No Sweetness Here: Colonizing Women

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

While Aidoo certainly does not undermine the economic and social realities that plague the African people and which prevent real liberation, she also demonstrates the insidiousness of imperialist and colonial ideology in the lives of African women, particularly bourgeois women, and in this sense mirrors the claim made by Ogundipe-Leslie that "Within this cultural universe of Third World dependency, the 'elite' woman is the dependent of the dependent, being pulled along in the whirligig of neo-colonial meaningless behavior. Like her male counterparts, she imitates everything European, and despises her traditional culture and race while she fails to understand her own true needs." This statement by Ogundipe-Leslie is, however, extremely problematic in that it ascribes to a certain kind of 'dependency theory' which denies any agency within the Third World and particularly of women and the elite in that world as well assumes an ability on the part of the writer to determine what the 'true needs' of women are. This emphasis on neocolonialism and dependency ignores the fact that the elite actually do have a great deal of independence and power. While Aidoo, in this story certainly denounces the oppressive nature of Western standards of beauty for African women, and the adoption of these into the ideology of the African bourgeoisie; the very fact that Sissie rejects these standards, demonstrates that these are not necessarily imposed on women but rather are adopted by members of an elite class of women who aspire to European bourgeois ideals.

While Sissie by the end of the story does agree with her 'brothers', the intellectuals of the national liberation struggle, this does not in any way undermine Aidoo's critique of the 'revolutionaries'. Aidoo critiques the sexism within this struggle, through the character of Sissie who clearly recognizes that while she is part of this educated elite, her status as a woman creates problems in her relationship to the struggle. As she says,

This was something else . . . what did the experts call it? War of the sexes? Yes, as for this war of the sexes, if there had been any at all in the old days among her people, they could not possibly have been on such a scale. These days any little 'No' one said to a boy's 'Yes' means one is asking for a battle. O, there are just too many problems.(p.2).

Here, Aidoo makes the sexism even within the national liberation struggle clear, and yet she argues that this is largely a result of the history of colonialism and the subsequent neo-colonial society, not a transcendent historical fact.

The hypocrisy of the educated elite, the self-proclaimed revolutionaries is also critiqued by Aidoo, first in their obsession with discussing the problem of wigs rather than tackling larger socio-economic problems. While Aidoo argues that this is indeed a problem in that it demonstrates the insidiousness of a kind of cultural imperialism, she nonetheless continues with and ends the story with a harsh critique of this group of intellectuals. When Sissie decides that they were in fact right, and longs to tell them so, she is not able to, because :

nearly all of them were still abroad. In Europe, America or some place else. They used to tell her that they found the thought of returning home frightening. They would be frustrated..... Others were still studying for one or two more degrees. A master's here. A Doctorate there....That was the other thing about the revolution.(p.7).

In this closing paragraph of the story Aidoo makes evident the hypocrisy of these educated intellectuals who perpetually discuss revolution and denounce the problems of African society condemning women who wear wigs for attempting to conform to Western ideals of beauty, and who themselves, refuse to return to their country preferring to collect degrees and live a privileged life without attempting to put into action any of their lofty ideals. Aidoo denounces the educated elite who are revolutionaries in words but not in action in a way that clearly shows the disillusionment of the post-independence era. Those who had proclaimed liberation for the African people, members of the national bourgeoisie, are in fact the ones who betray the revolution in that there is no substance behind their empty rhetoric. The disillusionment expressed in this story clearly reflects the failure of the leaders of national liberation struggles to live up to expectations and is a strong critique of the hypocrisy of the educated elite in Ghana.

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

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Ghana OV Aidoo OV discourseov

Last Modified: 29 April, 2002