Unraveling gender in Mariama Ba’s word

By Gracious Madondo

SOCIETY today has developed and shown adoration and a great deal of concern on the emotive issues of gender equality particularly on problems arising from polygamous marriages and child marriages.         

Scholarship across Africa has taken up the initiative of having a deeper appreciation of gender issues as well as educating communities on issues to do with the livelihoods of women in the marriage institute and rights of women across the continent.

It must be noted however that gender and feminist approach to the study of gender issues have always recognised male dominance upon women in society through the patriarchal culture as a major barrier in realising gender equality between men and women.

In Africa alone, novels, short stories, autobiographies, articles and speeches have been written in an attempt to encourage gender activism across the continent.

Much success has been achieved by the feminist literary movement but two literary texts written by Senegalese novelist Mariama Ba are arguably the best there is on the continent.

Years before Clenora Hudson Weems brought the Africana Womanist Theory which focuses on treating women issues from an African perspective; Mariama Ba had long shed on the issues. Ba’s novels “Scarlet Song” and “So Long a Letter” expose how women suffer at the plight of other women, who perpetrate chauvinistic oppressive tendencies upon fellow women.

Mariama Ba (1929 – 1981) is a Senegalese author and feminist born in Dakar. Ba was raised as a Muslim by her grandparents and she struggled to acquire an education because her parents did not believe in educating a girl.

Mariama Ba later married a Senegalese politician but divorced leaving her in the care of their nine children whom she supported working as a lecturer. It is her single-parenthood that most critics attribute in inspiring her to craft novels with a feminist slant.

Besides novels, the Senegalese author also penned literary works that include the seminal “The Political Function of African Written Literatures” (1981).

In the two novels, “So Long a Letter” and “Scarlet Song” polygamy is depicted as the number one chauvinistic tendency that oppresses women. Ba criticizes how fellow women employ this cultural practice fully aware of its implications.

“In Scarlet Song”, Yaye Khady encourages her son to marry a second wife as a reaction to her son’s interracial first marriage with the Frenchwoman Mireille.

As Ba writes, “Finally women generally in the marriage set up act to please the men, be such men husband or son, and in such priority the woman aggrieve themselves”

Mariama Ba apportions blame to women who appropriate certain cultural practices that undermine one of their own. 

What Mariama Ba’s novels even more appraisable is the fact that she does not turn a blind eye on men and completely erase them in the lives of women as some radical feminist want to do. Ba pays enough homage to the concept of Ubuntu in her work, a philosophy which embraces the peaceful co-existence as she dedicates the book, “To all women and men of good will”

Issues such as child marriages perpetuated by the girls’ aunts or mothers are not left untouched and Ba exposes this practice by exposing the true catalyst who is the female member of family and society.

As depicted in “So Long a Letter” Aunty Nabou does not believe in educating the girl child and in turn gives away Young Nabou to Madow, Aissatou’s ex-husband as a token of appreciation of how he had taken care of her. This also highlights how women take the central role in creating the docile wife.

Mariama Ba’s texts therefore stand to challenge women’s perception of fellow women and unravel how patriarchal practices undermine gender equality.

August 2017
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