A parade of whores and dumbs: sexism as an obstacle to social progress in Fred Khumalo’s Seven Steps to Heaven
Feminist literary criticism aims at challenging sexism – as both ideology and practice – in literary texts by exposing the multiple ways in which it operates to enforce ideologies of masculine power and domination. This article analyses Fred Khumalo’s novel, Seven Steps to Heaven (2007), from a feminist perspective which seeks to illuminate the sexist ideologies underpinning the writer’s representation of women and the ways in which these ideologies become obstacles to social progress. The sexism in the novel exists at two levels: at the level of the characters or character-induced sexism and at the level of authorial craft or author-induced sexism. I pursue these two strands simultaneously as neither works independently of the other. The central argument emerging from an in-depth feminist reading of the text is that Khumalo’s representation of women not only celebrates sexism, enacted in the text in blatantly chauvinist ways, but it also engineers gender stereotyping and the objectification of women and their sexuality. The novel’s construction of the female characters and their responses to men – sexual, social and domestic – principally informs this argument. Ultimately, this sexist construction, rather than promote the advancement of women, mutilates possibilities for their social development.
Keywords: Female representation, feminism, male writing, Seven Steps to Heaven, sexism, social progress