Themes of masculinity in african literature.
Recent discussions in literature have been based on the roles of the African man in the family and the cultural world of Africa.
These roles in the African society, unlike before, are now being portrayed and transformed, especially by African female writers, to explicitly comprehend the consistencies and inconsistencies that exist in society today.
Talks about masculinity in African literature arise to explicate the crisis of masculinity and the relationship it has had with feminism and related social theories. In this article today, we’ll be looking at masculinity in Africa.
For us to truly understand this idea, our focus shall be on some African literature, such as the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Buchi Emecheta, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and so on.
The concept of "masculinity" is rather hard to define as "male identities are the result of social processes of gender construction” (Mutunda, 2009). Masculinity is not restricted to a particular society. Therefore, it is safe to say that there are different masculinities, based on temporal effects and the social structures of every community.
Many scholars believe there is no typical man, or in this sense, “African man”, and as a result, no singular type of masculinity. This abstraction can be said to be variable, fluid or somewhat multifarious.
According to Lindsay and Miescher (2003), the term “masculinity” is used (could be used) to refer to a cluster of norms, values and behavioral patterns expressing explicit and implicit expectations of how men should act and represent themselves to others. The role of men, the actions they perform in society are some of the things that the term “masculinity” is used to denote.
Usually, in Africa, the roles of men are linked to the dominance they retain in both the family and the entire society at large. Men are known to be heads of the house and masters of society.
The female gender is placed just below the men and viewed as the helpers or caretakers of the home. They are generally expected to assist the husband and take care of the home and the children.
A perfect depiction of this variant of masculinities is the character of Eugene in Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus. Eugene is depicted as a male figure who dominates and controls his family. He is presented as the breadwinner of the family as well as the family controller who cannot and shouldn’t ever be questioned.
In Africa, there are also different masculinities and their existence is directly linked to the colonial dominations which have transformed the existing structures and practices of the African society (Hodgson, 1999), especially through slavery and the degradation of black men.
Slavery and apartheid are two factors that have significantly affected the roles of men in African society (Mutunda, 2009). This depiction is present in The Old Man and The Medal, a book in which human degradation and subordination are used to lessen the established role of the African man.
The transition from childhood to manhood is another essential feature to be noted in the discussions about African masculinities. The initiation practices, such as circumcision, carried out in many African societies, “provides male children with a passage from boyhood to manhood” (Mutunda, 2009).
During such practices, not only is the manhood status is reached but certain lessons considered “masculine” are also taught to the boys during this initiation process.
This ultimately affects the expectations society holds for the male child as well as the expectations they also have of themselves. Ngugi’s The African Child was able to represent this practice well for the full understanding of the reader.
Through the different representations of the masculinities in the different African literatures, we can understand that there are different masculinities usually unique to particular settings and backgrounds.
We can see an entirely different representation of the male gender in Chimamanda’s Americanah. The ceiling is presented to the readers as the perfect African man who understands and accepts positions no matter the condition surrounding it.
Masculinity in A Woman in Her Prime is depicted differently than what is usually common in typical African society. The woman (Pokuwa), here, is said to possess socially established masculine qualities of control over the family and society.
The fictional works of African writers make use of different attributes such as fearlessness, virility, self-reliance, hegemony and dominance to represent the characters or role of men in the African society. Buchi Emecheta’s works are typical examples of some of the text with these representations.
In a bid to reflect the roles of the African man, the role of the female gender is also presented, and sometimes elevated, by these writers. There’s usually a covert juxtaposition of the features of masculinities with the different theories of feminism.
Cultures and practices are also portrayed to effect a positive turn in the organization of the typical patriarchal and segregated African society. Men are recognized that men as “victims who need to be liberated from patriarchal expectations within their societies” (Mutunda, 2009).
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