Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The African Womanist Vision in Vera's Works

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The African Womanist Vision in Vera's Works

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

In Recreating Ourselves: African Women and Critical Transformation (1991), Ogundipe-Leslie believes that the two main responsibilities of the African female writer are first, to tell about being a woman and secondly, to describe reality from an African woman's view and perspective. Given the background of oppression and silencing that women have suffered both in the real and the literary world, Vera takes up Ogundipe's challenge as her works seem inspired to "break the silence" that women have been subjected to in the African context. Her writings straddle the colonial and postindependent era in Zimbabwe's history, depicting the plight of the Zimbabwean woman in both these eras as she struggles against oppression both locally and globally. In addition to capturing national history, Vera, in her novels, sets out to explore the black woman's experiences by focusing on themes of gender, politics and identity within a colonial paradigm.

One cannot doubt Vera's feministic vision as her writings prove that she is a deeply committed female writer. The literary awards she has received for her works acknowledge her as a prominent and accomplished writer, both locally and internationally. What this writer wants to determine, however, is the brand/s of feminism that Vera propagates given the feministic theoretical framework and discourse that are in existence. Therefore, in order to locate her position, it is pertinent to highlight some of the brands of black feminism that exist.

Black feminism is about the unique form of oppression that black women suffer. It is an ideology concerned with problems of identity in which race and sexuality are interlocking systems of oppression as Vera highlights in Without a Name. Black feminists' beliefs can best be summed up by Lauretis, who correctly states that "[t]he female subject is a site of differences, differences that are not only racial, economic or cultural but all of these together, and often at odds with one another ... these differences cannot then be collapsed into a fixed identity, a sameness of all women as Woman, or a representation of Feminism as a coherent available image" (McWilliams 1995: 103).

The fact, however, that even in black women themselves there is a "site of differences" raises the question as to whether black feminism in general adequately addresses the plight of the African woman in particular. Lazarus (1990) thinks not. He speaks of African women as being "differently political" to their other black female counterparts because of the twin scourge of colonialism and sexism as experienced in the context of traditional African culture. Many female African writers and critics within contemporary literary tradition share Lazarus's view and have, therefore, felt the need to create their own niche and come up with their own brand of feminism. They believe in African women having a hoe of their own, after Virginia Roof's "A Room of One's Own" (1929). Although African women are not homogeneous either, they are aiming to develop an indigenous brand of feminism, an African feminism that is divorced from the fixed gaze of "western eyes". This is because female authorship is a process of authorising women to describe reality and themselves and is clearly connected to the important questions of voice, agency, identity and perspective. It is only the African woman who can convincingly explore her historical and cultural reality. African women scholars are, therefore, determined to breathe into feminist theory and practice the specificity of their culture and location in the global economy.

In her book The Dynamics of African Feminism (2002), Arndt uses the metaphor of the chameleon to explain the need for an African brand of feminism. Just as the chameleon changes colour to fit in with all the different environments it encounters, so too should feminism be named according to specificity and location. One may ask, what's in a name, but the power to name represents an assertion of freedom. …

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