Gender Discourse In The Nigerian Society (A Case Study Of The Female Gender In Tess Onwuemes Go Tell It To Women)

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Gender Discourse In The Nigerian Society (A Case Study Of The Female Gender In Tess Onwuemes Go Tell It To Women)


Genderism, an apt neologism for gender equilibrium in literary discourse and creativity is a sequel to feminism following the emergence of gender studies in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Since 1975 – declared by the United Nations as the international women’s year, there has been an uprising in the global ferment of female activism which through all fields of human endeavour, from the art of politics to the politics of arts. Feminism was initially founded on the shifty grounds of a superfluous doctrine tagged women’s liberation before being firmly anchored on the ideology of women empowerment and self – determination in all spheres of life.

Harold smith (1990: 1-4), feminism as an ideology attempts to improve the status of women. So this research work talks of feminism, the level at which this struggle has been imbibed into our culture and the areas untouched. We look forward to explore feminism as in the African content using most of less on women’s plays as a minor into the society.

Chapter One


Background of Study

All through the years and for several millennia, from the Stone Age to the modern age – the struggle for dominance and superiority between the two known (exes female and the male gender) has never abated. Patriarchy – adjudged and described by feminists as the conscious minimization and subjugation of the women folks, deploying ideologies, cultural and metaphysic and ever religion of all kinds form western Christianity, Islamism, Buddhism and African traditionalism have spoken with one voice in favour of a male dominated world.

Ever since, especially through the emergence of democracy, the struggle by women to negotiate their vice into mainstream of participation in cultural, economical social and vocational and even political aspect of the society has been a permanent feature in the world’s development.

As such, feminine dislocation has become a discourse in our current past-colonial society. This arose out of the tension and challenges in the nineties that characterized feminist works in many parts of the world. It had its origin in experimental theatre groups and vari0ohjs women’s movements of the sixties and seventies and even through the eighties.

These issues concerning women have generated arguments amongst the critics with shares minds to investigate as forte (1996:19) observed that “the structure of realism and narrative structures which a re implicated in religious to patriarchal ideology”

Purpose and Significance of Study

The burden of this research work is to take a cursory view of the theoretical and ideological propositions majority of the female gender in the contemporary Nigerian democratic society in order to establish the trend of female participation in the political and development processes of the society. The exemplification will be derived from the experiences and the responses of the Nigerian literary producers to gender imbalances in the society.

We majorly make use of Tess Onuwenes’s Go tell it to Women (1991). In this play we see how cultural practices such as female marginalization, forced marriages, early marriages. Forced docility etc has been retrogressive to the feminine gender in Nigeria and that have also situated women as mere shadows of themselves in their immediate society.

We also want to bring to light cultural practices in Nigeria that advocate’s docility, intelligence or only allowed to give supportive roles to men. Our pole Wright has created women in their individual capacity to speak in their own voice of their plights as women in the Nigerian society.

This study therefore looks forward to trying to pose the already existing problems and prefer solutions to help re-evaluate these rights in the Nigerian society which are slow to progress.

Methodology / Research Approach.

Our methodology is the concept of feminism with emphasis on its Africa faction, “Womanism” which is a spectra of female empowerment and a typical African feminist approach.

Feminism and womanism which are at once mutually inclusive and exclusive on a strangely paradoxical configuration while the former is Eurocentric and more radical in nature the latter is essentially afrocentic and more composing. For the African woman female empowerment is meant to be conscientiously pursued within the broad context of womanly dignity and social responsibility. Radical feminism on the other hand threatens to replace male hegemony with female domination which runs contrary to the African socio political experience.

The primary material is the play in focus: Go tell it to women and relevant references from the texts by other written used will be examined briefly in the course of this research. Our secondary materials are sources from libraries, intent material and extensive consultations to othr critical writings.

Scope and Limitation of Study.

The scope of this study with a view to admonish the excesses and maltreat melted out on women by the particular society in the post colonial Nigerian society. This study is extensively within the south west geopolitical zone (the movement setting in Go Tell it to women; Lagos) in this study we limit our research to only feminism as an ideology and woman as revealed in the African context with the literary work of a feminist; however occasional references may be made to other works made to other relevant works which centre on feminism to place the study in its proper perspective.

Material sources are Tess Onuwene’s Go tell it women and other critical works that shed more light of feminism.

In this chapter, we have been able to do certain important things like; 1) we have been able to introduce female empowerment as a source of female liberation in the Nigerian society. We also had a bit of insight on what an average Nigerian woman suffers in her immediate society. We have also been able to know the author of the play text that will be used as we proceed in this research work as Tess Onwueme who is a feminist .

In all we have been able to understand the level of gender is course in our society and the plan to understand the efforts of fight backward also the responses of some literacy authors.

The next chapter goes into works that are feminist oriented and also into the history of feminism.

Author’s Background.

Osonye Tess Onuweme was born on September 8, 1955. she is a Nigerian playwright, scholar and a poet.

She was born in present day Delta state to the family of chief Akaeke and Maria Eziash. She attended Mary mount secondary school. After her secondary school education, she got married and bore five (5) children . During that time, she attended University of Ife for Bachelor and Masters Degree in Education. She got her Phd in the University of Benin studying African drama.

She is also a professor of cultural diversity and English language at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire in 1985. She won the d prize from the association of Nigerian authors


Onwueme’s rise to fame came from her award winning play “Desert Enroaches” 1985.

In her plays the portrayal of power and powerlessness in her female characters reveals an attempt to striking a balance between both sexes.

Among Tess Onuweme’s plays are ; (1 ‘A hen too soon (1984), 2) ‘The broken calabash’ (1985) 3) ‘Ban empty barn’ (1986), 4) ‘The artist homecoming’ (1986), 5) ‘Cattle Egret versus Nana’ (crime patrol unit) 1986 6) ‘Mirror for campus’ (1986, 7) ‘The reign of wazobia’ (1988) ‘Legacies’ (1986), 9) ‘Go tell it to women’ (1992), 10) ‘Shakara; the dance hall queen’ (2000), 11) ‘Then she said it’ (2000) and 12) ‘The missing face’ (2000).

The plays published between 1984 and 2000 relay feminist and womanist concerns in drama using the African sixtieth and the black Diaspora as crucial backgrounds in her book.

Tess Onwueme may be seen to have achieved some degree of success in regard of creating strong and positive female characters, which is worthy of commendation. Her plays propel ideologies that favour female autonomy and self actualization. She fights for the cause of both modern and traditional women. She is well known for works that promotes social justice. She is chronologically the second important playwright in Nigeria the first being Zulu Sofola. She has succeeded in being the voice of many voiceless Nigerian women.

Chapter Four

Summary and Conclusion.

4.1 Summary

Feminsm is an ideology and concept that celebrates womanhood and her rights to live equally with their male counterparts in the society. Chapter one introduces feminism and the journey so far in the literary world in this struggle.

In several of our cultures, despite the change impacted on her by modernization the woman is still largely marginalization the woman is still largely marginalized.

Although her image maybe salutary and dignified, roles ascribed to her centre around those of house keeping and mothering.

This has tended to give her male counter part an advantage of leading in most, if not all of the social affairs, especially those that are public. This might have confined the woman to a smaller space than that of the man, while the man could explore the public as well as more challenging avenues of life. This condition is not unlikely to have made the lot of the African woman one of social -bility.

Nevertheless, whether hammed in or not, the African woman is not totally dependent on the man, she also engages in other affairs that gives her a level of independence both economical, political e.g. petty trading, farming, fishing, cane weaving clothes making etc. in this first chapter we introduce feminism as an already identifies struggle to an existing gender clash and the level of success achieved and still existing problems despite.

It cannot be wholly denied that the African society has for long been dominated by the man and male-orient and percepts like patrinchy and Muslimism. However, Africa has had a few brave women, who undaunted by their respective confining circumstances, fought for the liberation of the mass of their peoples against the forces extinction. Women like these are exceptional as they managed to forestall patriarchal ideas. Some of these women are queen Amina of Zaria, Moremi of Ile-ife, Emotan of Benin, Mme kathili of Kenya Yaa anantsewa of Ghana.

As a focus in this study, the play of Tess Owueme, Go tell it to women reveals to some extent, female characters that are empowered in the texts in which the appear.

There are two main spectra of female empowerment. Feminism and womanism. Feminism is more radical and Eurocentric, while womanism is less radical and suitable for the patriarchal situation in Africa. Where they only seek equal participation in the society with their male counter parts and not total extermination of the male gender in societal, political and economical sector.

Its out of fight for hand-in-hand participation in the society that birthed a new type of struggle “womanism” that seeks for women to also have speaking roles in some important aspects of their life.

Feminism started way back for the 18th century. This early form of ferminsm started in the 18th century with feminism such many-wall stone craft and Betty Friedens. This early form of feminism fought for the recognition and equal rights between the sexes, i.e. equal rights in public life and equal legal status within the home.

The history feminism in Europe and America started with people like Simone Bouvoire (1908 – 80) who wrote with the partnership Jean parle (1905 -80). The French philosophers who wrote a book (la duxieme sex) 1949, translated as second sexes in which the origin of women subjugation is traced to the age-long submission of women to men.

Studies have shown that right from the time of creation, God had made man above women in so many ways. They (men) are portrayed as strong, emotionally and physically, they are also portrayed as leaders and human with the final say, when it come to decision making thereby relegating the woman to mere house keeper and children keepers. This has denied women the ability to fully achieve their dreams of partaking equally in various terrains in the society successful, even despite the fact that feminism as a struggle for women liberation is now being injected into the system, there are still hundreds of cases of women subjugation especially in the rural areas where such enlightenment about empowerment have not reached them.

Such is the clash in Go tell it to women. The women from the village and the women from the city. The women from the city have the enlightenment of female liberation but they were more radical in their approach.

The village women on the other hand just want to be heard by the society and plead for equal rights with their male counter parts and also to stop the maltreatment melted out to them as weaker species like force marriages, early marriages, and so many other things.

The women from the rural side represented womanism in its real sense which does not seek to totally take control of the society and relegate their male counterpart but to have equal rights to support their male counterparts in the society for balance and peace.

4.2 Conclusion

The various ideologies inherent in Onwueme’s works reveals that she is positively committed to ideas that may contribute to the progress of her society impart from exposing societal ills like wife battering as in the “Reign of Wazobia” A hen too soon”; “sexual discrimination as in “go tell it to women” Onuweme is revealed to be a capable dramatist in the way these ills are treated within the macro and micro worlds. She portrays in “Go tell it to women” and in the hen too soon concepts as ideals goals yet to be realized.

Inspite of her treatment of , as well as commitment to, the woman question, Onwueme could also be said to face the problem of deaf ears of government and even the men(in the literary world who are supposed to enhance the campaign towards female liberation) towards women’s plight in the society are not responding so well thereby slowing down the progress of female liberation.

As a feminist dramatist, Tess Onwueme is sufficiently committed to her out and this may be seen from the degree of her commitment to the female identity theory in her creativity. Like others before and after her in the field of women drama, female characters are portrayed as having equal strength in their plays.

It can now be said that in this part of the world (Nigerian) the struggle for female liberation is still backward. Onwueme and other writers have proven in this study that Nigerian female dramatist have along with men, created a strong dramatic culture in Nigeria. This level of creativity has helped to build and reveal the presence of a strong woman sub-culture in Nigeria through the image of women in her text.

Aston and Reinet however declare:

“If women are managing to get their plays on, it’s not because things socially, culturally, theatrically or politically have suddenly “go better”, it is because they are prepared… to continue their struggle despite the odds that are stacked against them (17)

Onwueme ahs successfully brought to light the ideologies of

“womanism”, “mamarism” and African matriarchy which measures up and even transcends the ideals of womanism such universal construct are of more lasting value. These sundry alternatives should help subsequent researchers into the power structures woman face in the text and in the real society. In the final analysis what matter is not the nomenclature but the relevance and viability of the literary ideology within a given sociocultural frame work.
In summing up, there is need to recommend that creativity should no longer portray the woman as week and should celebrate female characters more as equals with their male counterparts in the various aspects in the society. A Hen Too Soon is an attempt at advocating female dominance in text and context.

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