“The Other Language of Women”: Léonora Miano celebrates African women

“The Other Language of Women”, by Léonora Miano, Grasset, 256 p., € 20.90, digital € 15.

For those who wonder about the success of the concept of intersectionality, namely the redoubling of discrimination – racial, social and gender – of which precarious black women offer an emblematic case, The Other Language of Women, insightful and uncompromising essay by Léonora Miano, will shed new light. The Franco-Cameroonian novelist, celebrated by literary criticism, winner of the 2013 Femina prize for The Season of the Shadows (Grasset), thwarts our expectations by refusing the frameworks imposed by Western feminist thought, which a good emancipatory conscience makes, according to her, blind to the imbalance in relations with Africa.

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Because in wanting to save women victims of backward cultural practices, their self-proclaimed benefactors only constitute them as oppressed par excellence and ignore the” other language “ those that Léonora Miano calls the Sub-Saharan women. What lessons, moreover, would they have to receive, they whose ancestors were not veiled or taken to the stake, did not know the infanticide of girls, or did not fulfill the role of a man at the cost? of their femininity, like the virgins under oath in Albania? They whose myths accord, on the contrary, a preponderant place to the feminine principle and whose healers or priestesses belonged to the social elite. “The Sub-Saharan women, who gave birth to humanity, writes Léonora Miano not without superb, do not need to beg a room of their own in the big house built by others. “

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What exactly does she blame feminism for? To bet everything on equality and, therefore, to make man the exclusive unit of measurement, at the risk of ignoring the uniqueness of the feminine. Certainly, Western women have access to the rights which belong to them or are free to pursue a career. But such a goal, considered universal, amounts to setting the ideal for all women to take their place in capitalist competition. If the experience of Sub-Saharan women represents a ” other language “ that their white sisters could benefit from is that, far from defining themselves by what they undergo, the women of Africa set an example of extraordinary self-confidence.

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Léonora Miano does not intend to extol the superiority of a fantasized matriarchy; only to hear queen mothers, warriors and traders whose voices were not suppressed in Africa in the past. Thus Tassi Hangbe, who ensured the regency of Danhomè (current Benin) at the beginning of the XVIIIe century and created the agoodjie, first exclusively female armed corps. Or Sarraounia Mangou, both governess and spiritual guide (in the southwest of what is now Niger), who routed the Voulet-Chanoine mission in 1899 – a colonial operation in Chad. Among these strong women, Léonora Miano does not hesitate to criticize those who, like Njinga Mbande, princess of Ndongo (future Angola), in the 17th century.e century, behaved towards women like the worst phallocrats.

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“The Other Language of Women”: Léonora Miano celebrates African women