Gender roles are the activities, responsibilities, and rights that a society considers normal and appropriate for men and women. There is no single model of gender roles in Africa. The continent’s diverse cultures have many different ideas about male and female roles, although in general women have been subordinate to men in both public and family life. Like gender roles, notions about sex and standards of sexual behavior differ widely across Africa. For several generations, however, African attitudes toward both gender roles and sexuality have been changing, especially in the cities and in areas where Western influence has been strongest.
The Role of Women in the Ibo Culture The culture in which ”Things Fall Apart” is centered around is one where patriarchal testosterone is supreme and oppresses all females into a nothingness. They are to beseen and not heard, farming, caring for animals, raisingchildren, carrying foo-foo, pots of water, and kola. The role of women in the Ibo culture was mostlydomestic. The men saw them as material possessions andthought of them as a source of children and as cooks. As aman made his way in life by farming yams, he needed astrong workforce. This workforce included his wives andchildren. A man would have many wives. The more wives andchildren a man had, the more honor and respect he received. If a man had dishonored himself in the eyes of the othermen belonging to the tribe by acting in a cowardly way orby being lazy, they called him a woman for insult.A man was to rule the household with a heavy hand. Okonkwo’s wives and children lived in fear of his quicktemper (13). When his youngest wife was not home in timeto cook him lunch one day, he beat her severely when shereturned home (29). Another of his wives cut some leavesoff of a banana tree to wrap food. When he saw the tree,he beat her for killing it, even though the tree wasclearly quite alive (38). When Okonkwo was near hisdaughter Ezinma, he would think to himself, ”She shouldhave been a boy.” Apparently, a girl was not capableproviding him with sense of pride. In the Ibo culture, when a woman was to be married,the family of her suitor would come and inspect her to besure she was beautiful and ripe enough to be a part oftheir family. A woman did not have any value other thanher beauty and her abilities to cook and bear children. In a conversation between Okonkwo and his friendObierika, they spoke of two other villages where their”customs are all upside down” and ”titled men…
Women’s stories were those of magical events and therefore men would not listen to then and regarded them as dumb. “The titled men and elders sat on their stools waiting for the trial to begin.” pg. 87
Although women attended the ceremony, the main purpose was for the men to come to the event. ” They women scrubbed and painted the outside walls under the supervision of men.” pg. 89
Women were inferior to men and were, therefore, subject to such treatment. ” And then the egwugwu appeared.” pg. 89
Much of the traditional Igbo life presented in this novel revolves around structured gender roles. Essentially all of Igbo life is gendered, from the crops that men and women grow, to characterization of crimes. In Igbo culture, women are the weaker sex, but are also endowed with qualities that make them worthy of worship, like the ability to bear children. The dominant role for women is: first, to make a pure bride for an honorable man, second, to be a submissive wife, and third, to bear many children. The ideal man provides for his family materially and has prowess on the battlefield. The protagonist in the novel is extremely concerned with being hyper-masculine and devalues everything feminine, leaving him rather unbalanced. Much of the gender theme in the book centers around the idea of balance between masculine and feminine forces – body and mind/soul, emotionality and rationality, mother and father. If one is in imbalance, it makes the whole system haywire
The mother’s main duty is to add to the family line by bearing healthy children and also to please her husband.
According to the Ibo society, beating of the women was permitted. Two instances are described in the novel; one is when Okonkwo beats his second wife with the mere reason that she had not prepared her his meal. With his anger he actually forgets that it is the week of peace and never forgives his fault hence he should here the wise man say “if man cannot forgive woman with her little bit mistake, he never enjoys her great virtue.” The other incident is encountered again when his second wife refers to him as one of those “guns that never shot.” Cases of beatings that were brought before the Egwugwu, the wife found favor, leaving the man to wonder why such a trifle would come before the Egwugwu. A woman had no place in terms of justice and hence a higher authority had to be sought. Thus it is argued that “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. All his wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper (Achebe 2.12).” this hence explains that women roles in the social environment of Ibo society were basically emphasized in the domestic sector.
Okonkwo hated anything weak or frail, and his descriptions of his tribe and the members of his family show that in Ibo society anything strong was likened to man and anything weak to woman
konkwo’s returns to his mother’s clan after being exiled from the Ibo village, shows how women have been attached to nature. Uchendu reproaches Okwonko for having come to live with his mother’s clan. He states that the truth is that “a child belongs to his father, but if the father beats the child, the child seeks refuge in the mother’s house (8.134).” He further says that “a man belong to his father’s land when he has a good and sweet life to lead but in times of sorrow, his mother’s house is the ideal area of comfort (8.134).” this brings about the fact that a woman is seen as a protector in the Ibo society and hence ultimate and superior. Above all Uchenda’s words reveal automatically that women in the Ibo society are the basic foundation of the people and the clan. They are the beings that can fully be relied upon in nurturing and taking care of the people, thus they aren’t insignificant and powerless individuals. (Achebe 134)
In the Igbo community and culture, women had many roles and duties. Women have tasks comparable to those of men but they also engage themselves in making meals, washing clothes, housekeeping, bearing and raising children and agricultural roles altogether. Other responsibilities that women took part in were visiting the markets, worshiping gods and also attending cases in courts. Farms were weeded by women three times at specific periods in the life of the yams, neither earlier nor later. It is hence quoted that “his mother and sister worked very hard enough, but they only grew women’s crops, like the coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam the king of crops was a man’s crop (3, 28).” this signifies that men are the sole providers in their families in the Ibo community and that nearly everything there is gendered even crops. This was an important duty as failure to carry it out meant the yam crops would fail. According to Goefe ( via sugihastuti, 2000:37) feminism is explained as a theory about similarity between a man and a woman in the economic, political and social environment. Hence as men consider to ponder on this factor they are of the view that “superior is typical for man and inferior is typical for woman.” Men are so convinced that women do not possess a firm attitude and so they cannot become leaders thus stereotyping. Again during the court ceremonies, “it was very clear that the occasions were ment for men from the way everyone else in the crowd used to stand. Women would come in large numbers but they always followed the proceedings from a far distance like outsiders. Only the very entitled and distinguished men sat on their stools waiting to address and for the trials to begin. (10.2)” women were thus totally excluded from any participation in the trials even if she was the main complainant in the case to be determine and heard. This kind of treatment shows how the Ibo society used to treat women negatively.
Ani is described as a superior part in the life of the people than any other goddess. She was basically observed as the master judge of conduct and morality. Moreover she was seen to be in great connections with the already departed ancestors of the clan whose bodies had already been buried and dedicated to the earth (Achebe 36). It seems rational where a community that views female members as inferior being unable to represent their most powerful represented goddess as being a woman (Arivia 23). It was clear that Ani’s power was very important during the harvests and hence members of the society were respected to celebrate the week meant for peace and in return Ani was expected to bless the harvest. This meant that the harvest success was deeply rooted in the significant role that a woman had to play in the society. For any woman to posses such an amazing and important role in the success of the yam crops is a clear indication of the real deep rooted power of the woman in the society. Thus this is evidenced when Okonkwo breaks the Peace of Ani, immediately Ezeani proclaims, “The evil you have one can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish” (30).
The women perform the role of priestess. It is stated that during Okonkwo’s boyhood, the priestess in those days was woman called Chika. Chika was a god full of power and was greatly feared among the members of the Ibo tribe. In the novel, there is no point where Okwonko is seen as a pleader with any woman, whatever the reason. The fact that Okwonko is threatened by a goddess to give her his daughter is enough to say that women have a priestess power that has allowed them to rule over men and make final decisions. Again it is quoted that for Ekwefi “The only woman with whom they shared with and talked was known as Chielo. She was the main oracle of hills and caves and was the priestess of Agbala. They were so fond of each other that they shared the same place in the market place. Chielo was so fond of Ezinma that she could send her mother some beancakes to take them to her. Hence anyone who would come across Chielo in ordinary life would hardly believe that she was the same person who used to prophesy when the spirit of Agbala was upon her. (6.17)” in Ibo society Chielo is deemed to be an example of a powerful woman figure the only priestess of the main god. She is an ordinary public figure in this society but when the spirits takes control of her she changes immediately and becomes a figure to be reckoned with. Thus it is automatically proved that it is only when a woman has behind her such kind of supernatural power that she is dully and readily respected by men. This brings about the fact that despite their unappreciated presence women are still present within the Ibo community.
The role of women in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall limits largely both their power and authority. It is noted that Okonkwo is a very aggrieved man indeed, “He literally mourned for the Ibo society which in his own perspective viewed it as one that was breaking and falling apart. He also deeply felt for the war like men of Umuofia, who all of a sudden had become soft land tender like the women. (21.25)”. This breaking activity of the Umuofia people was a signal of weakness femininity and weakness. He once regarded his clan with great value as they shown the masculinity aspect of it, but afterwards mourns his clan after it adapts to femininity. It is clear that in the Ibo society, women are viewed to hold very significant roles and tasks as compared to