- Ethics and Human Rights in Anglophone African Women's Literature: Feminist Empathy by Chielozona Eze
Chielozona Eze has made a remarkable contribution to the scholarship on Anglophone African women's literature with his book Ethics and Human Rights in Anglophone African Women's Literature: Feminist Empathy. In this book, Eze revisits the issue of human rights in African literature, but he does this specifically from the angle of ethics, using strictly literary texts by third generation African women writers. The reason for focusing on third generation women's writing is that this [End Page 213] writing, unlike that of the previous generation of women, constructs the female body as belonging to itself, not to its society or its culture. This therefore makes the writing more suitable for a discussion on the ethical questions of human rights abuses inflicted on the female body, as Eze argues. Since the writers see their "bodies as exclusively theirs, not as belonging to society or their culture," then they are in a strong position to "contest the physical and psychological pain inflicted on them" (3). By representing "the woman's body as a violated entity," these writers "draw attention to fundamental ethical questions, one of which is the relation between the African man and the African woman" (3).
How men treat women's bodies is an ethical issue because it has to do with the rightness or wrongness of their relations. In Eze's view, "the contemporary African woman writer therefore understands her feminism to be an ethical statement; it involves people relating to people as individuals and not merely as members of groups" (3). As readers, we are persuaded to see ethics from Eze's point of view as a fundamental concept underpinning human rights. The basic idea is that the extent to which women's human rights are respected or violated depends largely on the extent to which men possess and practice an ethical consciousness. This idea is developed succinctly in Eze's analysis of the third generation African women's texts he isolates for investigation.
While ethics and human rights function as the core subjects for investigation in the chosen texts, feminist empathy frames the critic's response from his potentially controversial position as a male critic. Eze diffuses any feminist missiles that may be launched at him owing to his gender by adopting feminist empathy as a safe lens through which to analyze the chosen texts. By putting himself in the position of oppressed women, Eze does not claim to feel their pain, or to do so in equal proportion, but he seeks to imagine what they feel when experiencing these traumas. Thus, feminist empathy is a theory of critical response by which male critics can, with some measure of understanding, interpret women's literature from a feminist point of view.
This book is divided into eight chapters, with the first being the introduction. While some chapters address the works of a single writer, others combine works by two. Each chapter explores different, and sometimes related, aspects of human rights, with women's bodies being subjected to pain featuring as a locus around which the arguments converge. In total, Eze examines the works of ten writers of the third generation: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinelo Okparanta, NoViolet Bulawayo, Nnedi Okorafor, Warsan Shire, Lola Shoneyin, Petina Gappah, Chika Unigwe, Sefi Atta, and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley.
Although the introductory chapter is disjointed, going backward and forward on the same ideas, it does succeed in positioning the author's perspective within the existing literature on feminism and human rights. Eze's distinct voice amid the din of feminist voices is that readers of contemporary African women's literature should respond to it with feminist empathy because, by imagining "the experience of a woman in pain caused by society's construction of femininity" or "when we switch perspectives with a woman suffering oppression or privation because of her gender," we are better placed to decipher what the texts "imply for our understanding of ethics and human rights in Africa" (30...