Is there a Place that is Non-Gendered in this World?: A Critique of Oyewumi’s Non Gendered Yorùbá Family

Olúkáyò?dé R. ADÉS?UYÌ, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria


The paper is an appraisal of Oyeronke Oyewumi’s argument that Yorùbá is non-gendered. It examines her arguments in support of this. It finds out that Oyewumi’s claim is not evident in Yorùbá setting. At best, it can be considered to be pseudo argument. The paper concludes, using the methods of conceptual analysis and philosophical argumentation, that since the discourse about gender is a universal phenomenon, and since it cannot be done away given its inherent function, there exists no nation, race group of people without gender. Therefore, Yorùbá cannot be an exception, that is, by implication, Yorùbá is gendered.

[Keywords: gender, non-gendered, feminism, agbo-ilé, ?m?-ìyá]


It is not uncommon to hear people talking about gender and sex. In which case, both concepts are parts of human languages. They are very common in the feminist context such that no feminist theory can be discussed without mentioning either of these concepts. However, these concepts have different meanings and interpretations, and their meanings and interpretations depend on the use. For instance, Idowu (2002: 39) has differentiated between sex and gender. For him, the difference is that while sex refers to the genetic and physical characteristics of persons that define their identities to be either male or female, gender refers “to the culturally accepted behaviours and ways of relating to others expected of the two sexes.” In this case, gender is socially constructed (Idowu, 2002: 39). It may imply that gender discussion is neither relative nor contextual.

Oyewumi (2002) has, however, argued that gender discourse is not universal but contextual. This further implies that feminist theory and, of course any discussion are not universal. To argue for this, Oyewumi (2002) uses Africa (Yorùbá) as point of reference to prove that Africans and Africa are non-gendered; rather what is evident is seniority orientation.

This paper examines Oyewumi’s claims and analysis used to deny Africans as non-gendered. Method similar to hers will be adopted, that is, conceptual clarification. This is informed given by her use of method of conceptual clarification. It shall conclude that her claims are not tenable.

An Overview of Oyewumi’s Notion of Gender

Oyewumi (2002) has taken a bold step to look into the issue of gender and conclude that Africans are non-gendered. To prove this, she looks at the issue from one of the African nations, Yorùbá. What she intends to do is to prove that if actually there is a nation or tribe in Africa that is non-gendered, then, it will be easy to establish the fact that Africans are non-gendered. In which case, the argument will be structured thus:

Yorùbá are non-gendered.

Yorùbá are Africans.

Therefore, Africans are non-gendered.

Apparently, the structure of the argument is valid; it is so in the sense that the information in the conclusion, which is Oyewumi’s thesis, is already contained in the premises. While the argument is deductive, it is, however, not sound. The argument, although deductive, is neither plausible nor tenable, bearing in mind that not all deductive arguments are sound; and for there to be a sound argument, the premises and the conclusion must be true and valid (Copi and Cohen, 2002: 42-43 ; Oke and Amodu, 2006: 81).

Before examining the main thesis, a look at her view about gender construct, origin and nature of feminism is necessary. According to Oyewumi (2002), there was a period named the age of modernity which was magnet-like age. It came with a lot of things like “the development of capitalism and industrialization, as well as the establishment of nation states and the growth of regional disparities to the world system” (Oyewumi, 2002). Furthermore, due to modernity, some other things not only surfaced but came to stay. These things, perhaps, still exist up till today; which are gender and racial categories (Oyewumi, 2002). The consequence of this modernity is the expansion of Europe and establishment of Euro/American cultural hegemony throughout the world.

This expansion would not have been felt if nothing had come with it. But it did not come alone; it came with what is today regarded as the best thing to have happened to the ‘uncivilized people’, which is education. This has led to the production of knowledge about human behaviour, history, societies and culture (Oyewumi, 2002). This means that the Europeans have since been in possession and production of knowledge (Salami, 2008: 195-213; Salami, 2009: 131-141). This has affected the history, religion, ethics, philosophy etc of other parts of the world, Africans inclusive, thereby leading to eurocentrism, the view that a particular group is intentionally and deliberately put at the centre and the group at the centre is propagated as being emulated (Summer, 1906; Berry and Kalin, 1995: 329; Toth and Vijder 2002: 252; Bailey and Harindranath, 2006: 304). The effect of this is both positive and negative, but since the focus of this paper is not on this, then, it needs not be discussed further.

Nevertheless, it must be said that the effect of eurocentrism is the racialization of knowledge, as noted by Oyewumi (2002). Of course, one needs not begin to question that due to the fact that most of this formal education training is in line with the European set up. That is the basis of her assertion that “Europe is represented as the source of knowledge and Europeans as knowers” (Oyewumi, 2002)….Access Full Text of the Article

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