No Sweetness Here: Implicating Gender Oppression Across a Division of Labor

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

Aidoo in her work, refuses to take a simplistic approach to the oppression faced by contemporary African women but rather approaches the issue from multiple yet interrelated perspectives. She claims that

[t]hree major factors have influenced the position of African women today. These were indigenous African societal patterns; the conquest of the continent by Europe; and the apparent lack of vision, or courage, in the leadership of the post-colonial period. 'Leadership' in this context does not refer to the political leadership exclusively. We speak of the entire spectrum of the intellectual, professional, and commercial elites in positions to make vital decisions on behalf of the entire community.

In her work, and in particular in the shorts stories in No Sweetness Here, Aidoo depicts the different layers and manifestations of the oppression of African women showing political, economic and cultural aspects of the problem while also clearly demonstrating that many of these problems are not exclusively faced by women but rather part of the larger societal problems of post-independence Ghanaian society.

The first two stories of No Sweetness Here depict two characters who are members an educated and economically privileged class of Ghanaians, attempting to negotiate their place and role within Ghanaian society and are particularly exemplary of the disillusionment that followed independence, clearly demonstrating the failure of national liberation to effect social change. For the most part the rest of the short stories address the effects of independence less explicitly and rather concentrate on moments from the daily lives of predominantly female characters "For Whom Things Did Not Change" (the title of the second story) and who still struggle daily with hardships, predominantly economic and cultural. Throughout Aidoo makes a sharp critique of Ghanaian society and in particular the status of women within it.

In "Everything Counts", Aidoo portrays a young woman, part of an educated elite who is attempting to negotiate her relationship to the national liberation struggle, the "revolution" as well as negotiating her status as a woman and dealing with issues of Western ideals of feminine beauty. The protagonist, Sissie, is a professor of economics who argues with her comrades in the struggle for African liberation that the economic and material problems in Ghana are at the root of the problems which must be solved to liberate the people of Ghana. She emphasizes the economic aspects of imperialism rather than the cultural referring to the problems that occur economically due to 'second-rate experts giving first-class dangerous advice. Or expressing uselessly fifth-rate opinions. Second-hand machinery from someone else's junkyard" (p.1) or giving a lecture on "automation as the newest weapon of the industrially developed countries against the wretched ones of the earth." (5). Many of her comrades, however, are more concerned with aspects of cultural imperialism such as the wearing of wigs by African women to look more European. Sissie at first denounces her comrades, saying "Listen, my brothers, if we honestly tackled the problems facing us we wouldn't have the time to worry about such trifles(...)" (p.2). clearly recognizing that the emphasis on the problem of wigs is a diversion from the real problems that plague the country.

By the end of the end of the story, however, Sissie has moved from defending the wig to an abhorrence of it and decides that perhaps her 'brothers' were right after all and that indeed 'everything counts.' This is largely due to her experience at the university where, every woman wears the wig and attempts to lighten her skin to conform to Western ideals of feminine beauty. Outside the university, as well, "from the air-stewardesses to the grade-three typists in the offices, every girl simply wore a wig" (p.3), although, it seems from the professions she names that this is still a fairly elite class of women who have a certain level of education and mobility and who are part of a professional class which is certainly not representative of the majority of women. While Sissie maintains an understanding of the fundamental economic and material problems of Ghanaian society, she also begins to see cultural imperialism as a major problem that pervades the ideology of the bourgeoisie as western ideals of femininity become the dominant ones and that which is African is undermined. As Odamtten says of the story, "we must understand the storytellers narrative on both levels of cognition, just as Sissie has to learn that, although she is correct about the crucial role of economics in nation building, one must also recognize the insidious nature of bourgeois oppression and its ideological claims."

The influence of Fanon seems to be extremely present in the ideas expressed in this story, a fact which is further supported by her designation of the African people, in his words, as "the wretched of the earth" in the quote mentioned previously. likewise, her ideas seem to mirror the idea expressed in Black Skin, White Masks that

(...)it is apparent . . . that the effective disalienation of the black man entails an immediate recognition of social and economic realities. If there is an inferiority complex, it is the outcome of a double process : -primarily economic; -subsequently, the internalization - or, better, the epidermalization - of this inferiority.

[These materials have been adapted from an honors thesis written by Megan Behrent, Brown University, 1997]

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Last Modified: 29 April, 2002