We come from one culture or the other and that is what often sum up our personalities. Culture can be defined as that complex whole, which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habit acquired by man as a member of society(Edo 2).
Senghor regards traditional African society to be based on the community and on the individual in the community because it was founded on dialogue and reciprocity, the society had priority over the individual without crushing him, but allowing him to blossom as an individual (5).
The debate on the issue of gender is always tense and critical in Africa and something like gender issues is not really mentioned. Most of the time, men reject any debate on it and adopt a defensive stance, as they think it is a means for women to attack and overtake them, so gender relates to power-seeking and the need for societal control. Every female character in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes and Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter has her own oppression cycle. The African society is a male dominated one and therefore women are taught to be docile, nurturing, passive and subservient; men are expected to be aggressive, active and dominant. What their cultures have to say about polygamy prevents the females from acting out because of the cultural stipulation. The problem is that these roles limit the human potential of women, and create fundamental inequalities within society. Feminists have used the term to refer to the social system of male domination over women. Ruthven affirms that the task of feminist critics is to expose the way in which male dominance over females constitutes perhaps the most pervasive ideology of peoples culture and provides its most fundamental concept, namely power(2). In her theory of patriarchy, Walby notes that, patriarchy as a system of social structures and practices in which men control, suppress and exploit Women(1990). This system has been there since ancient time and it has continued to be part of our culture because men do not want to lose their long-established historical benefit of being the ‘chief’ of the family and the ‘commander’ of women.
Cultures are suffused with practices and beliefs concerning gender, and most cultures aid control over women in various ways. In terms of traditional gender roles, women are supposed to operate within the privacy of the home and clan, while men function in the public world of politics and economics. The problem is that these roles limit the human potential of women, and create fundamental prejudice within society.
Culture and religion are important to many women in the world, but can also be sources of oppression (Okin, 1999). This forms of cultural oppression are now being fought against by feminist. Feminism is a system of belief and theories that pay special attention to women’s rights and women’s position in culture and society. The world is fast changing and so is the African society, we are letting go of most of the indigenous practices like the female genital mutilation, widowhood rites and others practices that were infringing on the rights of women.
Also, African women are now able to negotiate the claim between their cultures and themselves. Some African females writers are now helping to take away some of the cultures bound on African women in their writings. In most of their books, like so long a letter (1980) by Mariama Ba, “One is Enough”(1981) by Flora Nwapa, “Our Sister Killjoy”(1977) by Ama Ata Aidoo. the heroines have the professional and the economic means to live without men and they do so in the urban world which will at least accommodate, if not encourage their single status. the challenge to ensure gender equality in religion and culture remains a big one. In this regard, education of women has a critical role to play in challenging inequality and highlighting areas of best practice.
The texts under study are Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes and Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter (1989). These texts reflect real social problems in different communities. They cast light on the inequalities that are present in polygamous and patriarchal relationships, proving that the principle of equality cannot be achieved as long as polygamy and patriarchy exist and so long as the cultures do not see anything wrong with them. The major female characters of these two novels are denied some basic rights in their marriages and community, and assign to the background in spite of their contribution to their families and the society at large.