Genital power : female sexuality in West African literature and film
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This dissertation calls attention to three important contemporary texts from West Africa that resist the tacit cultural taboo around questions of sexuality to imagine empowering images of female sexuality. Using postcolonial feminist approaches, queer theory, and cultural studies, I analyze two novels and a film by T. Obinkaram Echewa, Frieda Ekotto, and film director Jean Pierre Bekolo to retrieve moments in which women characters turn the tables on denigrating views of their sexuality and marshal its power in the service of resistance. I show how in these texts, women bare their nether parts, wield menstrual cloths, enjoy same-sex erotic acts, sit on men's faces, and engage in many other stigmatized practices in a display of what I call "genital powers." These powers are both traditional to the cultures analyzed here and called into new forms by the pressures of decolonization and globalization. Through more complex representations of female sexuality, these texts chart a tradition in which stale binaries of victims and oppressors, the body as an exclusive site of female subjugation or as a site of eternal female power are blurred, allowing a deeper understanding of women's lived experiences and what it means to be a resisting subject in the postcolonial space. By broadly recovering women's powers and subjectivities, centering on sexuality and the body, I also examine the ways in which this mode of female subjectivity has thus far escaped comprehensive theorization. In this way, my project responds to Gayatri Spivak's call to postcolonial intellectuals to unlearn privileged forms of resistance in the recognition of subjectivity, and to develop tools that would allow us to "listen" to the voices of disenfranchised women - those removed from the channels of knowledge production. However, my study cautions that the recognition of genital powers should not be conflated with the romanticized celebration of female bodies and sexuality, since West African women continue to struggle against cultural, political, existential, and physical assaults.