Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood as an African Feminist Text

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Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood as an African Feminist Text

Upon my first reading of Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood, I immediately rejoiced--in this novel, I had finally encountered an account of a female protagonist in colonial and postcolonial African life. In my hands rested a work that gave names and voices to the silent, forgotten mothers and co-wives of novels by male African writers such as Chinua Achebe. Emecheta, I felt, provided a much-needed glimpse into the world of the African woman, a world harsher than that of the African male because woman is doubly marginalized. As a female in Africa, the opposite of male, woman suffers sexual oppression; as an African, the opposite of white in an ever-colonized
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Yet what ultimately resulted in my desire not to claim the novel as a feminist text was something said not by a fictional character, but by Emecheta herself as she sat among other authors at the Second African Writers Conference in 1986:

In many cases polygamy can be liberating to the woman, rather than inhibiting her, especially if she is educated. The husband has no reason for stopping her from attending international conferences like this one, from going back to University and updating her career or even getting another degree. Polygamy encourages her to value herself as a person and look outside her family for friends. It gives her freedom from having to worry about her husband most of the time... . (178)

No feminist, I angrily concluded, could ever support polygamy, a practice in which women are regarded in terms of property value and in which men use their female property as they deem fit. Emecheta's own text did not even provide me with a positive depiction of polygamy; for instance, readers learn of Agbadi that he "was no different from many men. He himself might take wives and neglect them for years, apart from seeing that they each received their one yam a day; he could bring his mistress to sleep with him right in his courtyard while his wives pined and bit their nails for a word from him" (36). Thus, convinced that The Joys of Motherhood failed to meet the standards of a feminist

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