Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Fallacy of a Single Story: An Africa of Many Cultures

          Both my roommate and an acquaintance of mine are taking a course on women in modern Africa and they had to write a paper on gender roles.  An unfortunate commonality between these people was that they spoke about Africa as a single entity of a single story, and in that story women mistreated and over looked by a male dominated society.  This story is very much true for South Africa, which records high numbers abuse cases from women, and Congolese, which historically abused women in many ways including poisoning them to test if they were witches.  These cases are unacceptable, though you need to still understand the reasoning behind these events, but in other parts of Africa, especially Igboland, respect women, especially in the modern day.  The reason for these generalizations, which are many times not the literature's fault itself, is because people want to simplify Africa down to a single entity, a single story, and in this take away African identity.  One of the books they read was Things Fall Apart and they made the assumption that because Okonkwo was harsh in his treatment of some of his wives, that Igbo culture looks down upon women.  In reality, I believe that this conclusion can only be made under the assumption that Okonkwo is the true hero and avatar of Igbo culture, which is not quite correct.  Okonkwo is the mans man of the Igbo culture, but he is only the fully masculine representation of the Igbo culture, but Igbo is just as feminine culturally.  The reason Okonkwo refuses to embody both the feminine and masculine parts of the culture is because his father fully embodied femininity in, many times, the worst of ways.  By reading this book in a face value way, you see the protagonist as the hero and assume that his mistreatment is reality, whereas if you would read more deeply you would realize that by being culturally immobile and overly masculine in terrible ways is what led to Okonkwo being no more than a "reasonable paragraph" in the history of the Igbo.  Furthermore, of all the books I have read, they all have strong female leads and are from all over Africa.  This becomes a lesson in writing a single story for a huge and multicultural area can lead to misconceptions on a global scale, thus leading to stereotyping and appropriation of their cultures therein.

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