Culture’s Bondswoman

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From Mercy A. Oduyoye’s Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (1995), I want to focus on Chapter 4 entitled “Culture’s Bondswoman.” What struck me as particularly interesting about this chapter is the sense that African women share a relationship with culture, a relationship where they become, in effect, culture’s bondswoman. More importantly, if following Oduyoye’s argument a bit further, there is a dialectical relationship between culture and the African woman, where culture situates African women in a situatedness predicated on power and authority. From this, I find it possible to consider Oduyoye’s use of power and authority to describe the dialectical relationship between culture and African women as distinctly Hegelian –for Hegel, particularly through the “lordship and bondsman” relation across two self-consciousnesses, a dialectical relationships predicated on power and authority develops between the “relation of the self-conscious individuals [where it] is such that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle.”[1]

Rather than in the literal sense, I find that what Oduyoye describes, through what I would argue is a Hegelian dialectical structure, is a “life-and-death struggle” of African women within a patriarchal society. It is a “struggle” for legitimacy and existential value –and, in effect, a struggle against classism, oppression, marginalization, and sexism. This especially comes to bear when further considering Hegel’s contention that “the relationship of husband and wife is in the first place the one in which one consciousness immediately recognizes itself in another.”[2] When Hegel invokes the term “consciousness,” he is speaking of self-consciousness –the possibility of being conscious of another and self-conscious of oneself. What arises from self-consciousness, as Hegel goes on to propose, is a kind of “knowledge of this mutual recognition.”[3] I view this “mutual recognition” not just best describes a man knowing he is a man and knowing that a woman is a woman, but also describes a husband knowing he is a husband and knowing that his wife is his wife. More importantly, it is about a woman recognizing she is a woman and a wife, most notably within the infrastructure of a patriarchal man-woman relationship.

If considering Oduyoye more carefully through a Hegelian model, I find the following becomes true of a patriarchal society constructing on power and authority: it is about a woman knowing that she cannot be a husband. The “knowledge,” in turn, that comes from this kind of “recognition,” particularly on the part of the woman in the dialectic, is steeped in the existential nature of her inferior position.[4] Here, what arises, through such a “recognition” is what Derrida calls “differánce”: an understanding that existential differences defer positionalities. In this respect, recognizes the differences between herself and another (a man, in this case), she immediately grasps the epistemological value of being deferred to a position of inferiority. This, of course, is quite problematic, particularly in light of Oduyoye’s argument.

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[1] Georg W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A. V. Miller (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1979), 113-114.

[2] Ibid., 273.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hegel mentions this in another very important dialectic: the lordship-bondsman. Or, to use more contemporary terminology: the master and the slave. Georg W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A. V. Miller (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977), 111-119.

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