Models in the construction of female identity in Nigerian postcolonial literature
Gendered identity in Africa has for centuries been a hotbed of ideological and narrative contestations. While colonial constructions of the African female were generally essentialist and negative in character, early postcolonial African literature also ironically deployed essentialisms and rigid gender binaries to portray African womanhood, thus prompting a challenge of both by female African writers of the first generation. However, in a significant twist, second generation Nigerian women writers were to restore the related tropes of wifehood and motherhood to the front burner. This article examines the corresponding models of representation of gendered identity and the inherent, and complex, negotiation of gendered power relations over time in Nigerian postcolonial literature. These models, which we describe here as “essentialism entrenched”, “essentialism challenged” and “essentialism negotiated” are examined against the background of gender theory and African womanist discourse. The essay observes that the resurgence of motherhood, albeit in mediated/transformative forms in Nigerian women writing, underscores the continuing challenge of culture in the formation of African gendered identities and in relation to societal development. The work of Akachi Ezeigbo, a leading Nigerian female writer of the second generation, is used in the article to illustrate this resurgence and its interface with womanist theorizing.
Keywords: African womanism, Akachi Ezeigbo, essentialism, gender binaries, motherhood, nego-feminism, sheroes.