Selected diaries of women prisoners


YOU will recall from my previous submissions that there is no story without an informing ideology just as there is no appreciation that is not influenced by some ideology.
Ideology is a system of ideas that determines one’s position in the world as well as how that individual interprets the world.
Ideology provides the operating system of thought. It is the universe that determines attitudes and worldview.
It shapes consciousness.
It is against this background that we begin the series of A Tragedy of Lives by analysing the ideological basis of the stories compiled by female writers about the plight of female prisoners.
Feminism is that ideology.
This article’s principal audience is the young generation of Zimbabwean patriots.
A lady called June Hannam’s interpretation of feminism may be a good starting point.
She says the writing of women’s history has always been closely linked with contemporary feminist politics as well as with changes in the discipline of history itself; that when women sought to question inequalities in their own lives, they turned to history to understand the roots of their oppression and to see what they could learn from challenges that had been made in the past.
The point I wish to drive home is that while a princess is female, she does not compare less favourably than the son of a peasant. Similarly, the daughter of a female Cabinet minister does not compare less favourably to the son of a cane-cutter – at least in terms of access to the necessaries of life.
The second point is that history is not universally shared.
Every people’s history is shaped by the people themselves.
People are born into history which they embrace as well as redirect in line with their worldview.
At the centre of all these interactions with nature is the people’s culture, which is essentially the fulcrum of a people’s identity.
This is the point Hannam’s universalisation of feminist discourse misses.
And this is what I want our young generation to be aware of – that the history of the evolution of feminist discourse does not belong to Africa; if anything it has been exported and in some cases imported by some of our own who have fallen victims to the wiles of Western cultural hegemony.
The history of feminism has a clear context. It started in the US as do many ideologies.
If you understand the history of slavery then you should understand that feminism is part of the dynamics of slavery and post-slavery dynamics and politics.
The point I am making is that during slavery there were no stable African families in the way you understand family structures in Zimbabwe.
Yet children were born by mothers to different fathers.
That means that children could identify more with their mothers than with fathers whom they did not know or could not remember.
When slavery ended there was an attempt to establish stable families but this did not erode the power of women.
In other words these women would soon resist any form of direct control by their husbands. And the situation was not bettered by the sudden introduction of human rights discourse following the officialization of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 after the so-called Second World War. Thereafter the reference to individual rights became rabidly contagious in the States and in Europe.
This is the context under which feminism developed in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.
And as I have already stated now it is rabidly catching to postcolonial states whose history is unfortunately quite differently configured.
Note that I am not saying that women in the United States were or are not oppressed. No, it is up to them to tell us about their experiences if they wish to.
What I am challenging is the shameless bigotry to say what they experienced is what our mothers experience everywhere as if they are the universal standard of humanity.
Surely our women in Africa have always been powerful. Remember Quuen Sheba of Ethiopia, Queen Nsinga Mbandi of Angola and Nehanda of Zimbabwe just to mention a few. Why do we not allow African women to tell their own story?
Therefore, do the stories in A Tragedy of Lives tell an African story?
One argument by feminists is that activists within the first organised women’s movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries found that women were largely absent from standard history texts and this inspired them to write their own histories.
Once again, what is said of US women is presented as representative of all women including our own mothers, sisters and daughters.
The other unsaid truth is that even African history was also absent in the colonial narration of Africa by Europe.
The writing of women’s history [in the US and Europe] flourished in the 1970s and 80s, in particular in the United States and Britain, although there were differences of emphasis and approach that mirrored divisions within the contemporary women’s movement, in particular between radical and socialist feminists.
In the United States research concentrated on a separate women’s culture, the growth of all-female institutions, the family and sexuality.
In Britain, where labour history was much stronger and many feminists had come out of a socialist politics, the emphasis was on waged work, trade union organisation and labour politics.
In all these developments, feminism can be summarised as all about the chronological narrative of the movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.
This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. As a theory it aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experience.
In fact it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social construction of sex and gender. Because the basis of feminism has been associated with either white or middle-class or educated perspectives, there has been an attempt to create ethnically specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.
Why domesticate feminism? To benefit who?
These are questions you have to put at the back of your mind as we plunge into an analyses of selected diaries of female prisoners in A Tragedy of Lives.



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