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SEXISM AND POWER DOMINANCE IN FEMI OSOFISAN’S ALTINE’S WRATH AND WOLE SOYINKA’S A PLAY OF GIANTS: A SOCIO-DISCOURSE ANALYTICAL STUDY
1.1 Background to the Study
From the beginning of the 20th century, men and women have been generally viewed as occupying sharply different roles in the society; a woman’s place was in the home as wife and mother; while a man’s place was in the public sphere. Men had legal powers over the lives of their wives. Sexism and power dominance exist in a completely different context of cultural norms, political, social rights and institutionalized rules. Even in the Bible, there is a belief that men are superior to women and should control all important aspects of society. Male superiority is displayed in the following passage from the New Testament:
But I will have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the women is the man…for the man is not of the woman. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man (1Cor 11:3-8)
From birth, parents all over the world treat boys and girls differently. According to the traditional Islamic laws, three groups of people are not eligible for legal and religious equality: unbelievers, slaves and women. The slaves can become free, the unbelievers can become believers, but a woman can do nothing to change her status. She was permanently doomed to her second class status (Lewis, 2002). Far and wide, women experience the blatant forms of sexism.
When people talk about themselves or ask for information about others, they are using language in order to exchange facts or opinions. Language is used by human beings in social contexts to communicate their needs, ideas and emotions to one another. Language is a human vocal noise or the arbitrary graphic representation of this noise, used systematically and conventionally by members of a speech community for the purpose of communication (Osisanwo, 2003). From this definition, it is clear that language is a human phenomenon. Language is purely human and a non-instinctive method of communicating ideas and emotions by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols (Sapir, 1921). Language, as Sapir rightly says, is human – only humans possess the ability to communicate through language and all normal human beings possess it.
Language gives shape to people’s thought; it controls their entire activity. As the most important tool for human beings, it not only reflects the realities of the society, but also has various functions to strengthen and maintain social existence. Thus, for a long time feminists and sociolinguists have shown interest in describing the differences in language use between the two sexes. This dissertation examines the effect of sexism and power dominance through a linguistic lens.
Sexism, refers to a set of attitudes towards people of a particular sex that judges or belittles them on the basis of their gender, or that perpetuates stereotypical assumptions about gender roles. Nowadays, the term is most often used to refer to discrimination towards women (Davis, 1985). According to Wardhaugh (2010), gender is a fact that we cannot avoid, it is part of the way in which societies are formed around us. Sexism is a belief that one sex is superior to or more valuable than another. It imposes limits on what men and women can and should do as separate entities. Sexism in a society is commonly applied to the women and girls. It functions to maintain patriarchy, or male domination through ideological and material practices of individuals and institutions that oppress women on the basis of sex. A common form of socialization that is based on sexist concepts teaches particular narratives about traditional gender roles for men and women. According to such a view, women and men are opposite, with widely different and complementary roles: women are the weaker sex and less capable than men, especially in the realm of logic and rational reasoning. Women are regulated to the domestic realm of nurturance and are emotional and therefore cannot be good leaders in business, politics and academia. Chukwuma ( 2000) opines that:
Patriarchy has established male dominance not only in the home especially in terms of inheritance, but in all facets of human existence, social order or itself dictates and enacts genderisation of work; some kinds of work are allotted to women as cooking, washing, cleaning and housewifery in general and light farming (p. 6).
Tuttle, Blood and Lakey (1983:p 17) defines sexism thus: “Sexism is a complex mesh of practices, institutions and ideas which have the overall effect of giving more power to men than women’’. Patriarchy has accorded so much power to men; it is the actual power structure built around men’s domination of women and the ability to influence important decisions such as political and economic decisions. According to Johnstone (2002), power is a situation in which a subordinate respects the superior and as a relationship that is asymmetrical, with one person, a superior, controlling the subordinate.
Wartenberg (1990) defined power as getting someone else to do what you want them to do (p. 12). Also, Max Webber, defines power as “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance”. Women in African society are still largely regarded as passive or weak and as sexual objects. A majority of African societies are immensely patriarchal which means that societal norms tend to value the male and relegate the female.
In the social domain, African women have borne the brunt of cultural traditions, many of which have been described as oppressive, and which limit the advancement of women. Male dominance has been cited as a major obstacle to gender equality. Friedl (1975) defines male dominance as “a situation in which men have highly preferential access, although not always exclusive rights, to those activities to which the society accords the greatest values, and the exercise of which permits a measure of control over others” (p. 7). It is significant that Friedl recognizes that men are favored in terms of accessing certain economically and socially significant materials and rights, such as access to land and property. These institutions and positions in communities play a role in elevating men over women. These asymmetrical relations are also highlighted by Divale & Harris (1976) they define male dominance in terms of an “institutionalized complex” consisting of “asymmetrical frequencies of sex-linked practices and beliefs” (pp. 521-538). The practices and beliefs, in this case, would instill prestige to the status of the male gender and devalue the contributions and capabilities of females.
Sanday (1981) looks at male dominance from two angles. First, is the “exclusion of women from political and economic decision-making” and second, “male aggression towards women” (p. 164). Sanday measures this aggression using five traits:
- expectation that males should be tough, brave, and aggressive;
- the presence of men’s houses or specific places where only men may congregate;
- frequent quarrelling, fighting, or wife beating;
- institutionalization or regular occurrence of rape; and
- raiding other groups for wives.
Sanday suggests that the presence of these five traits in a society indicates a high degree of male aggression.
During the seventeenth century, those who opposed the participation of women in politics mainly claimed, “women, by virtue of their nature, lacked the capacities required of free and equal individuals and citizens and so posed a threat to the state” (Pateman, 1985, p. 8). Women were portrayed as lacking reason, which made it impossible for them to participate in the public sphere: “only masculine beings are endowed with attributes and capacities necessary to enter into contracts, the most important of which is ownership of property in the person; only men, that is to say, are ‘individuals’ (Pateman, 1988, p. 5). Women, in other words, were not seen as “free and equal ‘individuals’ but natural subjects. According to Marx, power no longer constitutes the ‘right of the sovereign’, or the ‘power of the state’ in relation to (equal and free) citizens, but a specific form of class domination. Power is always class power, the power of one class, (or a coalition of classes), of the ruling class, over the others, the dominated classes of the society. This power, which stabilizes on the basis of dominant social structures, is reproduced within class antagonism and the struggle of the classes. The specific unity of society is, therefore, inseparable from the unity of the specific classes which is unsure within the class struggle.
Plato and Aristotle, two of the most influential philosophers in the ancient Greek world, both had radical views on the nature and capabilities of women. Many of these views were similar, yet somehow Plato became a champion of the female cause, while Aristotle was labeled a male chauvinist. Plato, in The Republic, argues that women should be able to take on the same social roles equally with men in his ideal state. His ideas are based upon the view that women and men have the same nature with respect to acting as guardians of the state, except that one is weaker while the other is stronger. Aristotle on the other hand, returns women to their traditional roles in the home, being subservient to men. There is no equality in nature for Aristotle, he declares: as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject. And the same must necessarily apply to all mankind.
Aristotle believed that women were inferior and described them as ‘deformed males’. In Cynthia Freeland’s catalog she quotes ‘Aristotle says that the courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying; that ‘matter yearns for form, as the female for the male and the ugly for the beautiful; that women have fewer teeth than men, that female is an incomplete male or ‘as it were, a deformity’. Aristotle believed that men and women naturally differed both physically and mentally. He claimed that women are ‘mischievous, less simple, more impulsive, more compassionate, more easily moved to tears, more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike, more prone to despondency and less hopeful, more void of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive, of more retentive memory and more wakeful, more shrinking and more difficult to rouse to action’ than men. This is Aristotle’s thought towards the male and the female. At no point did Plato deny that there are no differences between the sexes- his idea on equality lies solely in the nature of humans. He does not pretend that women are physically capable as men, nor does he deny that women are better at tasks like weaving. He said that ‘giving the same training, education and opportunities, suitable women could be equally suited to the position of guardian to their male counterparts’. Plato said that women are physically weaker than men, but should not be prevented from being trained.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
In the African society, sexism manifests daily in different ways. Many societies have continually compromised women’s freedom, dignity and equality through cultural stereotypes. The nature and forms of gender social stereotypes have been captured in various forms of literary and linguistic studies. However, there is little attention paid to the sociolinguistic approach to such concerns, especially from socio-discourse analytical perspective. Therefore, this study investigates the explication of sexism and dominance in selected Nigerian drama.
This study is therefore different from other previous analysis of authentic texts because it is an investigation of literary drama texts the findings of which will be unique and contribute significantly to sociolinguistic knowledge due to the fact that drama is the closest to reality of all literary genres.
1.3 Objective of the Study
The main objective of this study is to find out the sexism and power dominance from the linguistic perspective of language use in Altine’s Wrath and The Play of Giants. The specific objectives are to:
- identify and explain sexist language use in the selected texts;
- examine from linguistic perspective how the writers portray the oppressive and discriminative nature of sexism in the society; and
- investigate the effects of sexist language use in the texts.
1.4 Research Questions
In line with the objectives of the study, the following research questions are posed:
- How do characters use sexist language in the selected texts?
- From what linguistic perspective have the writers portrayed the oppressive and discriminative nature of sexism in the society?
- What are the effects of sexist language portrayed in the selected texts?
1.5 Significance of the Study
It has been observed that many studies on gender have been carried out based on the way participants understands themselves, there is little attention paid to the sociolinguistic approach to such concerns especially from socio-discourse analytical perspective. Therefore, this study investigates the explication of sexism and power dominance in Osofisan’s Altine’s Wraths and Soyinka’s A Play of Giants and this study would serve as a reference material for sociolinguistics, discourse and sociology researchers.
1.6 Scope of the Study
In order to utilize a well structured and organized language use that is spontaneous as typical of the spoken text, this study has utilized language purposively selected samples from the drama text selected. Two African drama texts were selected. They include; Osofisan’s Altine’s Wrath and Soyinka’s A Play of Giants.
1.7 Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framework this this study is the model of Discourse Analysis by Michel Foucault (1997) which sees discourse as a form of social action that plays a part in producing a social world including knowledge, identities and social relations and thereby maintaining specific social patterns. It also focuses on power relationships in society as expressed through language and practices.
Discourse is the general idea that language is structured according to different patterns that people’s utterances follow when they take part in different domains of social life. This discourse analysis is not just a one approach, but a series of interdisciplinary approaches that can be used to explore many different social domains in many different types of studies. Fairclough (1992) states that : “Discourse for me is more than just language use: it