Oyerunke Oyewumi, The Invention of Women — A Must-Read for Black Feminists.
In Oyewumi’s The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Gender Discourses, the author shows how Gender organizes society and constructs the hegemony rooted in Western ideology. Oyuwumi argues that Gender is a western social construct used to construct society. As feminists, traditional white-centered feminism has been white women fighting to alter the hegemony into something new and take a place they never had in the western tradition.
Through The Invention Of Women, the question becomes, Should the goal of Yoruba Feminism mirror Western Feminisms and be embedded in changing how Gender organizes our society, or instead change our society so that Gender does not organize it? Taking back a historical African cultural organization and remodeling it for a new world is a goal free from western expectations and rooted in African culture rather than transcribing white feminism onto Yoruba culture.
Legacies of white supremacist imperialism and Christianity did not only create ‘ideal gender’ performances, but also deconstructed not only original Yoruba societal construction but also the Yoruba person themselves and violently constructed Gender, ideal femininity, notions of gender essentialism, and a gendered hegemony, and Women. This tenuous Gender Hegemony was built over a Yoruba context and had to be supported through a religious justification, economic incentives, language, and the violence of Imperialism.
This construction not as a byproduct of Imperialism but as central to the Imperialist Project to further justify and perpetuate Imperialism, not just as a political structure but as a social constraint that would assassinate the Yoruba identity, cut the Yoruba tongue, and mutilate the Yoruba anafemale’s metaphysical and physical Body. (Anafemale is a term Oyewumi uses to address anatomically female people as understood in our modern context of sex.)
Ironically, this is done with a European justification at the time of ‘civilizing the African’ and promoting greater ‘freedom’ for African Women generally. With this understanding, Gender Equality as a White feminist might understand it — would be insufficient reparations or restorative justice for Yoruba feminists. Feminist Justice in this context, for me, would mean deconstructing language, Gender, and legacies of White Imperialism that created not just physical borders in Africa but also social and thought boundaries, turned Yoruba People into temporal bodies, denied them ancestral ritual and performance, and created rigid boundaries between the Body, mind, and spirit of African peoples.
Oyewumi argues how social construction is performed and perpetuated through language and ritual. They show the organizational construction of society can be read through language and the connotations of gender words, and dives deep into the history of how the power construction of Yorubaland was based on seniority rather than through the now normalized gender hegemony that lives within Western Societies.
But ultimately also, Oyewumi interrogates gender essentialism, feminist goals, and how western ideologies and Imperialism created Gender — women -- through epistemological mutilation. Epistemological mutilation is the creation of barriers that limit the whole Yoruba person (physical, mental, spiritual) and their knowledge of — and potential knowledge of- their self (physical, mental, and spiritual). This is what Gender does. It is not only a social organizing construct but also an epistemological mutilation that kills what can be and what has been for African anafemales, in Oyewumi’s case, Yoruba females. The ‘Invention of Women’ and the transformation under imperialism changed Africans from ‘Humans’ with an unlimited breath of spiritual, mental, physical, and societal potential to women with a pre-determined limited societal value and status.