The Victimization Of Race And Genders Cultural Studies Essay

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African women have been victimized by race, gender, and class oppression. But portraying Black women solely as passive, unfortunate receiver of racial and sexual abuse restrain notions that Black women can actively work to change their circumstances and bring about changes in their lives. Similarly, presenting African women solely as heroic figures, who easily engage in resisting oppression on all fronts reduce the very real amount of oppression. The Feminist thoughts emphasis on the interplay of Black women's oppression and activism, which presents the matrix of domination as responsive to human agency. The existence of Afro centric feminist thought suggests that there is always choice, and power to act, no matter how gloomy the situation may appear. It also shows that while individual empowerment is important, only collective action can effectively generate lasting social transformation of social and political institutions.

Black women faced constant sexism in the Black Liberation Movement. The movement, though apparently for the liberation of the black race, was in word and deed for the liberation of the black male. Freedom was equated with manhood and the freedom of blacks with the redemption of black masculinity. Take, for example, the assumption that racism is more harmful to black men than it is to black women because the real tragedy of racism is the loss of manhood; this assumption illustrates both an acceptance of masculinity defined within the context of patriarchy as well as a disregard for the human need for liberty felt by both men and women.

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Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is primarily a realistic novel. It is hardly likely to romanticize, sentimentalize or falsify either the pre-colonial experience, or that status of women in the tribal society of Africa. Women in Things Fall Apart are reduced and subjected by their womanly clan activities like marriage, parturition, nurture, domestic work and also field work. Their fate is however, no different from the destiny of other women elsewhere in the world who, too, live in traditional or patriarchal societies. The real power-the power to take decisions affecting the collective life is left solely, in all these societies, in men's hands.

The very nature of tribal organization in Igbo land, based as it is on a system of moiety and exogamy, thus, ensures that every man in a clan has a fatherland as well as motherland. However, if the motherland is exclusively meant for providing comfort to a maternal nephew when he is in trouble, the same village of mbanta itself also discriminates against women, or rather, against these hapless women who are unfortunate enough to repeatedly give birth to twins, the latter invariably cast out in the forest to die, either of hunger or being devoured by wild animals. Ironically, the first woman in mbanta to convert to Christianity is also called Nnika, or mother is supreme, when her very rights to motherhood are snatched away by her husband's family owing to now no longer comprehensible, and therefore outmoded, sets of rules which automatically and conventionally come into play whenever a deviation or transgression takes place in the process of daily living at the social level

Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah and Yvonne Vera's Nehanda, though separated by country, culture, style, topic and gender of the author, both deal in differing ways with the question of the restoration of women in postcolonial visions of Africa's past, present and future. Both novels present strong, central female characters who serve as sources of passion and inspiration, though Achebe's Beatrice and Vera's Nehanda are extremely different. Although both author's are clearly interested in rethinking women's roles in their respective countries, their individual styles and histories suggest clearly delineated goals for their presentations. These differences raise numerous questions regarding intention, location, and successful interpretation of postcolonial feminist theory. They also frame their narratives in such a way that they begin to highlight the essential relationship between the postcolonial independence and gender equality.

Achebe writing are modern works, One approaching these books with an eye towards trends in postcolonial theory could be afforded the assumption that they were written with an awareness of this need for a new, more consistent and realistic vision of women in Africa. It is with this knowledge, however, that the disparity of mission within these two novels and, apparently, behind these two novels becomes all the more striking.

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Achebe's personal role in the world of theory is more clearly defined, perhaps primarily because of the length of time that he has been writing. The span of his work bridges the difficult gap between the grappling assertions for dignity of the early days of independence to the more tenuous and complicated present. Petersen, fueled by the strength of her previously noted argument, looks with particular criticism at Achebe's earlier work:Achebe's much praised objectivity with regard to the merits and flaws of traditional Ibo society becomes less than praiseworthy seen in this light: his traditional women are happy, harmonious members of the community, even when they are repeatedly beaten and barred from any say in the communal decision making process and constantly reviled in sayings and proverbs. The obvious inequality of the sexes seems to be the subject of mild amusement for Achebe.

It would seem then, that this critical precedent weighed on Achebe's mind when he began Anthills of the Savannah in the late eighties, since it functions as a reconsideration of his past writing, a bold attempt to grapple with the charges levied at him by Petersen and her fellow critics. The novel, centered on the involvement of three old friends with the management of a fictional African state called Kangan, deals on a variety of levels some, would infer, quite personal with Achebe's understanding of women's roles in a postcolonial nation. The novel works particularly well, in fact, when considered as the continuation of a thought begun in Achebe's previous work.

The political history of Kangan in Anthills of the Savannah is essentially the history of three male friends. These Western-educated men have, in their own minds, risen to a level above most of the bedraggled and suffering population, yet they are doomed to fail due to their insistence on attempting to run the country according to preexisting patterns; the country's turmoil is their own. In the midst of this is Beatrice, the woman who emerges as the true spirit and heart of the novel. Removed from the inner-workings of the men's government, she alone is able to observe the status of Kangan with a perspective more geared towards reality. As she tells Chris, "all three of you are incredibly conceited.

The turning point in the novel is Ikem's realization about his prior mistakes regarding women. Though he had promoted liberal philosophy and attitude towards women even writing rather reverently of the women's uprising of 1929, Beatrice repeatedly had accused him of having "no clear role for women in his political thinking". The problem, he comes to realize in the course of Anthills of the Savannah, stems from his discovery of inherent sexism within African culture -- he realizes that, though there is no Eve parable as in Western myth, the sanctification of women through the idea of a supreme mother, one who is somehow removed, also functions as an attempt to separate women from the matters of everyday life.

The truth, he argues, is necessarily messier, "there is no universal conglomerate of the oppressed". Each situation deserves its own unique attempt at a solution. By realizing what he does about the status of women in the world a point that resounds through the majority of postcolonial feminist theory, that universal sisterhood is essentially a falsehood, each of the world's cultures has its own visions of femininity, Ikem comes to a greater understanding about the fate of Africa as well: "society is an extension of the individual. The most we can hope to do with a problematic individual psyche is to re-form it. No responsible psychoanalyst would aim to do more". Ikem, and therefore Achebe's, potential sexism is his own, not to be considered a Western attribute like his suits and language. And this African sexism deserves an African response.

Beatrice leads the change, forcing the others to adapt with what is present. Achebe appears to have seen the fault of his previous opinions, realizing the need for women declare their own place in African society, if it is ever to heal itself and progress onwards. He appears to cede whatever control over popular opinion he may have been viewed as having through the old man's words at the end of the novel. Many black men in the movement were interested in controlling black women's sexuality. Bell hooks comments that during the Black Liberation Movement of the 1960s, "black men overemphasized white male sexual exploitation of black womanhood as a way to explain their disapproval of inter-racial relationships." It was, however, no contradiction of their political views to have inter-racial relationships themselves. Again, part of "freedom" and "manhood" was the right of men to have indiscriminate access to and control over any woman's body.One can see both sexism and racism at work in this citation: not only is he committing violence against women, but he considers the violence against black "girls" to be less serious than that against their white counterparts. While it is true that a crime against a white woman bore more weight in the judicial system, the gravity of the crime-i.e., the damage it causes and terror it invokes both individually and within the community-is not diminished when committed against a black woman.

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Similar discrimination existed within the Civil Rights Movement. E. Frances White recalls. The process of alienation from those militant and articulate men had begun for me. It must be stressed that it was not only many of the men but also a great number of the women in the Black Liberation Movements who were enforcing strict gender roles on black women. In much the same way that women in dominant society do not resist but encourage sexism, black women fell prey to perpetuating patriarchy within the black community.

Faced with the sexism of black men and the racism of white women, black women in their respective movements had two choices: they could remain in the movements and try to educate non-black or non-female comrades about their needs, or they could form a movement of their own. While it is true that black men needed to be educated about the effects of sexism and white women about the effects of racism on black women's lives, it was not solely the responsibility of black women to educate them. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear it is the task of women of Color to educate white women-in the face of tremendous resistance-as to our existence, our differences, and our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought. In light of these facts, the women decided to forge their own movement, the Black Feminist Movement.

Tentative chapter division:

Chapter One : Black Women Consciousness

The main focus of this chapter is that one has to live the life as a woman, which is an essential for producing feminist thought because within women's communities thought is validated and produced with reference to a particular set of historical, material, and epistemological conditions. The participation of black women in various African Feminist movements has many different characteristics. Feminism of African differs from Western feminism because it has cultivated in a different cultural context. Today, African women are looking to specify their roles in various ways that gives them new opportunities. This is not a totally new task, since there are much evidence of women oppression, sexism, gender biased and women's struggles to reshape their roles within communities of traditional African cultures in historical periods. Few of the unusual feminist scholars have been able to defy Eurocentric masculinity epistemologies and explicitly embrace an Afro centric feminist epistemology.

In the novel Things fall apart and anthills of savanna African, feminism emerged in various forms in the different parts of the continent, which grow out of individualism within the cultural context of industrial communities. In the West, social and economic norms historically pushed women into more active roles in the society, and Western feminism has focused on women's struggle for control over reproduction and sexuality. Where as women in African had a very different experience to share with the world, African feminist argues on theoretical questions which in the end does not have a practical approach. Rather, like many of its Third World counterparts, African feminism is distinctly heterosexual, supportive of motherhood, and focused on issues of "bread, butter, culture, and power.

Chapter 2 - Influence Of Church and Education

This chapter will explore that the religion also had a strong influence on education in Africa in the nineteenth century. Together with the colonial state, religious organizations, particularly missions influenced the form, content and the processes of canon formation in African artistic and intellectual endeavors. Throughout Central Africa, women increasingly play fundamental roles in the new churches. Although the initial missionaries primarily wanted to teach women to become good housewives, after the independence of several states they changes their tune. Both in the cities and villages women play a more and more explicit role within the religious communities, they are the ones bridging the gap between old and new, and they are also negotiators in times of social crises. The extent of women's literacy varies greatly from area to area. In the former British colonies greater efforts had usually been made to get women access to education. In the former French colonies this evolution came about much slower, partly because of the growing impact of Islam in certain parts. The South African apartheid had disastrous consequences for women's education, and in the Portuguese speaking areas not much effort was made. Through formal, westernized education, pioneered by the church and subsidized by the state, women in many parts of Africa experienced a separation between religion, politics and the economy, disempowering them substantially and domesticating them in the process of restructuring its distribution in colonial economies. While African women have entered the terrain of canon creation later than African men, the class bases of this participation cuts across gender lines, aligning men and women of the western educated classes together in the processes of canon formation

Chapter 3 -Level centric Domination: Community over Individual

In this chapter will discuss the issues related gender bias in the novels of Achebe. In the novel Things fall apart and. The Black females underwent some domains that reflect the biased nature of society the Black women's condition is an overlooked opinion, it may be fruitless to try and translate ideas from an outsider feminist perspective into an Afro centric masculinity framework. Rather than just trying to uncover universal knowledge which claims that one can withstand this epistemology, Black women intellectuals might find efforts to rearticulate a Black women's standpoint especially fruitful. One of the soundest ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create the universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific.. In general the biological role of women is not perceived as being in conflict with taking up political or economic responsibilities.

Apart from the care for their children, women are also responsible for the care of the community. Care in the broadest meaning of the word. No wonder that African men and women often have complementary and often even parallel responsibilities. (Women's) roles are determined by membership of a collective group (family or tribe). As a member of certain families, men and women get certain responsibilities and privileges.

Chapter 4- Reshaping Women role

This chapter will discuss the level centric domination of black men as well as white men over black women and what modern feminism articulates was already demonstrated by Achebe in their work which depicts women with rounded human attributes women who can weep and fight heartily and who can bow in deference even as they proceed to their goals. The poetic characters therefore demonstrate the complexity of women as subjects with empathy and assertiveness as they navigate the maze of multiple oppressions. The African Feminist thoughts emphasis on the interplay between Black women's oppression and Black women's activism but it resulted into the level centric domination of women.

This chapter will focus on the gender role in the African communities; the lyric is rendered in the form of an address by a wife to her husband and reveals the woman's awareness of her marginalization by her husband, who excluded her from men's secret meetings. The three influential colonial spheres church, governance and trade each had their own disruptive influence on traditional power and gender roles. Four factors were detrimental in the institution of a new gender inequality. Firstly Catholicism with the introduction of monogamy, "woman's place is in the home' attitude and the suppression of women; secondly western education giving more opportunities to men; thirdly western marital law according rights of ownership to women which the traditional rituals could not guarantee so that traditional matters of ascendancy were threatened; and lastly the new legal systems which recognized the independence of African women (in theory).

In this practice colonial magistrates usually treated women as legal minors needing a man's guidance. Continuous support of patriarchy and individualism created new economic opportunities but also seriously disrupted the existing gender relations. This resulted in a division of labour according to gender, and a further separation of men and women within the community, factors that would take their toll until well after World War II. The colonial structures and capitalist economic principles were institutionalized in religious, economic, legal, bureaucratic and educational structures. Gradually, this led to a new social order in which African women not belonging to the upper few had very little rights. As a result the economic and legal position of women was changed drastically.

Chapter 5 - Conclusion: Contemporary African Women

Suggested Bibliography:

Achebe, Chinua. 'Things Fall Apart'. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1959.

Wa Thiong'o, Ngugi. 'The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms'. London, James Curry, 1993.

Obioma Nnaemeka. 'The Politics of mothering, womanhood, identity and resistance in African literature'.

Bobo Jacqueline, Hudley Cynthia, Michel Claudine. The black studies reader.

Coquery-Vidrovitch, Catherine. African Women: A Modern History. 1997.

D'Almeida, Irene Assiba. Francophone African Women Writers: Destroying the Emptiness of Silence. University. Press of Florida, 1994.

Davison, Jean. Gender, Lineage, and Ethnicity in Southern Africa. 1996.

Grosz-Ngate and Omari Kokole, ed. Gendered Encounters: Challenging Cultural Boundaries and Social Hierarchies in Africa. Routledge, 1996

Harrow, Kenneth W., ed. African Cinema: Postcolonial and Feminist Readings. Red Sea Press, 1998.

James Valentine Udoh and James Etim, ed. 'The Feminization of the Development Processes in Africa'. Praeger Pub., 1999.

Mikell, Gwendolyne, ed. African Feminism: The Politics of Survival in Sub-Saharan Africa. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Newell, Stephanie, ed. Writing African Women: Gender, Popular Cultures and Literature in West Africa. 1997.

Nnaemeka, Obioma, ed. 'The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity, and Resistance in African Literature'. Routledge, 1997.

Nnaemeka, Obioma, ed. 'Sisterhood, Feminisms, and Power': From Africa to the Diaspora Red Sea Press, 1998.

Scott, Eryn. "Differences and Intersections,Between Feminism in Africa and Feminism in the United States." Sister (1995-96). .

Sheldon, Kathleen, ed. Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa. 1996.

Staudt Kathleen, Jane Parpart and Lynne Riennered. 'Women and the State in Africa'. 1989.

Terborg Penn, Rosalyn and Andrea Benton Rushinged. 'Women in Africa and the African Diaspora'. Howard Univ. Press, 1996.

Basu, Amrita (ed.),The challenge of local feminisms: women's movements in global

Perspective.Boulder [etc.]: Westview Press, 1995.

Hay, Margaret Jean (ed.),Stichter, Sharon (ed.),African women south of the Sahara. New York: Longman, 1995.Mikell, Gwendolyn (ed.), African feminism: the politics of Survival in Sub-Saharan Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

James, Joy (ed.),Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean (ed.),The black feminist reader. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.

Kramarae, Cheris(ed.), Routledge international encyclopedia of women: global women's issues and knowledge: volume 1- 4. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Smith, Bonnie G. (ed.), Global feminisms since 1945.London: Routledge, 2000