The Private/public Space Dichotomy: An Africana Womanist Analysis of the Gendering of Space and Power

By Muwati, Itai; Gambahaya, Zifikile | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The Private/public Space Dichotomy: An Africana Womanist Analysis of the Gendering of Space and Power


Muwati, Itai, Gambahaya, Zifikile, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Introduction

"[In Europe and America] The man is intended for the world, woman for the home; man's strength is in the head, woman's in the heart; the man's function is to protect, woman's to soothe and comfort; men must work, and women must weep" (Hollis in Sofola, 1998, p. 53).

This submission furnishes a crucial hint on the distorting and limiting western gender perspectives especially when applied to Africa, something that logically amplifies the urgency for Africana women to exercise their right to self-name and self-define. Though this article makes no claims of being in the vanguard, it nonetheless carries out a vital Africana Womanist exegesis of the dichotomized gendering of space into private female and public male in order to subvert its putative universality. It marshalls the contention that this dichotomized perception of space, which, regrettably, is erroneously paraded as universal verisimilitude, provides the dynamics for the continued marginalization of the female principle as well as the obliteration of her agency, visibility and beingness. Dichotomization, which is a key part of the European epistemology, operates in such a manner that "realities are split, then evaluated, so that one part is 'better', which mandates its controlling function" (Ani, 1994, p. 33). Part of the avalanche of feminist charges against patriarchy have been aimed at this invidious reality which consistently associates the public space (both literally and metaphorically) with dominant masculinities and, therefore, with power. From a western feminist vantage point, the private space is identified with femininities and, therefore, with powerlessness and worthlessness. A case worth of study is the contemptuous manner in which Joe Starks, in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1969), refuses Janie the opportunity to speak in public, citing the reason that her place is in the home:

Thank yuh fuh yo'compliments, but mah wife don't know nothin' 'bout no speech-makin'/Ah never married her for nothin' lak dat. She's uh woman and her place is in de home. (cited in Hudson-Weems, 1989, p. 196)

Drawing corroborative evidence from Shona and Ndebele people's lived and livable experiences, the article subverts this artificial gendering of space through these invidious dichotomies by demonstrating that African women's performance space transcends the limitations imposed by a narrowly contoured private/public space dichotomy. The article rides on Hudson-Weems' (2004, p. 21) astute observation that,

   the dominant culture has elected to name and
   define Africana women outside of their cultural and
   historical context via the superimposition of an alien
   construct--Eurocentrism/feminism. In essence, the
   dominant culture has held the position of identifying
   who we are and how we fit into the scheme of things
   with little regard for what we ourselves perceive as
   our authentic reality and identity.

In fact, the 18 descriptors of Hudson-Weems' Africana Womanist paradigm provide us with a suitable stanchion for a liberated understanding of the identity, location and value of Africana women in their communities. Historically and currently, the Africana womanist is a self-namer, self-definer, family-centered, genuine in sisterhood, strong, in concert with male in struggle, authentic, whole, flexible role player, spiritual, respected, recognized, male compatible, respectful of elders, adaptable, mothering and nurturing (Hudson-Weems, 1993 & 2004). These 18 descriptors are reflective of the Africana woman's agency and the vastness of her performance space while underlining her non-negotiable place in the "collective struggle for the entire family in its overall struggle for liberation survival, thereby resolving the question of her place in [life]" (Hudson-Weems, 1993, p. 44). This is a crucial aspect which is also an expression of the rich legacy of African womanhood that Hudson-Weems consistently expresses in her works. …

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