A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 1:  In The Beginning 


Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ is a compelling read despite its length and attests to her talent as a writer. Online I rarely read anything that is more than 500 words. There is so much to read that more than 500 words seems like too much commitment.

She reminds me of Ben Okri, rambling narrative, long sentences like broad brush strokes, creating enchanted scenes full of promise. And like Ben Okri rarely delivering on that promise. Even as I was drawn in I kept on wondering – what is her point?

But who says there has to be one? The journey was fun.

Still, I found her essay problematic on so many levels I decided to write a 6 part series in response to some of the key themes she raises. (I promise no more than 500 words per post.)

My biggest problem is the complete lack of historical context. She spoke about New Nigerian Feminism as if it just sprang up one day like a weed in the finely manicured lawn of ‘woman’s power in Nigeria’.

Nigerian feminists have been defining Nigerian feminism through an extensive body of scholarship since the 80s. They sought to distinguish themselves from Alice Walker’s ‘womanism’ (overly centred on a Black American Experience) and Catherine Acholonu’s ‘motherism’ (excessively focused on a Igbo-Nigerian concept of ‘Mother Is Supreme’).

Helen Chukwuma, Rose Acholonu, Ify Amadiume, Aisha Imam, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie et al acknowledged and deconstructed the many ways in which women in Nigeria exercised power within traditional social structures, the impact of conservative and imperialist values on gender relations and the distortion of women’s historical autonomy.

Many of these feminist scholars insist that traditional ideologies promoted gender complementarity and not gender domination. Most of them argue that historically Nigerian tribal social hierarchies were based on age and class, not gender. Their definitions of African feminism reflect the strong family and community values that I can only best describe as ‘ubuntu’ – we exist because of others.

They contributed their unique ideas and values to global feminism and brought some of the issues important to African feminists to the discourse. Some of their ideas were rejected either in whole or in part because they dismissed homosexuality as ‘anti-family’ and ‘anti-community’ without a critical look at how class, religion and imperialism shaped their views.

Ify Amadiume wrote ‘Male Daughters and Female Husbands’ (1987) in response to suggestions that gender roles in Africa were fixed and set by biology. Gender roles in Igbo-Nigeria were not determined by biology. Recent LGBTQ scholarship provides further historical proof of this.

Chinweize Ibekwe made an entertaining rejoinder in the ‘Anatomy of Female Power’ (1990) arguing men were actually dominated by women. It read like satire because a man wrote it. It exaggerated stereotypes of the controlling black matriarch. I’m still surprised when its quoted as validation of ‘woman’s power in Nigeria’.

Chinweizu himself described it as ‘bottom power’.

“If you want to destroy a woman, call in another woman to efficiently do the work for you.” Yemisi herself writes.

Mbari House in Owerri, Imo State, South East, Nigeria Copyright Cole



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