Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Changing the Canon: Chinua Achebe's Women, the Public Sphere and the Politics of Inclusion In

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Changing the Canon: Chinua Achebe's Women, the Public Sphere and the Politics of Inclusion In

Article excerpt


This paper examines the subjugation of Nigerian women with regard to how their political marginalisation constricts the public sphere, the resource centre of public opinion, which strengthens the ideals of democracy and good governance. The political marginalisation of women in Nigeria is a rectilinear upshot of their low participation in government and politics necessitated by patriarchy. This patriarchal practice has animated the urgency of expanded public sphere as well as feminism, an ideological, aesthetic and cultural movement, steeped in agitating for the rights of women and expanding the frontiers of their participation in the political process. In the political novel Anthills of the Savannah, which is to be considered in this paper, Chinua Achebe has deftly refracted the rise of new Nigerian women, who are generation changers. Beatrice represents Achebe's new women; her portraiture in the novel interrogates postcolonial Nigerian politics of disempowerment, marginalisation, shrunken public sphere and gendered space that occlude good governance.

Keywords: Nigerian politics, women in public sphere, Habermas, Chinua Achebe Introduction

"The dichotomy between the private and the public sphere is central to almost two centuries of feminist writing and political struggle; it is, ultimately, what the feminist movement is about."

--Carole Pateman, Public and Private in Social Life, 1980.

A major motif of postcolonial Nigerian state is the exploitation and marginalisation of women in politics. This system is sustained by the logic of patriarchy, male chauvinism, and gendered political mechanics, which undermine democratisation as well as undercut the expansion of the public sphere, a discursive space for democracy and good governance. In apprehending how the public sphere is narrowed in postcolonial Nigeria, it is crucial to understand the level of access women have in political participation. Political participation is an integral facet of the public sphere, a space for the institutionalisation of alternative views and discourses needed for inclusive politics. It is in this space that women, who are the bulk of the subaltern, in the Spivakean parlance, articulate "their own scripts which envision alternative ways of ordering political, public and private life" (Tripp 2000: 27). In ensuring this, literature is cardinal in the process of deconstructing, rewriting, and reconstructing the political history of Nigerian women. This is so because Nigerian literature mediates between a "bewildering amalgam of socio-political contingencies and economic realities" (Kehinde 2008: 333) that beleaguer Nigeria and the search for an alternative order.

The dimension of power dissonance within Nigeria's socio-political and cultural turf following sexist political paradigm has left a balance sheet of androgynous lore and order, decline in the true worth of women and their indigenous institutions, marginalisation, underdevelopment, and shrunken public sphere. The contention put forward by Kunle Ajayi in his piece "Gender Self-Endangering: The Sexist Issue in Nigerian Politics", underpins sexist politics in Nigeria:

   The Nigerian women have, since independence, been denied
   opportunities of assuming political leadership at all levels of
   governance in the nation's federal set-up. (2007:137)

As a result, feminist writing is informed by the need to break the patriarchal mould which contrives discriminatory political roles to Nigerian women by assigning negative stereotypes to them by men in order to hijack the public sphere. This is so because patriarchy shrinks the confines of the public sphere. Literature is therefore essential in reconfiguring Nigeria's political process; hence, "... there is a direct relationship between literature and social institutions. The principal function of literature is to criticise these institutions and eventually bring about desirable changes in the society" (Maduka 1981:11). …

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