Auteur: Gilbert Njah

Gilbert Munab Njah is a bilingual teacher (English/French), who earned a diploma from the Higher Teacher Training College (HTTC) in the year 2000. He is equally a part time teacher in the (HTTC) and the University of Yaounde 1, and soon to defend his PhD thesis on gender and power dynamics. It is a comparative study that analyses two novels by African-Americans another two from sub-Saharan Africa and the last from South Africa. His areas of research are: comparative literature, the literature of the Americas, and the literature of the African continent (colonial/postcolonial).

Cultural Limitations Erected by Men against Women in Postcolonial Francophone Novels: A Case Study of Fatou Diome’s Le Ventre de L’Atlantique and Léonora Miano’s Tels des astres éteints

Africans continue to experience a variety of new experiences in postcolonial cultures and societies that affect men and women, especially cultural values, through which they seek solutions, for instance, in gender and power relationships. At every point, cultural changes present challenges to gender relationships concerning ideas of justice, cultural values and equality between both genders. Bill Ashcroft et al argue that conquest and colonization, texts and textuality play major roles because

European texts – anthropologies, histories, fiction, captured the non-European subject within European frameworks, which read his or her alterity as terror or lack. Within the complex relations of colonialism these representations   were reprojected to the colonised through formal education or general colonialist cultural relations–as authoritative pictures of themselves. Concomitantly representations of Europe and Europeans with this, textual archives were situated as normative. (Ashcroft et al, 1995:85)


From a critical perspective, European texts and cultures have negatively deformed Blacks’ personalities by becoming norms in their psyches and human relations. Another theorist, Edward W. Said also comments on this discursive formation that emerged from the West, claiming that: “[…] ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood without their force or more precisely their configurations of power” (Said, 1995:89). Ideologies, cultural imprints and histories are vectors of power, which are transmitted by the powerful against the powerless. It is for this reason that Said believes the relationship between Europe and Africa is that of power and varying degrees of a complex hegemony, connoting that existing between men and women. In the African context, Léonora Miano’s Tels des astres éteints and Fatou Diome’s Le Ventre de L’Atlantique demonstrate how male hegemony at the level of cultural values, constrains gender and power relations in their postcolonial novels to the woman’s disadvantage.


Postcolonialism is a form of feminism that developed as a response to the fact that feminism seemed to focus solely on the experiences of women in western cultures. Postcolonial feminism seeks to account for the way that gender limitations and the long-lasting, political, economic and cultural effects of colonialism affect non-white, non-western women especially in former colonized territories like in the context of francophone literature under study.


. This article sets out to tackle the opposition and differences in gender relations that emanate from cultural values in the above postcolonial francophone fictional societies, represented by the selected novels of Diome and Miano. It goes further to depict how such cultures rather than forging gender equality, instead stifle male and female relationships in fixity. To highlight these cultural discrepancies vis-à-vis both genders, I will examine some pitfalls activated by colonialism such as materialism, interracial marriages, and parents’ choices in marriage, slavery and capitalism. These issues and others will be analyzed in the above francophone novels to indicate the power struggle that arises from such cultural shocks that ultimately exclude women from spheres of authority and power in favor of men.


In the two novels, female characters are victims of the cultural postcolonial set up under male control. Previously, colonial masters gave more value to male prerogatives over those of women. This decision strengthened male-dominated cultures within and without family circles. Later, it became a means colonized men used to assert their otherwise eroded power over women especially in the domestic sphere. This means that before the colonial invasion, African women enjoyed almost the same rights as men. Miano’s male character, Shrapnel says: “la culture de son peuple reposait sur un fondement principal, d’où découlaient ses valeurs. Ce fondement était le respect de la vie, la vénération du vivant” (Miano, 2008:63). (The culture of his people depended on a principal foundation, from where came its values. This foundation was the respect of life, the veneration of human beings). This flashback reinstates African culture in the postcolonial society to overcome Blacks’ stalemate of vanquished individuals by western culture. Miano demonstrates that colonialists’ culture invaded the domestic sphere by transforming men into monsters who treated their wives like scum. This situation degenerated into a standstill in gender and power relations because of the non-respect of women’s inalienable rights. Furthermore, western cultural values strained economic structures between men and women.


The main preoccupations are the changes caused by a cultural intrusion from the West in the economic structures and functions of gender relations particularly in francophone Africa. After throwing African men out of work from towns, their cultural values no longer suited those from their tribes. Consequently, most of them became culturally loose while their wives and sisters abandoned them because of their misery, powerlessness and non-assimilation by French culture. The outcome of French colonialists’ cultural ideology to subjugate and replace African culture with that from the West (France) becomes women’s justification for sidelining their men. Ironically, this acculturation is factual because women are still sexually exploited as objects that satisfy white and black men’s libidinal instincts. Hence, there is the discarding of African cultural values by Blacks deprived of the adequate socio-economic and political keys and power needed to protect and preserve their cultures and women. This stalemate jeopardizes not only the serenity of African culture but also gender and power relations.


In addition to the argument raised by African women above, men’s dispossession by western cultural values also contributed to marginalize traditional ones pertaining to women. Before colonialism, women had avenues and ideologies that propounded or theorized the woman’s being and vital roles in her community. Channels such as those of opposition and resistance to cultural injustice existed within such societies to correct gender imbalance and the abuse of power by men. Men scrapped off these channels after suffering from a cultural depersonalization and dehumanization by western cultures. Loomba buttresses this idea by affirming that: “[…] many indigenous forms of women’s popular culture were suppressed and marginalized. These forms often voiced the plight of women in a male-dominated society or expressed sexual desire using robust humour […]” (Loomba, 1998:220). The extinction of forums of exchange with men on sensitive and emotional issues disintegrated gender relations in some cultural settings because of their men’s cultural emasculation by the West. Paradoxically, black women found love and care in the hands of white men, who gave them the freedom to express their emotional, material and cultural frustrations in the hands of black men. As a consequence, black men censored women’s traditional intentions to manifest their sexual desires like in pre-colonial days. Men were also materially miserable and violent towards women because of their cultural malaise and constraints. The situation fostered the gender construct that made black women to abandon their men for white men. This cultural devaluation of African values resulted in the creation of acculturated female and male characters, unable to ensure their cultural power with respect to that of colonialists.


Also, there is an irrefutable adverse influence of white culture on black women in the postcolonial novel. This situation is detrimental to the gender construct many cultural values in Africa are denigrated in favor of western cultural practices. Black women’s imitation of western values in the socio-economic spheres transforms their perceptions about black men as the narrator asserts : “elles savaient depuis longtemps, que les femmes de leur peuple ne voulaient rien que ressembler aux autres, consommer avec acharnement ce qui avait été conçu par d’autres […]” (Miano, 2008 :89). (They knew a long time ago that the wives of their people wanted to resemble only the other women, consuming relentlessly things that were made by other people). Black women are described as pariahs who have lost their identity. They depend on western goods and reject home-made products. Ironically, some male African writers like Amah Aidoo claim women excessively consume European goods whereas they are simply emulating what men have been doing since the Independence Era. Such women are now social misfits because they neither uphold African nor European customs. Consequently, both cultures sideline them because of self-denigration and the acknowledgement of a subordinating culture as their model. These loose cultural identity and values, unavoidably, signal their disempowerment in tribal filiations and vulnerability in the hands of domineering men in and out of Africa. The breakdown of traditional structures and the strains of the modern society have literally ignited power struggles between men and women. As a result, there are erosions in the socio-cultural life styles of men and women towards power-sharing. While Miano focuses on patriarchal prerogatives and depersonalization against women, Diome on the contrary pays attention to forceful marriages, men’s preference for boys, and the setbacks of interracial marriages in Europe. Such cultural deviations are substantiated in Le Ventre de L’Atlantique.


In the preceding analyses of Miano’s texts, I argued that cultural disintegration rapidly develops because of the ideas and influences of colonial dogma in postcolonial societies on Africans. In the Senegalese fictional society, Diome instead uncovers cultural disolidarity within the confines of forceful marriages against young girls by men. This is done through islamization, which marginalizes women’s rights and freedoms; through forceful marriages to old men that are not loveable. To underscore the impact of the phenomenon, the omniscient narrator states that: “[…] les cocotiers imitent le mouvement de refus des jeunes filles offertes en mariage à des hommes qu’elles n’aiment pas” (Diome, 2003:13). ([…] the coconut trees imitate the movement of young girls’ refusal to marry men they do not love). This personification “coconut trees imitating…” shows the intensity of such disdainful acts by men against young girls. The statement is hyperbolic and satirical against men’s incongruous matrimonial attitudes against immature girls. There is a sharp and sarcastic contrast between female teenagers and the old men forced on them as husbands because of material benefits. These girls’ initial refusals symbolize their definite powerlessness and continuous disdain against their all-powerful old spouses in holy matrimony. By destroying their legitimate rights to choose their own husbands, the lack of power and decision-making foster gender injustice because of the precepts of Islam. Therefore, male abuse of power against women rather promotes gender inequality instead of a partnership building. Another cultural depravation of this gender construct concerns men’s abhorrence of the girl child.


As observed earlier, men’s brainwashing of women in traditional African cultures is a major cause of the gender construct that deprives the latter from having a status of power like the former. From tender ages, boys and girls are schooled on purely male-oriented (subject) and women-oriented (object) roles to maintain male hegemony over women. This experience is lived by Salie and Madické as both scrupulously observe and apply the dominance of boys over girls in their upbringing. Salie complains about the preferential treatment given to her half-brother, Madické, over women irrespective of their ages.


Diome expounds on the fact that cultural limitations are imparted on male children to dominate female ones. To be a man means to control one’s mother and other women around you. Furthermore, the boy child’s training targets the outside world fraught with challenges while that of girls is limited to domesticity. This genderized relationship on male lines pre-defines and determines women’s roles and activities, within the confines of their parents’ homes and those of future husbands and in-laws. Such a cultural injustice makes Ogundipe-Leslie to declare that: “it seems that the woman is seen as subordinated in her very essence, to the man; in quality and specifically in marriage, which is a major site of women’s subordination; her status and roles being multifaceted and varied outside marriage” (Ogundipe-Leslie, 1994:209). The community considers the girl’s nature as immanent while that of boys is forever transcendent. These differences grant the powerless and object positions to the former against the powerful status and privileges to the latter. Marriage therefore becomes a privileged site for men to marginalize women, according to Ogundipe-Leslie.


Female subordination in such cultures stifles gender and power relations by resisting attempts by women towards power-sharing with men. Men on their part are uncomfortable because gender equality will strip them of their authority over women. This cul-de-sac has helped to obliterate chances of power-sharing and partnership building between both genders. The immediate effect is women’s gradual disengagement from the cultural stability and growth of the society because of men’s intransigence towards their statuses and rights. In Europe, cultural clashes persist in matrimonial relationships between men and women from different cultures.

Interracial marriages in Diome’s novel witness cultural constraints that reinforce the gender construct imposed by male ideologies, imposed from the West. Through the influence of men’s authority, cultural beliefs and limitations against women by white men are exercised in the French society. This is done through the thingification of powerless black women in interracial marriages. Europeans do not want their norms and cultural values to be devalued through miscegenation, as Diome projects the fact that black women in or out of Africa are victimized by similar male practices that endanger such marriages. The case of Diome’s alter ego, Salie is illustrative. White and black male conservatives reject her marriage to a French man in Senegal and France. Salie narrates her cultural estrangement in these words: “[…] une fois chez lui, ma peau ombragea l’idylle-les siens ne voulant que Blanche–Niège-, les noces furent éphémères […]” (Diome, 2003:50). ([…] once we got home, my body shaded the idyll- his people wanted only someone snow-white, the honeymoon was short-lived). The West is portrayed as a negrophobic racist society that truncates women’s lives through its die-heart conservatism. Diome exposes cultural pride and superiority as obstacles against cultural diversity in France. With this inability to live and experience genuine love by black women, racial hatred, xenophobia and sexism are avenues that feed gender fixity, and violence becomes one of the means men exploit to stifle gender and power relations in the francophone postcolonial novel.


The female protagonists in the different novels confront male ideologies and norms that degenerate into different types of violence. Violence becomes a male culture that insidiously makes female characters to consider themselves as outcasts. Most female victims later develop a false consciousness that forces them to believe in male supremacy and dictates over their lives. For this reason, Bell Hooks holds that: “a culture of domination does seek to fundamentally distort and prevent the psyches of all citizens” (Hooks, 1987:14). She argues that male ascendancy over women psychologically distorts and renders them preys to male power abuse.


Miano’s Tels des… encapsulates the enforced male grip against women through stringent cultural practices that suppress women’s rights. The end result is physical and verbal violence against female victims that resist male rule over their lives. Amok, a male character reports that “[. . .] le voisin [. . .] criait. Tout le temps. Des insultes à sa femme qui répondait faiblement. Des insanités à sa femme sur les Noirs et les Arabes” (Miano, 2008: 21). ([. . .] the neighbour [. . .] was … shouting all the time, insults against his wife who responded in a feeble voice. He said […] insanities against Blacks and Arabs). Amok is compassionate, spontaneous, and an advocate of the woman’s cause. The hyperbole “all the time” indicates the intensity of male verbal violence that affects women’s psyches as decried above by Hooks. Miano condemns this gender construct under male control, which shows that men are inherently violent and dominant in gender and power relations. Therefore, Miano unveils the male-ruled system’s use of violence in Europe that renders women powerless in the presence of powerful men. Consequently, the home becomes the ideal abode where violent acts and ideologies against women gain resonance. Similar exactions characterize African women’s lives in the African context.

Miano decries the colonial impact on Blacks as one of the main sources of gender violence against African women in her novel. Loomba also castigates black men’s emulation of the images of white men beating and subjugating their wives. Subsequently, they apply corporal punishment on women because of the loss of power and emasculation to colonial masters. In the following example, Amok’s parents represent colonized victims whose night-watchmen later emulate their boss’ violent acts against his wife. He holds that: “les veilleurs […] Eux aussi battaient leurs femmes. Ils ne pouvaient cependant regarder l’humiliation de celle qu’ils appelaient Madame. Cela se produisait fréquemment. Les cris. Les coups [….]” (Miano, 2008:26). (The night watchmen […] turned their look […] they were also beating their wives. Meanwhile they could not bear the humiliation of the person they called madam. This frequently took place. The shouts and the blows […]). Amok’s statement evokes pathos and arouses pity through the vulnerability and sadness suffered from the father’s violent acts against his mother. The scene unveils an imagery that vividly describes male violence against women as a normalized phenomenon. Men express according to Miano, physical brutality against women because of frustrations in life. The latter are powerless domesticated sexual objects that satisfy men’s libidos. Images from such abuses demonstrate men’s internalization of obnoxious stereotypes against women from westerners. The night watchmen’s inability to embrace the image of their tortured mistress is reminiscent of what happens to their own wives. This is because colonialists made black men (subjects) to rule women (objects). Consequently, the woman’s duty was to be submissive or face acts of violence.


As far as images of women’s oppression through violence are concerned, Pratibar Parmer states in Hooks critical work, the discrepancies f images in this statement: “images play a critical role in defining and controlling the political and social power to which […] marginalized groups have access. The […] ideological nature of imagery determines […] how other people think about us [and] how we think about ourselves” (Hooks, 1987:5). To Hooks, images about women have been stereotyped both at the national and international levels as yardsticks that ascribe a lower status to them. The clichés transmitted by colonialists to Blacks have become norms used to execute violence and humiliation against women, downplaying the fact that the latter hitherto enjoyed power-sharing with men in the Pre-colonial Era. Miano uses the example of Amok’s mother to assert the fact that male violence upholds the construction of gender and power relations from a male perspective that restricts women’s empowerment in life. The male dominated system’s values and the gender construct maintain women in subservient positions. Women are brainwashed by men to believe they should not be violent because it is unnatural. On the contrary, male values are determined by their ability to execute violence and its execution becomes a norm in many cultures.


Physical violence by men against women grants the latter an immanent status. Women like Amok’s mother hardly escape the matrimonial home because male power is rooted in cultures that suppress them. For this reason Amok’s father claims that: “on ne lui faisait rien s’il la tuait. […] Elle lui appartenait comme tout ce qui était dans cette maison […]” (Miano, 2008:26). (Nobody could do anything if he killed her. […] She belonged to him just like any other thing in this house [….]). This analogy between an object and a wife depicts his father’s absolute power of life and death over his mother. He is an anarchist, a power house, crushing his wife’s resistance against his authority. Miano seems to prove that matrimonial relations inhibit the deepest forms of power abuses against women. Unfortunately, her opinion is contradicted by Amok’s mother’s reaction in the hospital. The omniscient narrator acknowledges that: “aux infirmières […] elle avait dit être tombée dans l’escalier. Un stupide accident” (Miano, 2008: 295). (To the nurses […] she said she fell off the stair-case in a careless accident). Amok’s nameless mother suffers from brainwashing, a lack of identity and lies-telling. Miano believes male indoctrination enshrined in male-oriented cultures transforms women into insensitive and powerless objects. She is suggesting that domestic violence in feminist views is an essential element of the vast male conspiracy to subdue and silent women against their rights and power. It is for this reason that the gender construct continues to advocate women’s subjection to male-oriented culture and patriarchal dictates even in Diome’s novel.


Diome recounts the intricate gender and power relationships of a post-colonial fictional society, based on male enforced violence against women. Attempts by some radical young girls to resist men’s domination are rapidly watered down through violent acts. In the analyses that follow, pertinent social structures such as the veneration of the boy child and female servitude for male benefits are examined among others.


Most male-ruled cultures especially in Africa consider the male child as the power icon and model who on the contrary violates women’s rights. This image is propagated in some family set ups with the collaboration of both genders in certain cultures. The young girl is forced to internalize her physical weakness and her role is limited to love and the satisfaction of her male counterpart’s wishes from childhood. In Le Ventre…, Salie (female) and Madické (male) experience the above assertion in their family circle. Salie unfolds male privileges that violate her psychic stability in these words: “[…] tout petit déjà, on lui [Madické] avait fait comprendre qu’il devait se comporter en homme. […] En échange du courage […] on lui avait bâti un trône sur la tête de la gent féminine. […] et avoir le dernier mot devant les femelles… ” (Diome, 2003:46-47). ([…] since tender age; they had made [Madické] to understand he had to behave as a man. […]. In exchange of the courage […] a throne was built for him on the heads of female folks […] to have the final say before all women […]). Salie is self-conscious, critical and sarcastic about patriarchal sex-role plans that objectify young girls. The non-appreciation of details by boys means no one is supposed to challenge their authority. By inculcating sexist ideas into young males against females, it is certain that the latter cannot exist independently from the former. After all, the prefix “wo” means made out of man and therefore, women are meant for men. In this culture, men have decision power, money and spiritual control over women. This is why a woman has no power to reject a man no matter his age or status. A young girl cannot refuse to love a man; else the society will sanction her because the patriarchal system considers girls their property. Therefore, such a male dominated community prescribes a woman’s duty: love men no matter the circumstances. This maintains women under violent emotional and psychological traumas.


Diome underscores this power imbalance in a gender and power construct that makes the boy child superior to girls. Women’s predicament is reinforced by some old men and women. This situation is gruesome because male children tend to control even old women to ascertain the unalloyed domination granted them by the male-imposed culture. Such a system leads men to become autocrats and tyrants over sisters and wives. Women’s inaction makes them as good as dead, opening the way for unjustified male violence against them. Diome believes obnoxious gender constructs need to be dismantled in this islamic set up.


Male prerogatives and authority push most women to suffer from silence because of physical violence. The intensity and applicability of such violence re-echo women’s objectified nature in and out of matrimonial homes. Salie provides a flashback of the dubious character of the step-father against her mother and her in this statement: “chaque fois qu’elle cadenassait son cœur, la nuit, mon beau-père me jetait dehors, seule ou avec elle, […], il m’emballait dans un pagne et me couchait dans la cour entre les flaques” (Miano, 2008:84). (Each time she closed up her heart in the night, my step-father threw me outside, alone or with her […] he wrapped me in a loin and laid me in the compound in between a pool of water).


Salie highlights the physical cruelty and insensitivity of his step-father against his mother and her. Diome exaggerates these incidents to conscientize men about such vices against women. She exposes the excessive libido of patriarchs, which transcends the emotional into violent acts. This is why Salie’s step-father extends the violence to Salie by dropping her out of his house no matter the time of the night. The activities and reactions of both women indicate their helplessness and powerlessness under male control. Diome decries this evil spiral that generates physical, mental and psychological violence in women’s lives provoked by men. It is evident that enforced male violence is out to objectify women in the Senegalese fictional society of Niodior. This gender construct is highly based on conservative islamic precepts that glorify men at the expense of women. Diome also believes a change of mentality among patriarchs is possible because dogmas are acquired not inherent. Women should make choices in marriage and have access to the public sphere. She is convinced that the granting of women’s individual liberties, personal dignity, free expression, religious tolerance and universal human rights will go a long way to transform gender and power relations from their present construct in Niodior.


It is also important to demonstrate how gender relationships undergo divisions through the use of language and other pathologies in the different novels under study. The origins of these difficulties and setbacks vary from one postcolonial experience to the other. Generally, cultural and male marginalization through internal and external forces create and foster gender imbalances amongst men, women, and children from different cultures. The analysis focuses on language and characters of both genders in the public and private domains, including   enforced cultural obstacles like trade by barter that undermine real gender equality, evident in both novels.


Mianoemonstrates that language is one of the tools that Europeans used to distort gender relationships in Africa. The power of western discourse stands out as a cultural or a linguistic limitation that continues to disrupt gender relations because of its sexist and male-oriented nature. Bill Ashcroft et al assert the fact that language

[…] is a discourse of power, in that it provides the terms and the structures by which individuals have a world, a method by which the ‘real’ is determined, notions of universality can, like language which suggests them, become imperialistic. The language itself implies certain assumptions about the world, a certain history, a certain way of seeing […] (Ashcroft et al, 1995:55)


Language to these critics is a major instrument culture exploits to label and inscribe gender specific roles to women. Culture and language enforce male power and authority over docile women. Language is a yardstick in the mouths and psyches of colonialists against the colonized vis-à–vis power struggle. Linguistic power ultimately determines norms and what is accepted or not in each culture. The same power generates clichés and stereotypes that oppress black men and women in the peripheries to the white man’s advantage. This relation is substantiated by Shale and some black men in Miano’s novel. She reconnects Blacks’ backwardness to their historical past that still generates multifaceted problems in gender and power relations, and claims that: “[…] si les hommes Kémites agissaient de la sorte, c’était parce qu’ils avaient intériorisé des siècles de stereotypes, de clichés. Les mots qu’on leur avait adressés avaient fini par façonner leur vision d’eux-mêmes, ils étaient devenus ce que Babylone disait d’eux […]” (Miano, 2008:106-107). (If black men were acting this way, it was because they had interiorised centuries of stereotypes and clichés. The words that were used to address them ended up moulding their visions. They became what Babylon said they were […]) Linguistic imperialist power disempowers black men, enabling them to revenge on women who are their human objects. This historical narrative echoes that of the Israelites in Babylon until their release by Cyrus the Great in 539 BC, it decries black men’s resignation and their condemnation by Babylonian captivity. Miano is optimistic that Africans will be free one day like the Israelites. This linguistic marginalization makes some black men like Shrapnel to legitimize the objectification of women like Shale as they focus rather on structures that enforce their linguistic inferiority by despising their women. These men are unable to express their cultural values, which end up in violent communication hurdles with women. Their self-hood is suppressed by their use of the other’s language. The knowledge about linguistic acculturation continues to hold gender and power relations in a spiral of fears, divisions and suspicions. Miano hereby believes that black men should recognize the enemy’s multifaceted linguistic strategies of domination against Blacks. If this is done, she seems to suggest, it is possible men and women will overcome power disparities by re-appropriating their linguistic cultural values.


Miano stigmatizes black men and women who succumb to colonial masters’ linguistic limitations that foster gender disunity. In Tels des…, there are practically no fruitful gender relations between black men and women because of their socio-cultural, linguistic, economic and political rootlessness in the Diaspora. Women like Shale complain about men in these words: “[…] ces hommes noirs, Shale semblait leur en vouloir particulièrement, les disait violents, lâches, insensibles, paresseux, irresponsables [….] ils avaient tous des défauts” (Miano, 2008:105-106). ([…] Shale had some grudges against black men in particular, claiming they were violent, cowards, insensitive, lazy, and irresponsible [….] all had flaws). Women according to this citation occupy unenviable positions that breed strife and suspicion. Words like “violent”, “cowards’, “insensitive”, “lazy”, and “irresponsible’ are adjectives that describe men’s unbearable characters that frustrate women. This diction also reveals Shale’s character as self-conscious as she denounces male maltreatment of women with her newly acquired power of speech. This is because both white and black men render silent women’s voices and some women-friendly cultural values that sideline gender and power relations in a male-oriented construct. Loomba believes Miano uses a character like Shale because

Such a move has involved re-writing indigenous histories, appropriating pre-colonial symbols and mythologies, and amplifying, where possible, the voices of women themselves since […] colonialism often eroded certain women-friendly traditions, images and institutions, such moves to recover aspects of pre-colonial past can certainly be extremely useful for feminists. (Loomba, 1998:229)


Colonialism’s objective is to uproot structures that guarantee Blacks’ dignity, rendering them powerless by nullifying their essence to Judaism. The West then inculcates submission to better exploit Blacks. Furthermore, this past consolidates gender relations, which are currently affected because of Blacks’ economic, linguistic and political depersonalizations. The situation affects matrimonial relations between black men and women, by disallowing such relations.


The omniscient narrator projects the systematic disunity amongst black men and women in the Diaspora. It is a devise by whites to disintegrate black couples through economic and cultural assimilation. The narrator claims: “le couple Kémite […] ne se formait tout simplement plus. Puis que leur femmes ne les regardaient plus, ayant intériorisé le mépris du Nord à leur égard, les hommes noirs portaient leurs regards vers d’autres […]” (Miano, 2008:101). (Black couples […] no longer came together. Since their women no longer paid attention to them, having interiorized the loathsome nature of the North towards them, black men focused their attention towards others). Some gullible women throw the blame of their ignorance, miseries and objectification on men. They need to reconnect to their history and the African perspective on matrimonial issues. The hyperbole condemns the dismantling of gender relations among Blacks, with its adverse effects on women and children. It is a satire by Miano against miscegenation among acculturated Blacks. The white race’s negrophobia makes their women to abandon them for white men. This cultural dependency and rejection makes Loomba to claim that

[…] for the white subject, the black other is to define everything that is outside the self. For the black subject however, the white other serves to define everything that […] the self desires. This desire is embedded within a power structure; therefore, ‘the white man is not only the Other but also the master, real or imaginary” [….] (Loomba, 1998:144)


Imperialists empty Blacks from transcendent to immanent positions by defining and limiting their ethos using egocentric claims. This power versus powerless binary affects gender and power relations in many cultures. Loomba also holds that white supremacist power structures deliberately erect institutions and canons that remind Blacks of their linguistic inferiority complex, peripheral statuses and racial powerlessness. Miano claims that black couples should embrace their cultural roots and rebuild a solid foundation based on power-sharing. This move can revamp the cultural power of acculturated Blacks in the Diaspora. In contrast to Miano’s novel, Diome’s Le Ventre… shows how trade-by-barter fosters the matrimonial “enslavement” of young girls. The immediate consequence is women’s disempowerment in favor of men.


There are many male initiated dangers that suppress the liberty and emancipation of young girls and women in matrimonial homes. Men’s exploitation of women through trade-by-barter jeopardizes fruitful gender relations based on power-sharing. A conservative patriarch decides to solve his financial challenge by giving his daughter’s hand in marriage without her consent to another rich; and old polygamous patriarch. In this case, Diome depicts young girls’ objectification as the major factor that undermines gender stability in her community. Accordingly, the omniscient narrator says: “un vieux paysan de Fimela, qui lui devait beaucoup d’argent […] venait de lui offrir la main de sa fille de seize ans. Qui a dit que le troc avait disparu de l’Afrique moderne? […]” (Diome, 2003:169-170). (An old peasant from Fimela, who owed him much money […] had just offered him his sixteen-year-old daughter’s hand in marriage. Who said trade- by- barter had ended in modern Africa? […]). This flashback depicts the thingification of young girls and women. The quotation is sarcastic as it also evokes pathos concerning the plight of young girls with rhetorical questions meant to attract the reader’s empathy. Men are portrayed as materialistic with mercantilist exactions against their daughters. Diome shows that male-ruled cultures continue to subjugate women’s liberty, by preventing them from experiencing the realities of the woman’s question in this community. The narrator’s assertion highlights the level of marginalization of women’s rights in this islamized culture. Young girls and women have no power over their bodies, reserved for men who have absolute power to exploit them by populating matrimonial homes. There is hatred and an imbalance of power between these young female victims and their husbands. Certainly, they cannot be genuine gender harmony because of the method and silencing of women’s voices and opinions.

Loomba argues that there is a: “[…] danger of glossing over the patriarchal aspects of indigenous cultures, especially as these are constantly being amplified and strengthened, in some areas by post-colonial states and others by fundamentalist groupings […]” (Loomba, 1998:229). Our view converges with Loomba’s because linguistic power serves as a booster that propagates an insurgence against the woman’s question for men to control them. Women’s experiences have been vital in the formation and stability of African cultures though silenced in their society. This is why their experiences and knowledge must change how men think about society, history, culture, language and gender relations to avoid disharmony, according to Diome.


The intention of this study was to investigate a series of male structures such as marriage, parents’ choices and sexism as some of the major pitfalls men exploit using different kinds of strategies to objectify young girls and women in the different fictional societies. Violence is the primary resort men use to restrain female disobedience. Equally, the gender construct is experienced by both genders at different levels. In Africa, conservative forces still strain women’s emancipation. Other cultural pitfalls affecting gender and power relations in these post-colonial novels include Miano’s interrogation of male cultural hegemony in the colonial super structure that affects through violence and the economy, relations between men and women, while Diome focuses on male imposed suitors on young women, male advocacy for male children at the expense of female ones and the consequences of interracial marriages on black women. Lastly, Miano examined linguistic impediments and the distortion of gender relations that create disunity among black couples, while Diome, on her part, presents male objectification of girls through trade-by-barter. These setbacks that continue to disrupt gender and power relations in Africa and especially in francophone novels, is a vibrant call by both novelists (Diome and Miano) to create a consciousness-raising among African men to embrace the woman’s question as a life style. It is also a clarion call for men and women, irrespective of their socio-cultural or religious beliefs to obliterate from their milieus/cultures age-long oppressive cultures that systematically marginalize and objectify women.



_____________, (2000), “Le discours féminin et la loi du silence au Cameroun”, Palabres, Vol. III, 1 & 2, avril 2000, Femmes et créations littéraires en Afrique et aux Antilles.

ASHCROFT, Bill et al, (Eds), (1989), The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures, London, Routledge.

BRUNEL Pierre, Chevrel, (1989), (sous la direction de) : Précis de littérature comparée, Paris, PUF.

CHEVREL, Yves, (1989), La Littérature comparée, « Que sais-je ? » Paris PUF.

DIOME, Fatou, (2003), Le Ventre de l’Atlantique, Paris Editions Anne Carrière.

FANDIO, Pierre, (1996), “Rectifications et infirmations, l’image de la femme chez deux romancières camerounaises”, Epasa Moto, Buea, Université de Buea, 191-200.

HOOKS, Bell, (1987), Black Looks: Race and Representation, Boston, South End Press.

LOOMBA, Ania, (1998), Colonial/Post-colonialism, London, Routledge .

MIANO, Léonora, (2008), Tels des astres éteints, Paris, Plon

NJAH, Munab Gilbert, (2017), “Gender and Power Dynamics: A Study of Selected Novels of Fatou Diome, Gloria Naylor, Léonora Miano; Pamela Jooste and Walter Mosley”, Thesis, Univ. of Yaounde I.

OGUNDIPE–LESLIE, Molara, (1994), Re-creating Ourselves: African Women and Critical Transformations, Trenton, New Jersey, Africa World Press, Inc.

SAID, Edward W., (1995), “Orientalism”, Bill Ashcroft et al (Eds). The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, London, Routledge, 87-89.

Envoyez Envoyez