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ENEMIES OF THEIR OWN: FEMALE CHARACTERS IN NAWAL EL SAADAWI’S WOMAN AT POINT ZERO AND REBEKA NJAU’S RIPPLES IN THE POOL
BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Feminism is a movement which, among other things, tries to secure recognition for women as equals with men. Since its inception in the 19th century in France, feminism sought for the equality of the sexes by attacking the relegation of women to subordinate status. It is a movement for the social, political and educational emancipation of women. Ever since the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in England, which stressed on “the tyranny of men”, things never quite remained the same for men and women on both political and literary fronts.
According to Charles Nnolim in an “ A House Divided: Feminism in African Literature” in Issues in African Literature, “ Feminism, as a movement and ideology urges, in simple terms, recognition of the claims of women for equal rights with men–legal, political, economic, social and marital” (185).
Feminists place high premium on freedom and self-determination. These are factors that are common to all feminists which, according to Ruth Sheila,include the fact that “they set a context within which to comprehend the rich variety of feminist thought”. Furthermore, she also observes that “feminists do not accept the cultural images of women as incompetent, petty, irresponsible or weak” (2). She maintains that these characteristics that are attached to women are wrong.
Ngozi Udengwu in an article “The Feminism of Femi Osofisan” in Emerging Perspectives on Femi Osofisan also gives the characteristics of a feminist writer, thus: “a feminist is one who believes that women are wrongly treated, marginalized, and oppressed and is committed to fighting for the emancipation and inclusion of women. A feminist writer opposes aspects of life that suppresses and excludes women” (205).
In our African context, feminism is a call for a revolution in the African society because of the patriarchal tendencies dominant in the continent. However, African feminists do not carry that ideology to the extreme as their western counterparts tend to do; they only demand certain basic rights such as the right to education, the right to choose their marriage partners and also the right to contribute their own quota to the social, economic and political advancement of their communities, instead of the stereotyped roles as good house-wives, house-helps, mothers or even prostitutes.
Most Africans however, see feminism as an imported western concept which the colonial masters brought into the continent. African women do not have to struggle for the right for employment. They are known to trade and to work alongside their husbands. In regards to this, Little Kenneth points out in African Women in Towns that
West African women have little or no interest in women’s rights in an abstract or philosophical sense. The African women already have their own individual ways of handling their husbands (182).
Catherine Acholonu in her book Motherism: The Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism agrees with Little when she says that
Feminist writers and critics picked up the slogan (feminism) and began to paint the picture of the oppressed African woman. A deeper analysis of and insight into the real issues involved and the root causes was sadly missing from their analysis and presentation (82).
Modupe, Kolawole M. in “Feminine Preoccupations in African Literature: A Theoretical Appraisal” in Major Themes in African Literature also points out the controversial and obscure nature of feminism.
Africa Feminism is a controversial concept on the African cultural arena. Many critics, male and female, react to it with suspicion, rejection or outright denigration. Feminism is at times misconstrued, at other times it is considered an anathema to African…Feminism is often seen as a Western imposition by Africans including those in diaspora and by other third world scholars (116).
Feminist writers in Africa have occupied very sensitive positions in African literature and have contributed to its growth through their writings. Looking into these different feminists’ writings one immediately comes to terms with the fact that there is serious disharmony amongst the female characters in these feminists’ works, as some in a bid to voice out their grudges against patriarchy become radical and overbearing, while others still maintain the liberal view and one still finds some go right ahead of men and hamper other female characters. Amidst all these divisions amongst female characters in African feminist works, one begins to ask what the actual direction or course African feminism is.
African feminism is observed in this regard to be fraught with so many divisions and contradictions, as earlier mentioned. African feminism charts a revolutionary course to protect women from misconceived and negative roles attributed to them by their male counterparts and to portray women in a positive light by highlighting their potentials.
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
A critical study of the African feminist course, through its theory, criticism and literary writings has shown that there is serious disharmony amongst female characters in feminists’ works. African feminism seeks to protect the woman by writing about female concerns comprising her experiences in a patriarchal society. It projects female characters positively and brings to limelight the hidden or undermined potentials of women. These are the primary purposes of African feminism.
African feminism appears at the moment to have taken self-destructive strides from its original course. It has become a breeding ground of female characters who contradict the feminist struggle by presenting themselves as negative characters that end up in polluting the society they claim to improve. This research therefore intends to do a critical analysis of the characters created by Nawal El Saadawi and Rebeka Njau in projecting women as their own enemies.
Earlier female writings have always presented women as “oppressed” by men but El Saadawi and Njau (two female feminists) choose to tow a different cause because of their experiences and portray fellow females as “oppressors” and even enemies of fellow females. Why? Could it be the case of women telling themselves to stop the type of feminism that criminalizes men for all the woes of women?
The two novels – Woman at Point Zero and Ripples in the Pool – promise interesting studies especially as they allow us to have closer looks into the dark recesses of woman – an area hardly investigated by novelists and critics in the past. Above all, as none exists, on these two novels, this research is pivotal as it is a special study on a special topic on two special novels from North and East African women.
1.3 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This work intends to focus on the uncertain and mutable nature of African feminism. It proposes to look at the Afro feminist concepts like Womanism, STIWANISM, and Motherism with emphasis on emergent African feminism. It will also look at misogyny amongst women in some African feminist texts. This study shall consider different ways in which the characters especially the female protagonists are being hampered by other female characters in the selected texts. It is intended to do a critical analysis of different degrees of hatred amongst the female characters in the texts understudy: Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero and Rebeka Njau’s Ripples in the Pool.
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The driving force for this study is to bring to limelight the blindfolding nature of African feminism. It intends to expose how female characters fall prey to the so called despicable patriarchal deeds that have left them incapacitated from time immemorial. It is desired that the knowledge of this study will help redirect the feminist course in Africa and create a better image of African women. This study will afford researchers further opportunity to carry out more researches in this unpopular facet of African literature and reveal the fact that the so called victims have always been the victimizers in the cases pertaining to women.