Body as Resistance to Patriarchal Hierarchy and Colonization

By Svetlana Fenichel

"Psychological Emancipation" by BRIMS

Tsitsi Dangarembga bluntly uncovers how highly patriarchal social order dictates that female body generally is the major object of colonization and victimization. Women are seen as labor objects, whose unpaid work is intended to be benefiting and improving men’s social conditions. Even worse, women are not given a visible option of refusing this order. Therefore, Nyasha’s decision to resort to forced starvation presents her in a dual role of a victim, but more importantly as a protester against victimization. She is further disheartened by the failed emancipation of her mother Maiguru, who after five days escape from Babmukuru’s control comes right back. “So where do you break out to?” asks Nyasha.

Through the space of her physical body, Nyasha also rejects to comply with the codes designed to prepare her for an unequal marriage market. She similarly loses faith in the alleged power of education that seemingly offers a potential to emancipation of women, but in reality keeps them further constrained, and even further aggravates their social ills. This is exemplified by the escapeless entrapment of Nyasha’s mother Maiguru. Even Maiguru whose education would be expected to free her from serving to capitalism and patriarchy becomes yet another token of exchange. Her academic degree is not recognized and not nearly as revered as her husband’s. Therefore, Nyasha’s rejection of food becomes a symbolic denunciation of both socio-sexual codes, as well as highly selective Western educational system.

Justine Frank "Untitled (Self-Portrait as a Black Woman)

Deepika Bahri stresses the peculiarity of female body as a very particular space that elaborates the complexity of cultural and economic systems and system of production. She averts that “Nyasha’s diseased self suggests the textualized female body on whose abject person are writ large the imperial inscriptions of colonization, the intimate branding of patriarchy, and the battle between native culture, Western narrative, and her complex relationship with both” (Bahri 1). That explains Nyasha’s choice of demeaning the value of her body as the act of rebellion.  The body then becomes the site of conflict for control. Nyasha’s corporeal bodily space becomes the only resort of battling colonial system and the patriarchal control represented by Babamukuru. Resorting to anorexia and bulimia becomes for  Nyasha a pathetic means of establishing control over her body in the only way possible. As Jennifer Williams further interprets, Nayasha is turning her body into the battlefield for womanhood, for African womanhood subverted by patriarchal system and colonial system equally (279). Nyasha’s body weakening from anorexia and bulimia is a also symbolic way of revealing and dismantling elements of both patriarchy and colonization. It is her personal way of challenging Babamukuru’s authority, colonial power, her position of a subaltern.  Nyasha’s rejection of food exemplifies her refusal to occupy the space allotted to her by colonial and patriarchal systems and to comply with the systems themselves. “What ails Nyasha, then, is not simply an eating problem but a rampant disorder in the socio-cultural complex that determines her fate as woman and native on the eve of the birth of a new nation” (Bahri 7). Williams similarly agrees that her eating disorder is the way of communicating her personal distress to the public by means of her body. She asserts that,

Anorexia for Nyasha is more than a protestation to her father’s authority. It is more than an intentional refusal of food, it is a rejection of everything her father offers and tries to force her to consume. By not nourishing herself, she also stalls her physical development into womanhood, in general, and into African womanhood, in particular. (281).

Being provided no other ways of asserting herself and given no power in the social sphere shaped and controlled by males, Nyasha converts her physical body into a powerful tool of resistance. Her silent resistance through the body space becomes a stunning proclamation in the name of African womanhood.


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