Feminist Aesthetic In Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn And The Virtuous Woman

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Feminist Aesthetic In Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn And The Virtuous Woman


The study has examined the extent of the marginalization of the African woman in a sexist society which relegates womanhood to gender roles. It has discovered, for instance that the persistent inequality between men and women in the Nigeria society which Alkali works portray, has contributed to the general disempowerment of women. Alkali however, projects womanhood in a positive light she upholds female potentialities which the patriarchal structure has represent. As a feminist, she aims her female character with an intensity of vision and makes role models out of them. This study has further discovered that illiteracy among women is on a slow decline compared to that of men. The education of the female child is a rarity in Northern Nigeria. This has affected noticeably the quality of life that the female child experiences.

Zaynab Alkali has therefore, presents education as the most essential weapon for challenging one aspect of gender inequality which is the educational disempowerment of the woman. Feminist Aesthetic in Zaynab Alkali’s in The Stillborn and The Virtuous Womanhas been discussed and our findings reveal that education plays major role in women emancipation and liberation in a patriarchal society. The study has concluded that there is a need to re-evaluate and re-define gender roles in African society in order to establish mutual complementary between men and women and it recommended that both sexes should be equally trained for the joy of motherhood to be full realized and that education underscores a fundamental necessity for the mental and material liberation of women from male domination.

Table Of Contents

Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title page
  • Certification page
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of content

Chapter One

  • 1.0 Introduction to the Study
  • 1.1 Purpose / Significance
  • 1.2 Scope and Limitation
  • 1.3 Justification of the study
  • 1.4 Methodology
  • 1.5 The Research Questions
  • 1.6 Authorial Background

Chapter Two

  • The Literature Review
  • 2.0 Introduction
  • 2.1 Feminist Theory
  • 2.2 Types of Feminism
  • 2.2.1 Liberal Feminism
  • 2.2.2 Radical Feminism
  • 2.2.3 Marxist Feminism
  • 2.2.4 Socialist Feminism
  • 2.2.5 Cultural Feminism
  • 2.2.6 Black/African Feminism
  • 2.3 A Review of Feminist Aesthetics

Chapter Three

  • 3.0 Introduction
  • 3.1 Plot Construction
  • 3.2 Image of Womanhood
  • 3.3 Feminist Tendencies
  • 3.4 Gender Equity
  • 3.5 Female Modern Characterization
  • 3.6 Language and Style
  • 3.7 The Function of Feminist Aesthetics in Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn

Chapter Four

  • 4.0 Introduction
  • 4.1 Plot Construction
  • 4.2 Image of Womanhood
  • 4.3 Gender Equity
  • 4.4 Motherhood
  • 4.5 Female Modern Characterization
  • 4.6 Language and Style
  • 4.7 The Feminist Aesthetics in Zaynab Alkali’s The Virtuous Woman

Chapter Five

  • Summary, Findings and Conclusion
  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Findings
  • 5.3 Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex, but a woman has to define herself as a woman from start. The masculine is regarded as the very type of humanity and woman is seen as relative to man. This act is what gives birth to a term “Feminism”.

Feminism according to the Oxford Advanced Dictionary is “the movement for recognition of women’s rights (legal, political, social etc.) equal to possess by men”. Although, the term ‘Feminism’ has a history in English linked with womens activism form the late 19th century to the present, it is useful of distinguish feminist ideas or beliefs from feminist political movements for even in periods when they have been no significant in political activism around women’s subordination, individual has been concerned with and the theorized about justice for women.

Feminism is an ideology which is a direct reation to the social and psychological restraints place upon women. Femilism come as a result of an attempt by the women to liberate their feet from traditional claws in African patriarchal society that allow the male see to exercise authority and emphasis male supremacy over the female. This is basically to bring impediments on the path of the women in realization of their potentials.

Joseph (2001:163) also aserts that “in order to be almost inextricaly successful in that chauvinist patriarchal society and authoritarian set-up the society conditions and manipulates the economic and psychological being of a woman”. Through history, women has always struggled against male domination and suppression, be it political, religious, economical or social.

The major reason for the women’s strive and thirst for quality with men can be traced to the changing role for women in contemporary West Africa is not to say that the traditional role of women as keeper of home, mother obedient, mate participation in actions, economics are being eliminated rather, it is to state a fairly obvious sociological fact. Society is not stagnant technologies and science just as the general societal changes have occurred in different part of the countries, so also is the changes in the role of women. The changes in the educational set up include changes in the educational set up include changes attitudes economics, political and society environmental of women which necessarily alter their roles.

Most African female writers seek to address the plight of women in most of their works. The advent of women into an exclusively male world was possible with an increasing sensitivity to inequalities of sexism. This issue forms the base of the African women writers. The women came to awareness that there is the heed to change the image of women from the oppressed and the underdog.

As a result of this fact, gender scholars and feminist writers have continuously lamented the sad plight of women, especially women who are not adequately empowered, in their works. Feminist writers in Europe and America like Virginia Woolf and Elaine Showalter have dwelt almost on the same concerns that dominated the thematic pre-occupation of African Feminist writers like Buchi Emecheta , Flora Nwapa, Ifeoma Okoye, Mariam Ba, Zulu Sofola, Zaynab Alkali and others. The main concern of most of these female is the problem confronting women. The female writer gives manly qualities to their female characters and makes the men to play a secondary role. This trend in female writers makes them feminist.

It is important to say that female writers also gained approval in the society through the assistance of some male writers whose techniques of writing are different from the female form. Showalter (1988:209) posits that “there is any specifically male and female way of writing or approaching test because human imagination is essentially genderless” for examples is critical reading in Sembene Ousmane God’s Bits of Wood (1962) which portray female characters as revolutionary activists. They take up the leadership roles to fight oppression in the society. The women march from Thies to Dakar with no food and water, though many lose their lives in the struggle, those who are left to achieve success at the end of the railway strike. Ngugi Wa also shows the sterling quality of women in the African society. In a Grain of Wheat, women did not only stand by their men, they also participate in various active parts in the struggle for freedom and Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel (1964) would be shallow without paying attention to the influence of the women folk in the strike action in the novel and the roles play by Sadiku and Sidi in the play respectively.

Education therefore is believed by many writers to be the major agent of women’s liberation and emancipation with Western form of education, more women are now empowered to express themselves and assert their right to be heard. Women thereby write to create awareness in the societies. The awareness will lead women to speak out their minds in matters concerning them.

Aesthetics on the other hand means the study of beauty of art. From the consideration of this project topic Feminist Aesthetic in Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman implies those elements and facts the novelist write to glorify womanhood in struggle for the attainment of self liberation and transformation for the beauty and betterment of the societal growth. Through feminism, she identifies the social qualities imposed on feminine roles which place excessive restraints upon women and conclude that neither a woman nor a man can be free unless each rejects fixed roles in all their forms. Her belief is that it is essential that women throughout Africa be allowed and encouraged to fulfil their potential for them to make an effective contribution to nation building.

1.1 Purpose of the Study

This project work is to examine and emphasized the ideological production of ‘Femininity’ as ‘other’ of patriarchy and the need therefore for women to become ‘real’ subjects and to discover their ‘true’ selves. It also examine the theme of female oppression by men as well as the struggle by women for emancipation in Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman where you will see how African women in projected. All her works hoped to promote an awareness of female educational development which would lead to the socio-economic and political empowerment of more African women.

This project work centred on how improvement can be brought women condition in Africa. Zaynab Alkali writes to asses as one of the African writer on feminists and recipes for improving the women condition in Africa.

1.2 Scope of the study

The scope of this project work is focused on Feminist Aesthetic in African Literature with a close study of two novels written by one of the Nigerian leading female writer, Zaynab Alkali. The novels to be studied are The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman. Reference shall however be made to other relevant works which centre on feminism in the African sense of the word.

1.3 Justification of the Study

In Africa culture, women have been subjected to oppression, depression, suppression, rejection, and segregation and unfair and undue victimizations. This is duely because of the insignificant view that the analysis of Zaynab Alkali’s novels The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman will be carried out to identify how she function in instructing the society thereby helping it to develop and also bring out the beauty of woman significance for the betterment of the society. In the process of data collected, the library would be consulted before embarking on this project. There is need to find out what has been written on the subject so as to guide the researcher on the general nature of the work and to add more view to improve or better the on-going project.

However, this study will attempt to pay a critical attention to the awareness created in the above books of Zaynab Alkali so as to bring out the aesthetics of feminism and their contributions to societal growth.

1.4 Methodology

There will be a general study of various texts with aim of finding two that relate to feminism. Having done this, a research will be carried out to pursue works connecting to the element and concept under study of feminism including works previously written on the concept. This will give root of background to the study. Any information gathered will be used to carry out proper work.

The analysis of Zaynab Alkali’s novels The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman will be carried out to identify how they function in instructing the society thereby helping it to develop and also bring out the beauty of woman significant and betterment of the society. In the process of data collection, the library would be consulted before embarking on this project, there is need to find out what has been written on the subject so as to guide the researcher on the general nature of the work and to add more view to improve or better the on-going project.

1.5 The Research Questions

  1. What are the tenets of gender aesthetics?
  2. What are the primary concerns of these two novels of Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman to feminism issue?
  3. What is the significance of women in the society?

1.6 Authorial Background of Zaynab Alkali

Zaynab’s father is said to have come from Dam, a village in Borno State in the Northern part of Nigeria, but he moved to Gongola also in the northern region where Zaynab herself was born and brought up in the early 1960s. She attended Queen’s College and later went for further Degree in English before taking up the post of Principal of Shekaka Girl’s College, Kano in 1976, she was appointed as lecturer at Bayero University, Kano.

Zaynab Alkali’s belongs to the group of African Feminist writer that fervently decry the condition of women. Her published books are The Stillborn (1984), The Virtuous Woman (1986), The Descendent (2003) and other short stories collection Cowbells and other Stories (1997). Her pre-occupation is the plight of women in a society where the only means of survival, physical and emotional is to attain considerable level of education and economic independence.

As a feminist writer, Zaynab writes to deconstruct and at the same time to correct the evils of patriarchy in her society. In this society, women are regarded as mere subordinate to their men counterpart. They are subjugated and oppressed under the guise of male supremacy over female. The way out is what Zaynab Alkali’s trying to depict in her works

Chapter Five

Summary, Findings and Conclusion

5.1 Summary

Critics of feminism, particularly in Africa, have considered feminism as a revolt against the man folk by women; they have abandoned their feminine attributes in order to act as men. This categorization is as depressing as it is untrue feminism is to be understand largely as “an emancipatory movement whose goal is the transformation of gender relationships” various interpretations have been given to female emancipation in this study and some of these have included the explicit and downright rejection by women, of the life created by strong patriarchal norms that define the condition what women are and can do.

This latter interpretation of the concept of emancipation is the type which Zaynab Alkali advocates in her work. It is a form of “a call to women thereby is sensitizing them to their important role in society” and also encouraging them to present a united front against all oppression and opposition of their gender.

Zaynab Alkali’s work further reveal that she treats her female heroines, especially the ones who have been maltreated by their spouses or by their social milieu, with deep sympathy and with great sensitivity. Alkali’s female characters are more prominent positions in her works than counterparts.

Alkali in her novel; The Stillborn expressed that Li and Faku move out of their matrimonial homes, when it become clear to them that polygamy only offers humiliations, heart break and pain. Alkali’s heroines are professional women, educated and highly westernized. But being educated, they are not self centred or self-seeking individuals; rather, they are interested in making positive contribution to the development and growth of their community as we found in the character of Li and Faku.

Alkali in her novel; The Virtuous Woman depicts the plight of a woman from childhood to adulthood in the Islamic dominated area of the Northern Nigeria with an attempt at reforming the social status of woman in the patriarchal society. She presents the value of virtuous woman who tires to be herself against all odds and happenings around her. Nana Ai, the main character in the novel stands firmly even before the men. Her fine sense of morality brings us the real virtuous woman in her.

5.2 Findings

Women at all levels need empowerment. They also need to be psychologically empowered to build their confidence, to assert themselves at work, if they are to rise to top levels in organization. Without doubt, an educated woman would need to learn to strike a balance between her career and her home life. She needs not allow suffering at the expense of the other. However, to strike a meaningful balance between her career and her home, a woman will need the support of her man this would help to empower her in many ways. There is an urgent need to encourage more female (particularly of Northern extraction) to write novels that would help to unshackle women literally and metaphorically from the clutches of cultural inhabitations and religious taboos.

Moreso, Education has been the most important tool in the empowerment of women in all cultures, especially in Africa and African Diaspora. Alkali recommends education as the guaranteed panacea for most of the problems of the female in Northern Nigeria. When men are well educated, their attitudes toward women will change, there would also be a change in gender-stereotyping which for long has held African women in cultural bondage.
This is therefore, a call to both male and female writers to produce literatures that would act as a catalyst in the mission to transform society and to encourage the physical economic and political emancipation and growth of women.

5.3 Conclusion

Alkali successfully highlighted without prejudice what feminism is all about, not only liberation for women but it is also equality of the sexes. In other words, she emphasises the complementarily of the sexes. She has equally presented the Nigerian women in the Northern part of the country, in most liberal situation. Zaynab Alkali in The Stillborn shows that with constructive and functional education, the African woman can overcome the stronghold of the negative forces of traditional disciple, constraint and matrimonial limitations.

The consequences of women education as analysed in the novel is the forgoing of favourable atmosphere of understanding love and affection between men and women in the society. Every aspect of oppression that women pass through in the hands of men is also reflected in the novel. Alkali creates male characters as weaklings and irresponsible individuals.

The works of Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman provide the required dimension to the intellectual understanding of the Feminist Aesthetic in Africa. This is seen through the novelist resolution of the African Women problems in her novels.

Finally, this research has provided another avenue for the understanding and the re-definition of gender role to be characterized by fundamental equality of rights and opportunities between African men and women. The continuous defiance and denigration of women, in addition to their exclusion from decision making processes, will lead to a socio-political backwardness and stagnation and equally create a future based on economic sterility.

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