Women’s Stereotypical Representation and Emancipation in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death

Women’s Stereotypical Representation and Emancipation in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death
Women’s Stereotypical Representation and Emancipation in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death

Women’s Stereotypical Representation and Emancipation in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death

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1.1          Background of the study

As Tobrise (1998: 1) has observed, feminist ideology is a protest ideology, opposed to the hemlining of women and seeks their emancipation in all spheres of life. The feminist ideology posits that a lot of women as a class in the society, with reference to the position they occupy, and their relation to men. Has been determined not by biology, but by a historical system of female subordination by a patriarchal hegemony (Atabo Oko, 1989:1).


Feminist scholarship questions patriarchal value systems and so channels its energies towards and looks forwards to the transformation of society from patriarchy to a non sexist one in which women would have their voice (Carter Heywood and Mary Hunt, 1988:9). Feminism is therefore politics, a politics which seeks to change the status of women in the society. In the words of C. Weedon (1987):

Feminism is a politics directed at changing existing power relationsbetween women and men in society. These power relations structure allareas of life, the family, education and welfare, the worlds ofwork and politics, culture and leisure. They determine who does whatand for whom, what we are and what we might become.


Feminism involves political and sociological theories and philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference, as well as a movement that advocates gender equality for women and campaigns for women’s rights and interests. Although the term ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ did not gain widespread use until the 1970s, they were already being used in the public parlance much earlier, for instance, Katherine Hepburn speaks of the ‘feminist movement’ in the 1942 film woman of the year. Put it differently, feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal i.e to define, establish and achieve political, economic, personal and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

France, Netherlands in 1872. In Great Britain, in the 1890s and in the U. S.A IN 1910. The Oxford EnglishDictionary leaves 1852 as the year of first appearance of feminism and 1895 for feminist. Depending on the historical movement, culture and country, feminists around the world had different causes and goals. (Unpublished lecture notes, Department of English, 2019).

Feminist movement campaign and continue to campaign for women’s rights including the right to vote, to hold public offices, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to receive education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage and to have maternity leave.


Women’s Stereotypical Representation and Emancipation in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death

Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity and to protect women and girls from rape, sexual harassments and domestic violence. Numerous feminists’ movements and ideologies have developed over the years and present different view-points and aims.

Therefore, feminism, which Judith Bardwick describes as ‘an implicit rejection of the lifestyle created by strongly coercive norms that define and restrict what women are and can do ‘(5), seeks to recreate the female story. In practice, it depends on the context of human experience or the realities of each society for understanding, even though the oppression of women is a universal phenomenon.


As feminism spread from country to country and across continents, it took on various shades and colourations. Thus today, we talk of French feminism, American feminism, Black feminism, and African feminism, which is a brand of black feminism, peculiar to the African continent.According to Philomena Chioma steady(1981:104) true African feminism:


Recognises a common struggle with African men for the removal of the yokes of foreign domination and European, American exploitation. It is not antagonistic to men but challenges them to be aware of certain salient aspects of women’s subjugation, which differ from the generalised oppression of all African peoples.


African feminism is therefore not separatist like Western or radical feminism. Rather, it seeks complementarities with the men folk. All feminists share a burning desire for social justice, although the terminology ‘social justice’ is not frequently used. Talking about social justice, all feminist desire to see:


Radical feminism advocates a female culture which subverts male culture exemplified by the rejection of heterosexual relationship. It is anti-men and popularises lesbianism as a viable alternative to heterosexual relations. This brand of feminism sees patriarchy as those undermining the society. The male supremacy is ingrained in them and no one seems to question the oppression of women. Radical feminists therefore suggest that patriarchal system should be broken down.


Radical feminism features in the works of western feminists such as Virginia Woolf, Elaine Showalter, Julia Kristeva, Carolyn Heiburn, Shirley Ardener, Adrienne Rich, among many others.(Emenyi, 50&57)

Womanism as a brand of feminism which describes the inclusive nature of male and female experience in the black community. Coined at about the same time by Alice Walker, a prominent African-American writer and Chikwenye Ogunyemi, the foremother of Nigerian feminism, womanism accepts heterosexual relationship but insists on women’s right to life and happiness. In Ogunyemi’s words:

Womanism is black-centred, it is accommodationist. It believes in the freedom and independence of women like feminism. Unlike radical feminism, it wants meaningful union between black men and black children and will see to it that men change their sexist stand(63)


However, the term is associated with Alice Walker as she strives to coin black women’s unique brand of feminism in her work In Search of Her Mother’s Garden- Womanist prose in 1983. To her, womanist refers to serious confidence and grown up behaviour. It is also a way celebrating a woman who loves another woman. She says:

‘Womanist is to feminist as purple is to Lavender’- Ecriture femine, otherwise called women’s writing. It is coined by a French Feminist called Helen Cixoux. She encourages women to take pleasure in their bodies and writings and that reveals the womaness.


The woman must explore the woman’s needs, desires and full experiences. The writing welcomes radical experimentation in language and self-expression. Black writers and critics who employ womanism in their works include Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Flora Nwapa, Zulu Sofola, Buchi Emecheta, Tess Onwueme,etc. But the entry of women into the creative enterprise has challenged tradition as the basis of women’s powerlessness. What follows is a systematic process of naming women’s oppression and identifying avenues for transcending same.

This process has deconstructed male definition of women as well as demythisising their individual selves. Male writers and critics cognisant of the threat that the centring of women’s experience in discourse poses to patriarchal monologism have fought to retain the male voice as the ‘Absolute’.Western feminism is exclusive and may not even include all women who live in United States. Some critics have pointed to this social construct as a way of distancing the relationships between women of different backgrounds even further because generally, white middle class women are the first to benefit from social change and advanced privilege.


Advancement for some does not necessarily equate to advancement for all. ‘The increased labour force participation of white middle-class women has been accompanied, indeed the possible, by the increased availability outside the home of services formerly provided inside the home –0cleaning, food, health, and personal services. This disparity of experience leads to a flawed discourse in women’s studies because there is an inherent racism in the way American culture operates.

Barkly continues, ‘ We are likely to acknowledge that white middle-class women have had a different experience from African-American, Latina, Asian American, and Native American women;but the fact these histories exist simultaneously, in dialogue with each other, is seldom apparent in the studies we do. The overwhelming tendency now is to acknowledge and then ignore differences among women.


The effect of this is that acknowledging difference becomes a way of reinforcing the notion that the experiences of white middle-class women are the norm; all others deviant- different from. ‘This dialogue is disturbing because it emphasizes the disparity between women created by advancement for only the elite, even within the United States. Being White, thin, and affluent is becoming the only acceptable reality for women who want privilege in the world.


Feminism, as an ideology, seeks to correct this stance. Feminism is activism.  The feminist work incorporates the three branches of literature written by both male and female, which attempt to decry (whether radically or covertly), the dehumanisation of the female sex by the male sex, ‘pervasiveness’ of patriarch and anti-female trends and structures inherent in our social systems. The social-political empowerment of women therefore remains the ultimate goal of the feminist science fiction. In her review essay, ‘for and about Woman’, Marilyn J. Boxer (1982:238) affirms that:

Feminism proposes a vision of a better world for all, both men and women, Feminism proposes;

A vision of a world free not only from sexism, but also from racism, class-bias, ageism, hetero-sexual  bias, from all the ideologies and institutions that have consciously or unconsciously oppressed and exploited some, for the advantage of others.


1.2          Statement of the problem

Over the years, African, African- American and African diasporic women have suffered subjugation oppression, stereotype and under-representation by the male role in the men dominated society.

Thus, this study seeks to identify factors responsible for women stereotypical representations in fictions, and in society and the different oppressions meted on women and the measures taken by feminists to liberate women from these oppressions.


1.3          Aims and Objectives

The aim of this study is to see at what extent Feminist ideologies influence the male and racial dominated and stereotyped society and its oppressive nature and its efforts in liberation and emancipation of women from this oppression.

The objectives of this research are to portray;

  1. to portray feminist ideologies in science fiction
  2. to reverse the stereotypical structures
  3. revisitation of History
  4. gender oppression
  5. a study of the literary styles and devices used by both feminist authors in liberation and empowerment of women


1.4          Research Methodology

This research study takes its primary source of information from books, novels, journal articles, and encyclopaedias. It will equally consults the internet, Afrofuturist feminism websites where necessary in order to achieve its objectives.


1.5          Scope of the Study

This research work is restricted to the study of women empowerment, oppression and their effects on women, women’s stereotypical representation and emancipation in the selected novels of some feminists- Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death.


1.6          Significance of the Study

Firstly, this research work will be beneficial to students of literature and other researchers, it will to a greater extent draw the attention of the stereotype patriarchal and racially dominated system of society to the oppression, violence, disempowerment and other cultural barriers inflicted on women in African.

Secondly, the work will make them to appreciate the works of the authors used here and how they are able to achieve their full potentials by reversing the stereotypes of the male and racially dominated society on women. Lastly, this research will galvanize further research in feminist science fiction.

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