LITERARY VIEW ON FEMALE GENDER ISSUES
Over the years, men dominate most traditional societies. These societies believe in the patriarchal myth that men are superior to women. This notion is based on the thinking that men are strong, rational and protective; whereas women are weak, passive, emotional and submissive; and thus should submit to men. This is why Macionis (1987:34) calls patriarchy, the rule of the fathers or a form of social organization in which males dominates females.
According to him, patriarchy is based on the belief that males are innately superior to females and therefore, there have emerged an increasing number of writers, critics and philosophers, who reject and disprove this myth that had existed over the centuries. For example, Butler et al (1980:155) disproved that men are superior to women, but the handwork of the society that promotes these disparities.
In view of the observations raised by these scholars, in examining Ezeigbo’s trilogy, The last of the strong ones, House of symbols and Children of the Eagle, to identify how Igbo patriarchal culture impacts on women negatively and also to show ways in which cultural practices have devalued women in African society.
We are now living in a fast developing and challenging world. Any society that refuses to give up it’s primitive and outdate way of life and embrace cultural innovations engendered by modern civilization is bound to be backward in the comity of nations. Women, especially, should be allowed to discover, develop and maximize their individual potentials in society. To consign women to stereotypical roles is a way of reducing their humanity.
John Stuart Mill (1859) recognizes that the human mind is disquieted whenever its growth and development are impaired. programming people and making them live stereotyped live like machines negate the principles of liberty that encourage creativity which is no doubt, the bane of progress in society.
A careful study of Ezeigbo’s trilogy in the light of Mills observation here shows that the traditional Igbo society is not fair to women. It seen in the novels that the Igbo traditional society adopts attitudes that devalue women and deny their rights. These it does by assigning stereotyped roles to them. These are sex – based roles that women play as wives, mother’s children raisers and home keepers. All these may be classified as domestic roles that confine women within the home.
Economically, too, women are made less privileged. In the farm, they are precluded from planting crops that are classified as men’s. they are only permitted to plant crops that serve the needs in the kitchen. These include, pepper, melon, tomatoes, vegetables and so on. Although leftover on these crop items are sometimes sold to argument home keeping allowances, they do not offer much financial returns. Women are barred from playing certain roles for reasons of their sex, not because of want of skill in performing the tasts.
This is because men are seen to be superior to women. Men are seen as strong and resourceful and women are viewed as weaker vessels, docile and incapable of profound thinking. To this end, women are made to occupy sub ordinate positions and play subservient roles. This myth of men’s superiority to women manifests in every spectrum of life in society. For example in the home, men are family heads; male children are preferred more than females. They are also given preferential treatments at the expenses of their sisters. In socio – political, economic and religious spheres of the society men dominate the scene. Men are seen as mighty trees under whose shadows women must take their stelters. This is the point Tess Onwueme is making when she says that women without a husband is like puddings without wrappers (1980:30)
Nwapa, however, disagrees with this notion. She in WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT, shows that the modern women are no longer ready to wear the shackles that patriarchy has for so long put on them. According to her;
The new generation of women is telling the men that there are different ways of living one’s life fully and fruitfully. They are saying that women have options their live cannot be ruined because of marriage (119).
Both Onwueme and Nwapa agree that Igbo women are oppressed by the patriarchal system. The difference between their views is that whereas Onwueme states the condition in which women had lived overtime in traditional society; Nwapa is talking of the resolve of modern women to break the bands that had been keeping them in bondage.
From the forgoing discussion, the claims of patriarchy on male’s superiority to females are seen to be false, although seeming to be genuine. Although his claim has become so natural and is taken for granted in society; in such a way that we simply assume it is the inevitable consequences of sex itself. It is however, proved otherwise. It is now becoming very clear, is at work here. It, thus, follows from these premises that women are not after all inferior to men, but are made inferior by culture.
They are made inferior and acculturated like their mothers and grandmothers to accept their condition without knowing that they were dehumanized. This is what Ezeigbo (1996:74) means when she says that: from childhood, the female is confronted with her insignificances and her subservient roles in society. That she internalizes these images that condemn her to a life of perpetual dependence and diffidence . In The last of the strong ones, she reflects this idea in a marriage arranged for Onyekozuru by her father. Onyekozuru accepts this arrangement without any objection. In her own worlds, she says:
My father had arranged everything and when I asked my mother what her opinion was about it, she said she had no objection. I was to be a second wife like my beloved mother. It never occurred to me to refuse the offer or to show anxiety of any sort, since the choice was made by my parents (pg43).
This citation reveals the extent to which women are conditioned to accept their lot in society, without being aware that they were oppressed.
In addition, to this, Ezeigbo shows that in Igbo culture, most husbands place their wives at the same level with other household articles. This conforms how most husbands treat their wives like mere articles of use a wife may be acquired or disposed off at the wills of her husband. In The last of he strong ones Iheme treats Chibuka his wife like an article of ignoble value. Looking at this practice that also pervades other cultures, Ezeigbo asserts that in many societies women are more or less decorative accessories that beautify the home (1996:15). This suggests that the devaluation of women is a practice taken for granted in most traditional societies.
In her trilogy, Ezeigbo exposes the heart rendering treatment meted on women in Igbo patriarchal society. She describes the humiliation, which in most cases manifest the helplessness of most women in face of the oppressive tendencies of patriarchy. She shows for instance, that a man could marry as many wives as he deemed necessary. He could also without any feeling of guilt keep a mistress or even another married woman outside his matrimonial home to the consternation of his wives. In the last of the strong ones, most men in Umuga are polygamists. Ezeukwu, Okwara, Onyirioha, Uzugbu, Ezeogu and so on are polygamists. Igwe Anoka of Agbaja is also shown to have a polygamous home Abazu attempts to go into a relationship with Onyekozuru but is rebuffed by her.
Durueke et al (1964:41) offers insight into the reasons why Igbo’s allows polygamous marriages. They show that the need to raise labour forces for the farm and the necessity for sufficient security personal in both the family and community informed the institution of the polygamous custom
Since literature mirrors life in society a good look at some novels set in Igbo culture would show that polygamous men feature prominently in the texts. Examples of these are in Achebe’s Things fall Apart, where Okonkwo, the protagonist and his mentor Nwakibie are shown to be polygamous. In arrow of God, too, Ezeulu has three wives. In Emecheta’s the Joys of motherhood, all the men representing the Ibusa patriarchal society are polygamists – Nwokocha Agbadi, Obi Umunna, Amakokwu and Nnaife, all have more than one wife at the same time. In okpewho’s The victims, Obanua has a polygamy home. In some of these texts, polygamy is shown to be the major cause of disunity in the family. For example, Okpewho shows in The Victims, that Obanua’s family is ruined by the rivalry and other problems polygamy caused.
In her trilogy, Ezeigbo exposes the women’s disenchantment with polygamy, for example in the last of the strong one’s,. Ejimnaka moves out of Alagbogus polygamy home when her husband and his other scheming wives dashed her marital expectations. Other female, writers, who in their works shows that modern women are no longer ready to put up with polygamy, share Ezeigbo’s views on polygamy. For example, in Nwakpa’s Efuru and One is Enough, Mariama Ba’s so long A letter and Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the clouds; this same view is explored.
In these texts, Efuru, Amaka, Aissatou and Ije, leave their husbands to begin a new life in a world of their own. Although Okoye reconcile Ije to Dozie, Nwakpa and Ba do not think it important to do so to their own characters named above. They believe that those women could cope with life without their husbands. By not reconciling the women with their husbands, both Nwakpa and Ba, show that marriage is not after all everything to a woman. What they are saying is that a woman can do without marriage, that there are other areas of life where a woman could find happiness and fulfillment.
Moreover, pushing older women aside for younger wives is a practice that dehumanizes the victims. The practice breeds disharmony and rivalry amongst co-wives in the family. Although some religions permit polygamous manages and encourages multi wisdom in their attempts to follow religious precepts. To reduce polygamy, younger women should resist going into marriage relationships with men that already have wives.
Beside the patriarchal practice already shown above that devalues women, Ezeigbo further reveals that in Igbo culture, a woman has no voice in the choice of who marries her. Fathers decide who marries their daughters. This in The last of the strong one’s is manifest in the marriage arranged for Onyekozuru, by her father. Moreover, in a family where there is no male child, a father could stop any of his daughters from getting married so that she could stay at home and raise sons that perpetuate her fathers lineage and secure his property in The last of the Strong Ones and House of symbols respectively, Aziagba and Amaka, Ako are victims of the patriarchal practice. In children of the Eagle, pa Joel suggests an indefinite postponement of Obioma’s engagement, until Nkemdirim condition is determined in case the young man does not survive the car accident into which he is involved, her sister should remain at home, as the custom prescribes, to raise sons in his fathers name.
Ezigbo, in addition, shows that in Igbo culture, a husband could beat – up his wife when occasion demands it. This is seen in both The Last of the Strong Ones and House of Symbols. In the former text, Iheme is shown to have from time to time struck Chibuka, his wife. In the later novel, Ossai is shown to have beaten-up Eagle woman on two occasions. Wife battering, it should be observed here, is a practice that is detrimental for any society’s progress.
Ezeigbo exposes, furthermore, the prejudicial attitudes displayed against widows and barren women by Igbo patriarchal society. For example, in The Last of the Strong Ones, Chibuka’s husband divorced her because she has no child. In this vein, Ejimnaka, In the novel is prejudiced against, because she has no son. In children of the Eagle, Eagle woman suffers so much psychological trauma, when she is made to go through harsh mourning ritual for her diseased husband.
Studies done by scholars show, in line with Ezeigbos observation that women were devalued in traditional society. For example, in her study of communities in northern Nigeria, Onaku Nwosu reveals that woman in these communities are devalued. She believes that religion is one of the ways by which women are oppressed. According to her, sometimes women accept religious teaching without sifting the precepts to see what negative impacts it might impress upon them. She also shows that owing to ignorance of some parents, young females are sometimes withdrawn from elementary schools and are given out in marriage, at about the age of eleven (1996:29).
In a study of the Mundrucci culture in the Amazon Yolarela and Robert F. Murphy, reveal the condition of women in that culture the study shows that men’s status in the society are higher than that of the women. According to their report in women of the forest: (82-83)
In the Muntrucci culture, the world of women is centered on the village, and within its confines. Their houses closes them off, too whatever the practical considerations, the physical layout and architecture of the munchucci village tell something about their social system. Women are supposed to belong to the home, in private, men are public figures, and their activities are perused under the sonetiny of others. Village life is ideally dominated by men and is under their preview. The women are of course, part of the community, but are stretout of it in a symbolic sense, though hardly in ordinary workday activities.
From the reports presented by Nwosu and Murphy’s, it seems obvious, that in most patriarchal cultures women are oppressed and devalued. Nwose cites religion and ignorance as the factors that enhance the under – valuation of women in Northern Nigerian communities, whereas the Murphy’s shows that in the mundrucci culture, women are shut out of the society, thought not in working activities but men are always “in full glare of the society.
However, In England, Virginia Woolf (1929) used her creative work to denounce women oppression as well as to create awareness on the inhuman conditions of women in her society. In a Room of ones Own, Woolf highlights the inner feeling of these women and the silent revolt that ferment in their minds. According to her.
It is vain to say human beings out to be satisfied with tranquility, they must have action, and they will make it if they cannot find it Millions are condemned to still doom them mire, and millions are in silent revolt against heir lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions ferment in the masses of life that people the earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women fell must as men feel, they need exercises fopr their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do, they suffer from too rigid are strain, too absolute a stagnation… it is thought less to condemn or laugh at than, if they sek to do more or learn more than the custom pronounced necessary for their sex.
In this citation, woof shows that the silent revolts and protestation that goes on in the women’s minds, over the restrain and stagnation imposed upon them by the patriarchal system. She highlights the narrow mindedness and thoughtless of the men folk in her society, who thinks that it is right to confirm more to insignificant positions and subservient roles like making pudding and knitting stockings. She believes that like men, women have faculties that could be exercised and they also need a field for their efforts. In her opinion, women should be given the chance to maximize their potentials, as is the case with their more privileged brothers.
In Africa, female writers of the feminist orientation had begun to emerge since the 1960s. Among these are Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Mariama Ba and Akachi Ezeigbo. In her novels, Efuru and One is Enough, Nwapa exposes the harsh treatment inflicted on women by Patriarchy. Emechate also reveals the helplessness of women and the humiliation they suffer in a male dominated society. These are well exemplified in her novels: Second Class Citizen, the Bride price, The slave Girl and The Joys of the Motherhood.
In second class citizen, francais is batters Ada for proving that she is wise and clever. In The Bride Price, Akunna is ostracized for asking for a voice in the choice of who Maries her. Also in The Joys of Motherhood, Ego is emotionally traumatized for not having a child. She is finally humiliated by Amataokwu her husband, who drives her to hut, reserved for old wives, in order to bring in a new and younger wife; simply because she is childless. Ego Obi is also, in the novel, made by her husband’s family to return to her people because she has no child.
All these agree with what Ezeigbo is saying in her trilogy, she shows that the Igbo society and African society in general, is impatient with and intolerant of barren women.
However, all the above issues mentioned about the fate of women in Africa, are extensively and elaborately discussed with enough illustrations and instances in Chimamanda’s Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Sefi Atta’s Everything Good will come. In Purple Hibiscus, Adichu brought to lure light the travails African women, through the lives of Kambili and Mama (Beatrice). Their experience in the hand of their father and husbands respectively, goes to a large extent to show the traumatic and determined condition of African women. They represent the women in Africa whose rights and privileges are denied from them due to the patriarchal system of the African society. This can be extended also to Sefi Atta’s Everything. Good will come, Enitan and Sherifat and the rest of the women in the novel had one or two experiences form their male counterparts, which is degrading an sort of devalued their women hood.