this can be linked with social problems.
According to Frank R, (1980:1), he observes that “social problems are those conditions that have a negative impact on individual and social well being, as identified by sociological analysis of the organization and functioning of the society”. He also defines social problems as “conditions that decision makers view as undesirable and decide can be ameliorated by social actions”. In Nigeria, excessive urge for material things which has made many people to be corrupt, sexual harassment, hooliganism and racial discrimination are some of the social problems we are facing.
Purpose of the Study
Drawing from Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds (1982) and Men without Ears (1984), the main purpose of this study will be to examine the cause of social problem in the society, gender disparity as well as manifestations of feminism in modern African literature. This becomes pertinent because there is problem of this disparity especially as it affects matrimonial home and the society at large. This study will also consider the effects of social crises on the society at large and as well, proffer solutions on how to redeem the image of women from the abyss of despair.
So many people have written on gender related issues, but our choice of Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds (1982) and Men Without Ears (1984) is informed by the fact that the works focus on gender issues with special attention on moral decadence. These novels are chosen because they are typical examples of the concept of African Feminism among different Nigerian societies.
With the publication of Behind the Clouds (1982), Okoye has since published several other short stories in order to register her name in Africa and indeed global literacy circles. However, she has received relatively little critical attention. This is not because her works are socially irrelevant but probably because critics are still largely fascinated with writers that they consider to be popular. But two years later when she published Men without Ears 1984, things changed for better as the novel earned her the 1st Association of Nigerian Authors literacy prize for the best novel of that year.
This work will make use of Feminist–Marxist method. Since the novels show the experiences of males and females in the African society, hence, there is the need to use the chosen approaches. Marxism theory was propounded by a German, Karl Henrick Marx. It sees literary texts as product of an ideology and social class. Thereafter, a literary work is examined from a socio-economic perspective. Thus, a Marxist critic is concerned with the cultural, economic and political values that a text promotes. While Feminist criticism is a movement to interpret or re-interpret women’s experience as depicted in literature. Hence, a feminist reading of a text asks important questions about the roles of women.
Scope of the Study
In order to get our line of thought straight vis-à-vis our concern and pre-occupation in this work, there is the need for us to state in clear terms, where our work will begin and where it will end. Going by the title of our study, we will examine the issue of gender ideology, social crises on the one hand and the manifestation of feminism as raised and presented by Ifeoma Okoye on the other hand. For this to be done, we will make an attempt to examine the words gender ideology, social crises and later, we will embark on examination of the concept of feminism as well as its relevance to literature.
Therefore, our analysis, even though is mainly restricted to Ifeoma Okoye’s chosen novels; it will include cursory references to other critical and artistic endeavours that are relevant to our study. On social crises and gender ideology, our study will concentrate on social system like family unit, government establishments etc. It is from this major system that we will x-ray the manifestations of feminism in literature and at the end we will suggest the solutions and as well, we would give comments on the problems identified.