Academic exploration into gender issues in literature and culture has
taken a new dimension. The trends in writings and discourses have been
to observe the female sex at domestic background. The roles played by
the women as mothers, sisters, custodian, home managers, family
maintainers are enumerated through character portrayal in literature.
Also, female writers have gone beyond exposing the inequality among
females and males in the society as they have started exposing the ills
of society thereby correcting them. This essay using the sociologist
framework examines the theories of social problems and gender disparity
as treated in the novels of Ifeoma Okoye.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.1 General Introduction
1.2 Purpose of the Study
1.5 Scope of the Study
2.1 Literature Review
3.1 Gender Ideology in Behind the Clouds (1982)
4.1 Ideology and Social Crises in Men without Ears (1984)
5.1 Summary and Conclusion
1.1 General Introduction
Generally, literature is not developed in a vacuum. Literature is a
simulacrum of reality and every work of art is a product of its social
and cultural milieux. Consequently, every writer is a product of his/her
socio-cultural and historical milieu. The African novel as a medium of
literature is not an exception because the society remains the material
that inspires writers. Every society has gone through one experience or
the other; such experiences are what writers depict in their writings.
The purpose of such depiction is either to appraise or criticize the
trend. Mostly common in Literature is the depiction of the unpleasant
realities of life. It is in this light that a discussion of the works by
Ifeoma Okoye becomes relevant.
The works of emergent writers have ceased to give attention to
patriarchy as the only system that subjects women to oppression.
Consequently, their works show a great deal of consciousness, serious
concern and interest in their political, economic and social
environments. Okoye’s state of social consciousness is depicted in her
novel; Men without Ears (1984) as she identifies the ills in
the society and thus makes an attempt to correct the perceived
socio-economic and political imbalances. The most frustrating of these
societal ills is the issue of money ritual making with human blood and
flesh as exemplified in the novel. Also, women serving as subordinates
to men in their private life of familial setting are common phenomenon
in the African tradition. Abuse of the female gender (especially wives)
has been in existence for centuries and it would continue to exist, if
not curtailed by emergent actions of the female writers. The issue of
childlessness in matrimonial homes has also captured the attention of
female writers. Such writers see these structures and manipulations as
constituting danger to both the female and male members of the society.
As it is often witnessed, wife is always blamed for any discrepancy and
her reaction to this could be detrimental to the sustenance of her
Definition(s) of Terms
Ideology: According to oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Sally
Wehmeier), “Ideology’’ is a seen as “a set of ideas that economic and
political system is based on: Marxist and Capitalist ideology”. In
“An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way
of looking at things as it is in the common sense and several
philosophical tendencies, or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant
class of a society to all members of the society” (a received
consciousness or product of socialization.) (Wikipedia:2010).
The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer change in a given
society, and also to provide adherence to a set of ideas where
conformity already exists. For instance, one of the social issues that
have generated concern in Africa as an ideological concept is that of
prevailing patriarchy in the African society and this needs to be
changed. This is the reason Ifeoma Okoye like other feminists has made
her stand known in a bid to correct the ugly situation. For academic
exercise of this nature, there is a need to define patriarchy. According
to the Merrian Webstar’s Online Dictionary, “Patriarchy” is defined as a
“Social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the
clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the
reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male; control of
disproportionately larger share of power by men.
Now, issues in gender ideology would be discussed.
Gender: It is a sociological term that has more than one valid
definition. In ordinary speech, it is used interchangeably with “sex” to
denote condition of being a male or female. In the social sciences
however, it refers specifically to socially constructed and
institutionalized differences such as gender roles. However, the World
Health Organization (WHO), for example, uses “gender” to refer to “the
socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a
given society considers appropriate for men and women”
Gender is a socio-cultural construction and ideological
determination, a way of representing and defining “others” contingent on
sexual differences. Gender is therefore, at the core of power relations
and social representation in the society such that it becomes
imperative in literary discourse. This differentiates gender from sex.
(Wikipedia:2010). As Lizbeth Goodman et al (1996:vii) observe, “Gender
refers to ways of seeing and representing people and situations based on
sex differences while sex “is a biological category: female and male”.
(Wikipedia:2010). This perspective is corroborated by Sara Mills
(1989:242) who also sees gender as “a socially constructed masculine or
feminine as opposed to the biologically determined difference of sex.
Such contours of difference, to Homi Bhaibha (1995:32) are “agonistic”
but also have two potentials of “shifting and splitting”.
The major components of gender are masculinity and femininity.
According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (Sally Wehmeier),
Masculinity is defined as “the quality of being masculine” while
femininity is also defined as “the fact of being a woman; the qualities
that are considered to be typical of women”. The feeling of belonging to
a gender, masculine or feminine, has different meanings: First, a
biological meaning that refers to primary and secondary sexual
characteristics; Second, a sociological meaning that has to do with real
and symbolic roles that society attributed to men and women, and
finally, psychological meaning that consider the ensemble of traits
belonging to either gender. This has to do with individual mind as they
consider the differences between man and woman in any society with their
minds. Ifeoma Okoye has presented the woman as being psychologically
disturbed when they are attacked by childlessness and this makes them
suffer the defeat of being the second to their husband. This is how Ije
feels herself to Dozie in Behind the Clouds (1982).
According to Lorber (1994:30), gender ideology is defined as “the
justification of gender statuses, particularly, their differential
evaluation. Kroska defines gender ideology as “the attitudes regarding
the appropriate roles, rights, and responsibilities of women and men in
society”. Gender ideology about the family, in the African society is
seen for example, as men fulfill their family roles through
instrumental, breadwinning activities and women fulfill their roles
through nurturing, homemaking and parenting activities. It also refers
to attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights, and
responsibilities of men and women in the society. (Amy Kroska:2007).
Gender ideology is a much debated and pressed subject in literature.
Globally, the role of gender plays out as such that the male figure acts
as the sole provider, while also conducting himself as the head of the
household, making major decisions that are only allotted to the paternal
figure while female figure acts as maintainer of the household. The
domestic responsibilities constitute ideology in the sense that it is
the expectation of the African society that females should be
responsible for domestic work as ideology itself is a set of ideas that
constitute someone’s goals, expectations and actions.
The roles of female in African society are not the same if compared
with that of male. This ideology has been the major dominants in the
works of early African writers. For instance, in Things Fall Apart (1986), Chinua Achebe made this remark:
You have not eaten for two days, said his daughter Ezinma when she
brought the food to him. ‘So you must finish this.’ She sat down and
stretched her legs in front of her. Okonkwo ate the food absentmindedly.
‘She should have been a boy, he thought as he looked at his
For the fact that that Okonkwo appreciates Ezinma’s concern for his
well being yet he still considers the fact that she is a female who is
only in charge of domestic work while Nwoye, his son is not portrayed in
the novel, as having anything to do with domestic works.
The universal roles of men and women usually remain constant,
however, as time progressed and changed, so did gender ideology among
genres of literature. Gradually, as the colonial period diminished,
women began to have a voice as characters and as authors. Though not
very popular in American literature, the struggles, hardships and
concerns of women began to show up. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a renowned
Romantic author, generally used male characters to execute his ideal on
“human nature about sin and guilt, and about the peoples of the
intellect and the pleasures of the heart” (Hawthorne:682).
Presently in Africa, the realities of issues that affect the gender
are being promoted by many authors in order to mobilize and sensitize
females against the existing coded cultural dictates and policies that
hinder the welfare of female. Measures that relegate the female to the
background on a second class cadre are now being discussed and
strategies for protecting female rights and their fair treatment at all
level of existence, (social, domestic, national, economic and political
affairs) are now being articulated and accentuated as contributory seeds
of change for gender inequality. This has gone a long way among the
elites and educated ones in Nigeria but yielded low result among the
vast majority of people especially, the illiterates.
Feminism is a form of criticism which is the struggle for women
emancipation. “Feminism is a worldwide ideological and political
movement directed at changing the existing power relations between men
and women in a patriarchal society” (Joseph, 2003:161). Men in such
society hide under the guise of male supremacy to subjugate women.
Feminism can also be defined as ideology of social commitment to the
struggle for female liberation in the society. It started with women
movements in the 1960 in Nigeria with exhibitions to depict the skills
of women in various disciplines. The examples of women movements are
Women Liberation Movements in Nigeria and Black feminism, lesbianism in
America around 1970.
History of Feminism
Feminism started with the idea that human rights should be given to
women. This idea was put forward by some politically committed activists
in the 18th and 19th centuries such as Mary Wollstonecraft and John
Stuart Mill. Later, feminists in the early 20th century also claimed
that women should be allowed to vote and there were many protests. These
women were called suffragettes. This is because they were fighting for
universal suffrage which means everybody is eligible to vote. The
suffragettes staged many protests for their rights. Some women even
committed suicide to show how wrong it was that they could not take part
in politics. After women received the vote, feminism worked to make all
societies more equal for women.
Many nineteenth-century American feminists like Elizabeth Cady
Starton and Susan B. Anthony, were the first activists in the struggle
for the abolition of slavery. In the eighteenth century, there were the
women’s organizations that organized exhibitions to portray the skills
of women in the various industries, arts, professions etc. An example of
various exhibitions is the first World Colombia Exhibition in Chicago
in May 1983. It was headed by Bertha K. Palmer. The exhibition advocated
for the new women who have the ability to contest with the man in all
ramifications of life. Many more organizations sprang up after the
successful outing in Chicago.
However, the emergence of organizations (women) brought an end to the
first wave of feminism, which centered on debates about material,
women’s individual and collective socio-political interests and self
determinations. Later, feminism moved from mere organizations and was
introduced into writings and readings by female artists in the early
19th century. The early feminine writers agitated for the rights of
women to man’s homage, respect and gratitude for her services to him and
demand that fidelity in marriage should be considered to be as
important for the husband and the wife.
Social Crises/Social Problems
According to oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the word ‘social’
in this context is described as “connected with society and how it is
organized” for instance, we have social problems, issues and reforms.
Also, the same dictionary defines ‘crises’ as “a time of great danger,
difficulty or confusion when problems must be solved or important
decision must be made”. It can also be said to be a time when a problem,
a bad situation or an illness is at its worst point. In view of the
above, social crises are the crises that have to do with society and how
that society is organized and this can be linked with social problems.
According to Frank R, (1980:1), he observes that “social problems are
those conditions that have a negative impact on individual and social
well being, as identified by sociological analysis of the organization
and functioning of the society”. He also defines social problems as
“conditions that decision makers view as undesirable and decide can be
ameliorated by social actions”. In Nigeria, excessive urge for material
things which has made many people to be corrupt, sexual harassment,
hooliganism and racial discrimination are some of the social problems we
1.2 Purpose of the Study
Drawing from Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds (1982) and Men without Ears (1984),
the main purpose of this study will be to examine the cause of social
problem in the society, gender disparity as well as manifestations of
feminism in modern African literature. This becomes pertinent because
there is problem of this disparity especially as it affects matrimonial
home and the society at large. This study will also consider the effects
of social crises on the society at large and as well, proffer solutions
on how to redeem the image of women from the abyss of despair.
So many people have written on gender related issues, but our choice of Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds (1982) and Men Without Ears (1984)
is informed by the fact that the works focus on gender issues with
special attention on moral decadence. These novels are chosen because
they are typical examples of the concept of African Feminism among
different Nigerian societies.
With the publication of Behind the Clouds (1982), Okoye has
since published several other short stories in order to register her
name in Africa and indeed global literacy circles. However, she has
received relatively little critical attention. This is not because her
works are socially irrelevant but probably because critics are still
largely fascinated with writers that they consider to be popular. But
two years later when she published Men without Ears 1984,
things changed for better as the novel earned her the 1st Association of
Nigerian Authors literacy prize for the best novel of that year.
This work will make use of Feminist–Marxist method. Since the novels
show the experiences of males and females in the African society, hence,
there is the need to use the chosen approaches. Marxism theory was
propounded by a German, Karl Henrick Marx. It sees literary texts as
product of an ideology and social class. Thereafter, a literary work is
examined from a socio-economic perspective. Thus, a Marxist critic is
concerned with the cultural, economic and political values that a text
promotes. While Feminist criticism is a movement to interpret or
re-interpret women’s experience as depicted in literature. Hence, a
feminist reading of a text asks important questions about the roles of
1.5 Scope of the Study
In order to get our line of thought straight vis-à-vis our concern
and pre-occupation in this work, there is the need for us to state in
clear terms, where our work will begin and where it will end. Going by
the title of our study, we will examine the issue of gender ideology,
social crises on the one hand and the manifestation of feminism as
raised and presented by Ifeoma Okoye on the other hand. For this to be
done, we will make an attempt to examine the words gender ideology,
social crises and later, we will embark on examination of the concept of
feminism as well as its relevance to literature.
Therefore, our analysis, even though is mainly restricted to Ifeoma
Okoye’s chosen novels; it will include cursory references to other
critical and artistic endeavours that are relevant to our study. On
social crises and gender ideology, our study will concentrate on social
system like family unit, government establishments etc. It is from this
major system that we will x-ray the manifestations of feminism in
literature and at the end we will suggest the solutions and as well, we
would give comments on the problems identified.