This paper examines the roles played by the female characters in Flora Nwapa’s novel, Efuru, and, following that, advocates for the empowerment of women for sustainable national development in Nigeria. Efuru is widely acknowledged as the first novel that is written by an African woman in the English language. The novel interrogates the ideology of patriarchy and its attendant underrepresentation and misrepresentation of the African women in African literature; hence, in the novel, the female characters and their versatile and tenacious spirit are celebrated. One of the findings of the paper is that womem, as depicted in Efuru, play highly significant roles in their families and communities, as workers, wives, mothers and teachers of (cultural) values. Nwapa’s Efuru, though written more than fifty years ago, remains a reference point in the advocacy for the empowerment of women in Nigeria. The country presently beset by various issues of lopsided values, leadership, economy, security and sustainable development may well seek for solutions in their women folk. The paper, therefore, advocates that girls and women at all levels of human activity in Nigeria be empowered, that is, given the necessary opportunity and support, to contribute more meaningfully to the sustainable development of the coubtry. This work is a descriptive survey and relies mainly on the critical theory of feminism.
Most human societies are patriarchal in nature, though some are more patriarchal than others. Patriarchy, according to the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2008), is a social structural phenomenon in which men have the privilege of dominance over women, both visibly and subliminally. Patriarchy is maintained systematically through the process of socialization, values orientation, attitudes, customs, expectations, and institutions of the society. In patriarchal societies, as Baumeister (2010) observes, men are more likely than women to be presidents, ministers, members of Congress and Parliament, and CEOs of major corporations. It is again the men who are mainly acknowledged for the founding of institutions, discovery of cures for diseases, exploration of space, and the creation of great works of art. The immense roles women play in these same events, in their immediate and wider communities, including the care of the ‘hardworking’ men, themselves, are hardly ever acknowledged. In Nigeria and Africa, generally, the situation is compounded by the fact that the woman is seen as the property of her husband, with the primary function of bringing forth children for her husband. The result is that the African woman can only talk or make her contributions through her husband. Again, if she finds it difficult to conceive in a marriage, whether or not it is her fault, she is taken as a failure. These practices account for the total subjugation of the woman and her inability and that of her society to utilize her natural potentials in solving community and national problems.
Literary works play a significant role in enshrining some of the cultural patriarchal practices. Traditional story books, for example, are replete with the stereotype of a female victim, a damsel-in-distress, passive and waiting for a Prince or a strong man to rescue her. They portray most women as weak, needing to seek solutions to problems from others rather than finding the answers within themselves. In this regard, Paynter (2011), citing Peterson (1996), asserts that romance series for young adults promote sexism and gender stereotyping. The heroine is usually beautiful and finds her sense of identity and fulfillment in a romantic relationship. She uses her feminine wiles – tears, fluttering eyelashes, appearing less intelligent than she actually is – to attract and trap young men. These conventional images raise the concern that young women will measure themselves against the girls shown in the books and harshly judge themselves against a false standard. Concerning this too, Hamilton, Anderson, Broaddus, and Young (2006) point out that “stereotyped portrayals of the sexes and underrepresentation of female characters contribute negatively to children’s development, limit their career aspirations, frame their attitudes about their future roles as parents, and even influence their personality characteristics” (p. 757).
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