African Women in Literature

African women writers are just beginning to come into their own, but they are facing many obstacles along the way. This page presents some of those challenges as well as exploring many themes African women writers share.

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Continuing Gender Discrimination--The Journey to Female Evolution

Four African publishers rejected Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions because they believed the book portrayed the lives of black women too negatively. Buchi Emecheta has been disowned by several African male authors and critics for being too bold in her portrayal of woman characters in her novels. These and other African women authors have discussed the problems they face when they try to write about either strong African women characters or female characters that suffer at the hands of men. The African world is still a very male dominated world, and female authors who dare to speak out about the condition of women in Africa have a tough, uphill road ahead of them.

In Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, Makuchi's Your Madness, Not Mine, and Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood, it is the men who first embrace the colonial practices. The women either strongly oppose the infiltration of colonial ideals or meekly follow their men and internalize their opposition. For instance, in Nervous Conditions, Tambu's mother is constantly warning her loved ones about the "fatal attraction of Englishness." Her worry makes her physically sick, yet she is powerless to fight the men in her family who openly embrace that Englishness. Maiguru, on the other hand, follows her husband to England and gains her own education but she sees all too clearly what Tambu's mother can only guess at. Maiguru sees first hand how fatal Englishness can be for those who succumb to its siren song, but she too is powerless to stand up to her husband and make her voice heard. In Makuchi's Your Madness, Not Mine, almost all of the short stories deal with women who are trying to save their families and their cultures from the encroachment of the white man, and all of her stories show the domination of women by the men in their own society.

Why then, if African men are so quick to embrace Western ways, do they seem to have such a problem accepting women as strong and equal to men? I think the answer can be found in the relevance of time. The patriarchal practices of the cultures of Africa have existed for thousands of years, and Western influence has only been present for a little over a century. Europe, too, was once a highly male dominated society--in fact in many ways even the most progressive societies still have a long way to go to achieve true equality between the sexes. Africa is simply experiencing the evolution of the female. Western countries are just slightly further along in this evolution process.

It is important for African women writers to band together to promote themselves and to find male sponsors who are willing to help them with their cause. According to Pauline Ada Uwakweh in her essay "Debunking Patriarchy: The Liberational Quality of Voicing in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions," Dangarembga addresses this need in her character, Lucia:

Lucia transcends the obstacles in her path, her illiteracy and stigma as a "loose woman," to become an educated woman. By helping her pathologically sick sister (Tambu's mother) toward recovery, and in her effort to achieve independence, Lucia demonstrates a firm understanding of the necessity for female-bonding and self-help. Her actions contrast sharply with those of Maiguru who, despite her education lacks a sense of female solidarity" (Uwakweh).

In "Market Scene" Makuchi also address the importance of female bonding. In this short story, two women from completely different cultures find themselves neighbors in a city where their husbands took jobs offered to them by white men. When a recession hits Cameroon, the women find that their common circumstances create a strong bonding agent, and even though they speak different languages, they come to appreciate and support one another.

Like Makuchi and Dangarembga's characters, African female writers must bond together to support, encourage, and validate each other as they continue on their journey to liberate the African woman.

  Notes
  Links

Organization of Women Writers in Africa:Includes a message board for writers to support one another.

Widnet--Statistics--Africa: Women In Development Network: This site provides information on population, health, education, labor and power ofAfrican women.

  Teaching

African Cultures: Women: About.com has an extensive site devoted entirely to African women from all walks of life.

Women Writers and African Literatures: A wealth of information on African women writers.

Literature, African Cultures: A list of several sites to give you more and more information on African women writers.

The British Council has developed a virtual exhibition of African women writers. Take a tour!

  Citations

Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Seattle: Seal Press, 1988.

Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. New York: Braziller, 1979.

Makuchi, Juliana. Your Madness, Not Mine: Stories of Cameroon. Ohio Univ. Press, 1999.

Uwakweh, Pauline Ada. "Debunking Patriarchy: The Liberational Quality of Voicing in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions." Research in African Literatures 26:1 (Spring 1995): 75-84.

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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Page Created by: Vicki Whisler

Last Updated: June 4, 2001