. Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa: Introduction
The contrast between on one hand these kinds of stories from various parts of Africa, of female genitals seen as sources of power, fear and awe, and on the other hand present-day conceptions of female genital organs as invisible and unmentionable (cf. Machera’s chapter) is striking. A speculation regarding the importance of missionary interventions in this context does not seem far-fetched. Likewise Christianity might be an active factor in the so-called ‘culture of silence’ regarding African women in general and African women’s sexuality in particular (cf. Arnfred’s and Kolawole’s chapters).
Kolawole sets out to contest and divert this notion of ‘culture of silence’, in this endeavour drawing on a long list of African women writers and theorists. Convincingly she shows that African feminist (or womanist) thought has developed significantly through African (women) writers’ works of fiction:
Many African women literary writers and critics have emerged as gender theorists. … It is remarkable that many of the theorists who are attempting to re-conceptualize gender in Africa do so through a double approach, in creative writing as well as in theoretical propositions (Kola – wole, this volume).
This also points to a certain approach in investigations of gender power relations in Africa, Kolawole’s own emphasis being on analysis of “myths, proverbs, anecdotes and folktales”, the rationale being that these shape the mind-set of men and women. Thus the interpretations of myths and proverbs, folktales and customs are seen as arenas of gender struggle: patriarchal interpretations must be contested; feminist understandings of proverbs, customs, history do not emerge on their own: they must be constructed, maintained and fought for. The aim of this volume is to contribute to this struggle.