Place, space and patriarchal femininities in selected contemporary novels by African women writers
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In much feminist literature, women’s spaces are analysed as constructive and supportive sites that may offer respite from patriarchy. However, women’s spaces are not inherently emancipatory. Through the socio-spatial dispersal of patriarchal power, places and spaces varying in scale – nations, cities, rural towns, private-public places and the home – can construct women who further the interests of men. Specifically, homosocial spaces, spaces where women interact with other women, can produce femininities that oppress other women by actively advancing patriarchal concerns. The selected primary texts consider spaces in regionally diverse but socially similar African contexts: Sefi Atta’s Swallow (2011) and Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (2010) are set in Nigeria, Miral al-Tahawy’s The Tent (1998) is set in Egypt, while Leila Aboulela’s Lyrics Alley (2010) is set in both Egypt and Sudan. I use the selected novels as cartographies for socio-geographical inquiry to establish how space and place construct patriarchal women. Literary spaces and places are studied from largest to smallest scale: The analysis of national spaces in the novels is followed by a study of urban and rural spaces, followed by private-public places, domestic place and, finally, at a micro-scale, the body-as-place. The analyses of these literary spaces will reveal the mechanisms by which patriarchal women are spatially produced, and may use space to oppress other women.