Empowered or Victimized? Addressed or Ignored?
The battle for women’s liberation crosses cultures and often makes a very good focus by which an outsider might scrutinize a society. While pointing out similarities may give a sense of solidarity, it is important to note that, the battle for women’s liberation changes forms in different contexts: “whereas Western feminists discuss the relative importance of feminist versus class emancipation, the African discussion is between feminist emancipation versus the fight against neo-colonialism, particularly in its cultural aspect” (Peterson 251-2). Ngugi’s said that an “ideological starting point” for dealing with post-colonial issues is women’s liberation: “No cultural liberation without women’s liberation” (Peterson 254). Rooted in the oppression of imperialism, the men in a post-colonial society often take out their need for power and validity by oppressing and exploiting women in their native culture. In colonial societies, women were often raised in status above their male counterparts in order to further their emasculation. As a result, men tried to reassert themselves by denigrating women and their roles in and contributions to society. These same women must now search for ways to assert themselves and overcome their less than enviable situations.
One way to follow the battle to find an identity in a post-colonial society and to witness changes in the mentality of a culture is to look at a society’s literature. In Petals of Blood, privileged Ngugi addresses the role women play in the workplace; he also remedies some oversights found in other post-colonial literature dealing namely with women’s place in society and women as valid literary figures. Last, while Ngugi, a male post-colonial writer, identifies and deals with some issues facing women, he still overlooks some obvious issues in his own treatment of his female characters, particularly Wanja. Ngugi moralizes and in doing so undermines many of the forward steps he makes.
Unfortunately, male writers, including Ngugi, overlook the situation of the women in their culture. Part of this has to do with the fact that many male authors focus on cultural empowerment rather than women’s empowerment. These male authors are often from a privileged class and have advanced educations. Accordingly, they may overlook the importance of addressing women’s empowerment issues because they may not have witnessed frequent discrimination. Ngugi is both revered and criticized for his treatment of women, but before passing judgment, we need to closely examine these arguments keeping the text in mind. At the crux of these arguments lies the fact that Ngugi, unlike other males, uses a main character, Wanja, to depict some of the problems women face, obstacles women overcome, and the value of women in general. Ultimately, like almost any post-colonial author, his depiction is colored by his inevitable moral judgment.
After taking into account that men are...