PROCEEDINGS OF YELF BOOK CLUB. July 2020 Edition
Introduction: This edition of the book club meeting is centred on Innocent Chizaram Ilo’s ‘When a Woman Renounces Motherhood’. Ilo’s short Story is the regional (Africa) winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The story explores the bond between a mother and a daughter in a sexist tradition.
Moderator: For those of us who chose this story out of the 3 that were suggested: why did you want to read it? Did it live up to your expectations?
Namse Udasen: I submitted an entry for the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the shortlist. I wanted to read about the story that eventually won. I was interested in the style and narrative techniques.
Moderator: Yes, the style and narrative are top notch.
Malik katsina: Well, I always want to read stories about different perspectives, especially those sides that I can never experience; no matter the circumstances. In this case, it is about being a woman as well as a mother. I didn’t actually open them to skim through. I only read the title and I knew it was going to be an interesting one.
Maryam Adam: The title was the first thing that caught my attention. It triggered me into reading the entire story.
Najib kazaure: I love it! The title caught my attention and when I read it, it exceeded my expectation. It’s an excellent short story.
Malik katsina: Yes, the first chapter was lit; particularly where the writer encouraged us to read the first few paragraphs.
Moderator: It is poetic. You have to catch your breath and do as you are told.
Maryam Adam: The poems were everything to me because, I connected to them as soon as I started reading.
Moderator: What do you think then? Are women who are calling for inclusion and agitating for more just bitter feminists or they have been treated unfairly for a long time?
…the quest to be a good wife and mother saw her sacrifice her own happiness to raise her children, please her husband and conform to society’s expectations of what a good wife should be. In the second paragraph, Ilo begged the question why society expects so much from a woman: ‘no one asks her why she did it. How dare you give up on such a beautiful thing; nature’s call embedded in your vagina, crested on your breasts?’
What does motherhood mean to you? Is there anything like the joys of motherhood or is it synonymous with suffering?
Malik katsina: They are bitter feminists but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bitter for good reasons and yes, they have been suffering for a long time but then, it’s time to force a change.
Namse: This is a difficult question to answer. The constructs of “joy” and “motherhood” are relative and culturally determined to some extent. There are bitter men and bitter woman in different circumstances but women deserve better.
Malik Katsina: Part of what motherhood means to me is “sacrifice”, and sacrifice can be in the form of suffering. Women are set to play huge roles: a wife and a mother. They are expected to provide their 100% to each, simultaneously. Men play their father and husband roles at best 40%.
Moderator: Is that not the notion the author is trying to challenge? Why do women have to bear the cross alone?
Najib Kazaure: As a man, I honestly think I cannot even come close to understanding what the joy of motherhood is or the struggles it entails. I think it’s the pinnacle of love, commitment and sacrifice.
Maryam Adam: Motherhood is something that comes with joy and sacrifice. The joy here is holding your child from the day of birth, watching them grow, caring for them and lots more. However, that joy might come with a price; one may have to give up some dreams and whatever goals you want to achieve.
Sadly, the society doesn’t care how you do it: whether you have dreams or not. The society wants women to become familiar with suffering, all in the name of motherhood. Today, if a woman denounces motherhood, the society will say it is entirely her fault regardless of the circumstances. They want women to be patient, until they are deep in their graves thus, it is synonymous with suffering!
Moderator: In what ways do you think traditional values and poverty oppress women?
Malik Katsina: “There is no need for you to study and be financially independent. I’m your husband and I’ll take care of your needs.”
Five years later, the man ignores those needs and abandon his responsibility. Yet, tradition hasn’t found a way to stop this.
Namse: It depends on the tradition. Different traditions have different tools for oppressing women. The most annoying one is the bride price culture.
Moderator: Namse, can you expatiate, please?
Namse: The tradition of bride price makes the woman a property of the man. That’s why you hear things like; “I don pay the money for her head, she go do wetin I want“.
Najib kazaure: I think the author takes it a step further by providing us with a visual of womanhood in Nigeria. How there’s a brazen culture of men invoking a right over women and their bodies. We saw this in the catcalling, the harassment on the bus, and worst of all the public humiliation her mother faced for denouncing motherhood (from my understanding the equivalent of seeking a divorce). The author did an excellent job of telling us so much in such a short story.
Namse: I like the innovative way he brought that in. Denouncing of motherhood. It reminds me of when Pope John Paul II asked one priest to return his mass box and baptismal candle since he had renounced his faith.
Moderator: There’s a surge of women demanding freedom from the traditional role society has placed on them; they’re often called bitter feminist. How can women escape this oppression?
Najib Kazaure: Honestly, there are so many ways. A common denominator in tradition is that women are not seen as autonomous beings. Their identity and worth are always attributed to either their fathers, husbands, and even sons. And that’s where the abuse starts from. When there is an imbalance, the dominant force continues to erode the rights of the subordinates and keeps eating away at it. Unchecked. I think that’s the core of why women have been forced to remain at the background in the grand scheme of things.
Maryam Adam: The society has made it hard on divorced women that it affects their children, especially the female children, once a woman is divorced, it’s totally her fault, she is the bad one, the man is never at fault.
Malik katsina: It might take a few generations to make social changes like these. But first step is to help in raising better men. They give birth to sons. These sons can be taught on how to do things properly, how not to oppress and make women suffer.
Maryam Adam: In addition, we should teach the girl child to be independent, let her roles not only be narrowed to house chores, let the girl child be the navigator of her universe.
Najib kazaure: True! While I believe in traditional gender roles, I think their concept has been jeopardized over the years; due to maltreatment and abuse. This has sadly turned something admirable and commendable into suffering.
Ilo tells a gripping tale of womanhood; its challenges, struggle and the thin line between womanhood and suffering. The use of language is exceptional. It reads like poetry, with vivid imagery, metaphors that evoke emotions; irrespective of the reader’s gender.
Moderator: What is your opinion about the structure and language of the short story: does it jump around in time or place?
Najib Kazaure: Excellent! The writing is remarkable. The theme, the setting, the characters all seem real. The dialogue perfectly portrays the reality of the story. The bus conductors appear exactly like bus conductors, the maid, the mother, everyone’s dialogue was constructed in cognizance of real-life characters. I love it!
I also love how the author wrote about the father and his attitude: a man who is ready to replace his old wife has the guts to tell his daughter; that her mother doesn’t make his blood rush. I was a bit shocked at that but I know it’s completely believable and it probably happens in reality. Throughout the story I was able to visualize the scenery and frankly, once a writer can get me to imagine the story in my head, I’m sold.
This attention to details in dialogue and mannerism is what I expected from “My sister the serial killer” but alas! The ink is dry.
Moderator: Did the story give you a new perspective and clearer vision of a new culture? What is the one lesson you’ve learned from the piece?
Namse: Yes, it did. A new culture of people not staying in marriages they consider discomforting.
I have also learned how to bring in new and refreshing styles in writing about daily events. Indeed, the story is a regular story told in a new style.
Najib kazaure: It truly did! I never knew that was how women sought divorce in the east. It’s a new information to me. The author did not give any plot-twist or any riveting storyline. It’s was just an everyday occurrence written with unparalleled skill that not only made the story interesting but made an important commentary about women’s role in the society
Maryam Adam: I enjoyed it as well!
Moderator: Wow! See how time flies… This session is officially over.