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FEMINISM IN NIGERIAN THEATRE A STUDY OF OLA ROTIMI’S OUR HUSBAND HAS GONE MAD AGAIN AND TESS ONWUEME’S THE REIGN OF WAZOBIA

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ABSTRACT

The role of the theatre as a mirror to the society has long been settled. How factual does the theatre reflect the role of women is part of a new and exciting debate in the theatre today. This thesis answers the question of what exactly is feminism in the theatre, using the signpost of dialogism as an overlapping literary framework to understand feminist representation, characteristic of feminist theatre, issues confronting feminist theatre and the implication for the future of the Nigerian theatre. The thesis use textual analysis as a methodology to pay specific attention to the feminism in the selected works; Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again by Ola Rotimi and The Reign of Wazobia by ’Tess Onwueme as a reflection of the issues of women representation in the Nigerian theatre. The findings of this work further emboldens the argument that women are represented in the theatre from the standpoint of the larger social realities obtained in the society. 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.0 INTRODUCTION

In the beginning, the Bible said, God created Adam; the first man and later Eve; the first woman- from the ribs of Adam. The western ideology of life is arguably hinged on this maxim. It has shaped argument for the larger part of hundreds of years and forms an allusion in the gender debate that woman was created from the rib of man. Hence, man is lord over woman.However, Science says otherwise, what myth had propagated for ages. MirceaEliade (143), in his theory of Eternal Return, talks of the deliberate concentration of Bible Studies toward the masses as truth, what was myth. MotheiseLamsas (34) further highlighted the argument and misconception of the Biblical verses in the creation processes. However, we are here concern with the representation of its finest variant; either created from man as the facts of the Christian religion believes or argued by science through Evolution.

Philosophy shapes societies. It is the bedrock from which identity, social constructions and interpretations emanate from, and consequently forms the bedrock of the cultural beliefs system of the society. Yet, philosophy has been inherently male in its composition and promulgation, from the earliest philosophers until the advert of deconstructionists’ outcry for a re-evaluation of this debatablenatural phenomenon. At the academic level, these agitations for the inclusion of women perspectives into issues and of issues, has opened up a new field of discourse. Feminism, as an encompassing philosophy for the edification of women in the society is not a new topic of engagement, but a continuing dialogue in search for a fairer deal for women and a balance presentation of a humanist view of the sexes.

1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

The origin of the idea of feminism has come a long way, as there have been various forms of women awakening, reflective of the peculiarities of feminism.  History is laden with Queens and Empresses, who ruled vast territories and chiefdoms, so certainly there would have been questions on the role of women in the society other than just for childbirth, raising children or taking care of their husbands at some point or another.  However, the term feminism, as a word for the western or modern quest for gender equality, especially the intellectualization of this quest as a scholarship has been traced to Charles Fourier, a  Socialist and French philosopher, who is credited with having coined the word “féminisme” in 1837.  (Gamble 98) Subsequently the derivatives such “féminisme” (“feminism”) and “féminist” (“feminist”) then appeared in France and the Netherlands in the late 1800s. Later, the word and it meanings began to appear in Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United States in 1910. Finally, a definitive entry appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1852 for “feminist”and 1895 for “feminism”.  (Gamble 120)The major concerns and characteristic that define who is feminist is loosely hinged on the following five basic principles, which includes-

  • Working to increase equality: The fundamental quest of feminist is the need for equality. This is at the foundation of the feminist thought and agitation.  Gender equality is the appropriation of equality to the genders and not the usage of it as a criterion for judging or attributing values. Nevertheless, there remains argument that society generally does not reflect this, this therefore remains one of the cardinal area that feminism is concern about.
  • Expanding human choice: The issue of Human choice toward self-development and actualization. Those too are gender-stereotyped as there are certain areas of societal engagement that seems to be limited or construe according to gender, which mostly alienates the female sex, hence feminists believe that both men and women should have the freedom to develop their human interests and talents, even if those interests and talents conflict with the status quo in the society.  The right and opportunity to pursue dream-path and career should not be gender-centered or aligned.
  • Eliminating gender stratification: Society operates in strata and levels to aid functionality and identification, especially African societies that are patriarchally constructed. Feminists oppose laws, traditions and cultural norms that define and limit the education, sexuality, political, social and financial opportunities for women based solely on their sex.
  • Ending sexual violence & promoting sexual freedom: The concept of marriage bestowed on the man, rights over the woman as the husband. Through the times, domestic violent and sexual violent have been hinged on the argument of women insubordination as the main reason. Because by marital rights and the institution of marriage, she is assumed to be his, to take care of and carter for, but feminists feel that women should have control over their sexuality and reproduction, because they are equal partners in the union, they should not be controlled or obliged based on values that are not inclusively agreed upon. This quest for equality has led to varied accusation of insubordination or rudeness

In 1848, at the Seneca Falls Convention, in New York, Elizabeth Candy Stanton and many women convened for a seminar on Women’s rights, in light of the fact that women were not allow to vote then. (322)  After much debate, the women presented a paper and list, which was latter known as the Declaration of Sentiment; outlining rights of women to be guaranteed by law. Historically, this has come to be associated as the formal birth of feminism, which essentially is the quest for the equality of the sexes. Feminism is the movement for the emancipation of women from patriarchy. Feminism as a movementcentres on the harmonization of existing gaps in the society as it affects women mostly. A feminist is not gender restrictive, as there can be both females and males who identify themselves as feminists, so far they agree on the emancipation of the rights of women toward a more equal gender valued society.

In Feminism: A very short Introduction, Margaret Walters (57)asserts thatthe history of feminism can be divided into three periods or “waves”. The first feminist wave was in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century, the second was in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third extends from the 1990s to the present. The various waves will be fully elucidated on in the next chapter. Feminist theory emerged from these feminist movements. It manifest in a variety of disciplines as varied as feminist geography, feminist history, feminist architecture, feminist medicine, feminist literature etc.

Feminism has altered predominant perspectives in a wide range of areas within Western society, ranging from culture to law, Architecture to Philosophy. Though the issues in contention vary according to areas of specialisation, feminist ideologists and activists have continued to campaign for women’s legal rights: (Rights of Contract, Property Rights, and Voting Rights). For women’s right to body integrity and autonomy, abortion and reproductive rights, including access to contraception and quality prenatal care. Also for the protection of women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape- these rights also includes workplace rights, including maternity leave and equal pay, against misogyny, and against other forms of gender-specific discrimination against women. These are the cardinal concern of feminism all over the world; the inalienable premise of feminism. Whereas feminist champion this, there are also a large percentage of women who rather this is left alone. For they feel feminism is too confrontational and militaristic in it approached to a sociological issue as the gender process.  It is also factual that feminism cannot eloquently and conclusively speak for all women, as it is a movement that originated mostly from the West, by predominately white, working class women who rightly constitute a small percentage of the women in the world.

The fact of the world’s vastness means that certain concepts will be adapted, modified and adopted to reflect the immediate reality of the operating society. This is also is true for feminism as a movement for the equality of woman, each country, society and cultures is unique. This uniqueness argues against the blanket application of concepts across board, but adaptational application of such in consonance with the social reality of the adopting society. Hence while feminism seeks to speak for women, yet it is been countered even by women who sees feminism as not a valid tool to engage their situations. Hence, the rise of other theories or movements, which are inherently feministic in nature, but different in their modal engagement against patriarchy, some have gone as far as stating that these new feminisms pose a challenge “to some of the organizing premises of Western feminist thought.” This is so because in much of its history, feminist movements and theoretical developments have been led predominantly by middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America, whose social reality cannot be definitively demarcated from their position and postulations on the subject. However with the emergence of women of other races, came proposed alternative feminisms or variants of feminism.This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the civil rights movement in the United States and the collapse of European colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, parts of Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Since then, women in developing nations, third world Countries and former colonies, who are of colour or various ethnicities or living in poverty have proposed additional feminisms, which succinctly reflects their situations.

These forms of feminism, with emphasis on the third world emerged after early feminist movements, largely white and middle-class to reflect Post-Colonial women, arguing that their reality transcends just the struggle for equality but also of overcoming a deliberate colonial ingrained mind-set of women, discarded in the administrative allocations and power structure of colonialism but even more about their voice, been actively engaging still, in the construe of family and the society.Postcolonial feminists argue that colonial oppression and Western feminism marginalized postcolonial women but did not turn them passive or voiceless. Hence, third-world feminism and Indigenous feminism are closely related to postcolonial feminism, based on the encompassing social realities and its shared similarities. These ideas also correspond with the rationale in the emergence of other variants of feminism such as AfricanfeminismmotherismStiwanismnegofeminismfemalismTransnationalFeminism, and Africanawomanism which as are all various forms of women struggle for equality but with peculiarities reflective of their history, sociology and, its inherited struggles.

Depending on historical moment, culture, society, traditions, and country, feminists around the world have different causes and goals, different aspirations and agitations reflective of the nature and issues of their immediate environments. Most western feminist historians assert that all movements working to obtain women’s rights should be considered feminist movements, even when they did not (or do not) apply the term to themselves. Other historians assert that the term should be limited to the modern feminist movement and its descendants.

In this study, feminism will be the encompassing term, used to connote the annotated agitation for the equality of the sexes listed above. Whereas to strictly replace it with other terms such as motherism or womanism, will only narrow the scope of themes of this thesis into a location-specific, monolithic brush of the issues of women rights and its representations. Nevertheless, by doing so, that is using feminism instead of the other terms, is not tantamount to discarding the validity of the argument for such specificities. Matter of fact, Feminism in this thesis is, is viewed from the prism of womanism, but solely used to as a term to show the issues that brought about their rise in the first place, but by not limiting the agitation to just location-base, cultural-specific historicities of womanism or other post-colonial feminism, this thesis seek to re-welcome them into a larger spectrum- that harbours and reflect the various agitations and peculiarities of the gender equality questions both from a third world persp            ectiveand global standpoint.

Feminism has found room in various fields of studies that traditionally flaunt men’s idea as finality, with the intellectualisation of the struggle for women’s rights, the composite of these fields of studies are now beseeched with new inquiry for re-evaluation. Hence, the deconstruction in the theatre also, for a relook at the various forms and themes that has occupied the Theatre all through the years especially as interpreted with the prism of patriarchy.

Historically, Theatre as we have it today is a derivation from the Greek word, “Theatron”, which means, a seeing place. In ancient Greece, the word, theatre, depicted a structural setting, usually in the open air, used for the presentation of dramatic spectacles and plays. By the 17th Century, the term had come to connote the arts, as a whole, of which the building is an integral part. Thus, theatre is that art, which the public gather to view, and still view today, as a basic nature of man’s means of expressing his internal perceptions of life. Theatre as an art form is often ascribed to have originated from ancient Greece. This position can best be explained by the realisation that most of the earlier original African theatrical presentations are very often related to Greek conventions, which is a result of the fact that these Greek underpinning even in earlier African plays points to the possibility of the origin of Theatre and as such, had been documented long before now.  Oscar G. Brockett, in his classic; History of the Theatre, he highlights the nature of theatre in ancient Greece thus:

“For several years, Greek drama was presented at festivals honouring Dionysus the god of wine and fertility (…) At Athens, plays were presented in the Theatre of Dionysus situated in the slope of Acropolis above the Temple of Dionysus. Thus, Theatre, in the sixth century consisted of the hillside on which the spectators stood or sat and a flat terrace at the foot of the hill for the performers” (Brockett 75)

Theatre captures the way of life of a people, it has been used as yardstick to measure the metamorphosis of the Greek people and the classical plays remain great source of material for a diverse field of scholarship. As with the Greeks, so it also true of all societies that engage theatre to communicate or depict stories- factual or invented. However, the issues remains of the theatrical representation, how true have they been, how validare the points raised in theatrical performances, how functional, relevance or engaging are the issues? There is no mistaking the vital role theatres plays in the socialization process and the acculturation capabilities of the stage. For theatre, the society is its audience and participants, the message are craft from the society and for the society, and its value is in the society and for the society. This interconnectivity of theatre to the society is intricately linked, and functions in an oscillatory symbiosis

African Theatre as much as any African Art serves at least a dual purpose; Art in Africa is not just appreciated for its aesthetics but its functional essence, which transcends its mere physical features, presence or ambiance. Traditionally, theatre involves individuals in a defined space re-enacting an imagination, whether historically constructed or abstractly conjured to an audience, who engage the enactment in a suspension of their immediate belief. These performances are not real in the sense of the reality in which they presently exist yet, the interlocking of the themes and stories, which these performances treat, are often not in insulation but to a degree is a reflection of the society- whether it is past, presence or future. In his book Theatre: An Introduction, Cassady (32) defines theatre as ‘imagination….emotions and intellects… (which) embraces all the world cultures and perspective, answers questions, predicts our tomorrows and mirrors our today’. Bernard Beckerman offered a broader definition when he said that ‘theatre occurs when one or more persons, isolated in time and or space, present themselves to another or others’.  For Shakespeare, ‘theatre is a mirror for highlighting man’s humanity and also a tool for understanding why man also finds it so easy to transgress that same humanity’ Yerimaas recorded by Oduneye (5) asserts that theatre is ‘the stepping stone through which anthropologist, sociologists, historian, ethnographers have given identity, meaning and interpretations to people, period/dates and societies. He also declares theatre could be seen as the index of every civilization and cultural identity”.

The thematic occupation of theatre as a tool for social engagement is a vital aspect of African theatre engagement. That is the essence of African theatre, the moral acculturation of the society. Historically, Theatre in Nigeria emerges as a tool for social moralising and entertainment. Essentially theatre emerged from the masquerade performances, which they themselves where a dilution of ritual rites and performances. Hence, while we found counterpart meanings and reflection in Greko-Aristotelian theatre, African, especially Nigeria has always have theatre- which were performances outside the areas of ritual potencies.

Theatre in Nigeria can be vaguely categorized into two groups, Nigeria popular theatre and the literary theatre. However, the distinctive factor is that the former is formed as professional theatre with all emphasis placed on performance creation, while the latter create playwrights and theatricians whose interest is to create dramatic text that can be performed by independent groups. The interest of playwrights is dramatic creation- writing of plays, experimenting with new concepts, theories or testing new theatrical hypothesis.

Most times, these dramatists are theoretical scholars of theatre rather than managers, that explain why they have not been able to create successful professional theatre companies like that of Hubert Ogundes or DuroLadipo, who championed and popularize the travelling theatre culture. However, they often try to create semi-professional troupes located either within the academic environment or non-academic society that explore formal setting to enact their plays. The major difference between these two theatres is well captured in the words of Harvard University’s Culture Scholar, Biodun Jeyifo:

The most obvious illustration of divergence of the theatre in Nigeria is their respective fates seemingly assigned by both critical posterity and contemporary wisdom to the text and the performance: the text will outlast the performance, and even at the very moment when the two share contemporaneous existence. The performance lasts for a few hours every night for a few weeks, while the text is virtually available all the time. (42)

The Art Theatre of the University of Ibadan is the first formal stage for theatrical performances, though it was initiated for film shows and events, the arrivals of theatre admirers among the teaching staff of the then University College help set the stage for the country that what could later become a beehive of theatre creations and playwriting. It should be noted also that before the Art Theatre at Ibadan, performances had been taking place such as The Oloyede’sKing Elejigbo and Princess Abeje of Kontagoraas far back as 1902. In addition, the Onitsha market plays, which were also growing, were attracting town hall enactments. There were also other texts and performances produced from the 1940s to 1950s, before the formalization of the emergence of literary theatre in Nigeria. The Nigerian Popular Theatre was mostly indigenous-language based; the literary theatre utilizes both English and Yoruba languages then, as well as the subsequent culturally popular indigenized ‘Pidgin’ English as the medium of engagement.

 

1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Feminism continues to attract different opinion because of its questioning of patriarchy, especially in patrilineal society such as Nigeria. Nigerian playwrights have written plays about women and, with women playing either prominent or minor roles in the plays. Theatre is often considered and appreciated for its depiction of society, while some have argue that theatre should be a force of good; pointing the society forward, other have insisted that the sole responsibility of theatre is to be amoral, only faithful to it representation of the realities of the society.

The features of feminism challenge the traditional values of patriarchy in that it questions the premise for which male privileges were bequeathed. Some view this as disruptive of the value system and un-African, others argue it is an inevitability of globalisation and human development.  These positions have affected how women are presented in plays in Nigeria, either as the submissive, culturally aligned woman, conscious of her history and her place in it or as a stubborn, disruptive feminist, vigorously in search of herself in the society to the detriment of traditional social harmony. This controversial perception and interpretation of feminism certainly has implication in the creation and depiction of women in the theatre. How far does this go? These are the problem this thesis seeks to find answers for.

1.3 RESEARCH QUESTIONS

The crux of this thesis is to explore feminism, Nigerian theatre and the shared role they play in the representation of women in the theatre using the selected plays to dialogically demonstrate such representations and the issues surrounding them. How have women been historically portray? What theme are women preoccupied with in Nigerian Theatre? What roles do they play and how does it reflect the societies. Theatre is a means of communication, affirming societies’ values and criticising its vices. While this traditional role of the theatre has been acknowledged and appreciated, how are issues treated in the theatre? Have the aspirations of women been adequately represented in the theatre? Most Nigeria dramatist are male, whose themes and plays talk about women. Whereas othershave been fairer in their representation of the role women plays, othersare have been argued not accord women the place they occupied in the societies. On a further note, has the Nigerian theatre, in its role and mode of influence in the societies, served as a reflector of roles or a creator of roles? Is the presentation of women on stage merely reflecting the societies or does it, or should it strive to improve the argument for better representation of feminism.

For better execution of this research, the following are the basic research questions:

  1. What constitute a feminist theatre?
  2. How has the perception of feminism affected women representation Nigerian theatre?
  3. What are the impediments or enablers of feminist representation in Nigeria theatre?
  4. Can dialogism as a communication theory help to deconstruct feminism in the selected plays?
  5. How to identify the aggregating forces that gives birth to feminism in the theatre?

This thesis will look at the aforementioned question by outlining the history of feminism and Nigerian theatre, and subsequently use the theoretical frameworks of feminist literary theory and dialogism as a demarcating post to guild and locate these answers to the research question both in the selected plays and the intersection of the histories of theatre in Nigerian and feminism in general. There are fewer better places to deconstruct patriarchy than in the arts, specially a representative art like the theatre.The two selected plays have the ingredients needed to engage the research questions both from a thematic position and theatrical standpoint.

1.4 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

The objective of this study is to show the state of feminine consciousness in Nigeria theatre and the extent to which dialogism can aid in interpreting theatrical conceptualuation of feminism. This thesis also highlights the role of patriarchy in the construction of a feminist performance.   It also explores the theories of feminism so as to locate the relevance of feminist representation to the Nigeria theatre. The nature and temperament of characterisation is also a function of the dialogue of the play, especially as it relates to locating the issues and struggles of the protagonist. This study is also an exploration of the treatment of gender issues in the Nigeria theatre generally, which will be done by the analysis of feminism as presented in the two selected plays. The research tentatively proffers solution on the way forward in the representation of feminist issues on the Nigerian stage.

1.6 RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS   

The hypothesis of this study is in threefold- First, the cautionary projection of feminism as a counter culture to patriarchy especially in Nigerian is reflected on the Nigerian theatre, which traditionally serves as a mirror to, and of the society. Secondly, the essence of a feminist performance can best be interrogated using literary theories such dialogism, feminist literary theory etc. Thirdly, the issues allocated to women in the selected plays are stereotypically gender-framed, though traditionally accepted but presently comes under intense scrutiny in view of the changing profile of women in Nigeria

1.7 SCOPE AND LIMITATION OF THE STUDY

This thesis is a theoretical work: as it primarily concerned with the analysis of the selected plays text, the conceptualisation of feminism, the evolvement of Nigeria theatre. The research focuses on the textual analysis of the play text, rather than an inquiry on the performances thereof, which always includes the director’s interpretation and hence out of the scope of this research work. The assumptions concluded from this research can therefore only be representative in view of the limited numbers of plays analysed. Whereas the linkage between feminism and Nigerian theatre are examined, this research is limited to the selected text as its area of study.

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