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Prejudice Nation: Hypersexualization and Abuse in Jude Dibia’s Unbridled

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Abstract

With the global #Metoo movement yet to arrive in Nigeria, Jude Dibia’s Unbridled reflects an emblematic moment for the underrepresented to occupy their stories and make their voices heard. The study analyzes patriarchy’s complicated relationship with the Nigerian girl child, significantly reviewing the inherent prejudices in patriarchy’s power hierarchies and how radical narratives explore taboo topics like incest and sexual violence. Contextualizing the concepts of hypersexualization and implicit bias to put in perspective how women, expected to be the gatekeepers of sex, are forced to navigate competing allegiances while remaining submissive and voiceless, the article probes the struggles of sexual victims and how hierarchies in a patriarchal society exacerbate their affliction through a culture of silence. Arguing that Dibia’s Unbridled confronts the narrative of silence in Nigerian fiction, the article explores ways the author empowers gender by challenging social values and traditional gender roles, underscoring gender dynamics and the problematic nature of prevalent bias against the feminine gender in Nigeria.
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DOI: 10.1177/21582440211032661
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Original Research
Introduction
There is an intense scene in Jude Dibia’s (2005a, p. 162)
Unbridled when Bessie, Erika’s Ghanaian friend, pleads
with her to break from the clutches of abusive men whose
unbridled ambition is unquestionably to destroy women. She
remonstrates with Erika avowing, “women are life and we
have to seek out life.” Dibia’s artful dialogue between both
women captures the emotional essence of the most vulnera-
ble gender in Nigeria’s misogynistic space and cues the way
sexual violence is trivialized in that society. hooks (2001)
notes that abused female children have been taught that love
can coexist with abuse, in essence framing a “brutal culture
where men are taught to worry more about sexual satisfac-
tion and performance” (p. 176). From infancy to adulthood,
Nigerian women across ethno-religious spheres continue
being exploited, damaged, and destroyed by perverted love.
Clementine Ford (2018) observes that while girls are broadly
expected to be “the gatekeepers of sex, in charge of preven-
tion and ‘warding off’ the advances of their supposedly sin-
gle-minded male peers, boys are generally fed an ideology
that positions their pursuit of sexuality as something that
defines their masculinity” (n.p.). Ifeyinwa G. Okolo (2016)
asserts that Dibia “shows how sexual behaviours, identities,
and perceptions are defined and redefined depending on
where the centre or margin is located at the point of defini-
tion” (p. 1). Unbridled reflects an emblematic moment for
the oppressed that have refused to remain statistics. Ikhide
Ikheloa (2007) surmises that “Dibia pulls hard at the masks
and unearths Man’s hypocrisy” (n.p.). Dibia centers sensitive
issues, otherwise ignored as private, that matter to Nigerian
women.
Chris Dunton in the preface to Unbridled observes that in
Unbridled . . . Dibia weaves present and past time narratives
together, so that the one continually illuminates the other”
(Dibia, 2005a). Dibia’s progress narrative underscores how
the cultural obsession to make women comply with a hyper-
sexualized traditional image fuels social pressure and toler-
ance of an abusive male gaze. It is a familiar construct in
Nigeria’s cultural flow that remains unyielding, sustained by
complex religious and traditional structures of identity and
social permissiveness—a certain sense of entitlement to
unfettered sexual access. Enson (2017) argues that the bom-
bardment of sexualized imagery or acts on young women
begins a process of internalization that is both gradual and
insidious. Okolo echoes Staik’s opinion that “the negative
1032661SGOXXX10.1177/21582440211032661SAGE OpenAmonyeze and Okoye-Ugwu
research-article20212021
1University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
Corresponding Author:
Chinenye Amonyeze, Lecturer in Dramatic Criticism, Department of
Theatre & Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 413 Elias Avenue,
UNN, Nsukka, Enugu State 410105, Nigeria.
Email: Chinenye.amonyeze@unn.edu.ng
Prejudice Nation: Hypersexualization
and Abuse in Jude Dibia’s Unbridled
Chinenye Amonyeze1 and Stella Okoye-Ugwu1
Abstract
With the global #Metoo movement yet to arrive in Nigeria, Jude Dibia’s Unbridled reflects an emblematic moment for
the underrepresented to occupy their stories and make their voices heard. The study analyzes patriarchy’s complicated
relationship with the Nigerian girl child, significantly reviewing the inherent prejudices in patriarchy’s power hierarchies and
how radical narratives explore taboo topics like incest and sexual violence. Contextualizing the concepts of hypersexualization
and implicit bias to put in perspective how women, expected to be the gatekeepers of sex, are forced to navigate competing
allegiances while remaining submissive and voiceless, the article probes the struggles of sexual victims and how hierarchies
in a patriarchal society exacerbate their affliction through a culture of silence. Arguing that Dibia’s Unbridled confronts the
narrative of silence in Nigerian fiction, the article explores ways the author empowers gender by challenging social values
and traditional gender roles, underscoring gender dynamics and the problematic nature of prevalent bias against the feminine
gender in Nigeria.
Keywords
prejudice, hypersexualization, sexuality, incest, patriarchy, religion
2 SAGE Open
cultural understanding of masculinity wherein dominance is
eroticized in such sexual relationships portrayed in Dibia’s
novel, has led many men and women to believe in and build
their lives around men adopting unhealthy behaviours and
ideals” (I. G. Okolo, 2016, p. 2). The novel unravels the
emancipation of Ngozi Akachi from incest and sexual moles-
tation laying bare the implicit bias against women in Nigeria
and the deficit of trust between the government and the
governed.
Recently, there has been a spike in news reports of abused
minors and women opening up to past violations. The global
#Metoo movement, a pivotal moment when patriarchy’s
abuse of power has increasingly been held accountable, is
yet to arrive in Nigeria. With the recent public outrage greet-
ing the brutal rape-murder of the young University of Benin,
Nigeria, undergraduate lady, Uwaila Omozuwa, it appeared
such traumatic incidents in Nigeria would finally be con-
fronted and a cultural turning point marked. Omozuwa’s
tragic case, although shocking, is predictable in light of
Nigeria’s long history replete with such incidents. Reflecting
on Nigeria’s intractable nature as a suffocating conservative
space, Jude Dibia (2005a) in his novel, Unbridled, metaphor-
ically depicts Ezi, Ngozi (Erika) the protagonist’s birthplace
as a place where life “remained almost the same as it was
in my childhood—static, resisting ferociously any outside
influence of modernity” (p. 225). Punch (2020) writes that
Women at Risk Foundation’s 2018 report revealed that statis-
tics at its disposal show more than 10,000 girls raped in
Nigeria daily (Punch, 2020). Women in socially conservative
Nigeria have so far avoided speaking out, fearing backlash
or stigmatization. Unfortunately, a legacy of sexual abuse
has been a part of Nigeria’s history and a reality for many
Nigerian women. Marcotte (2016) condemns this type of
toxic masculinity for its fear of anything feminine. In analyz-
ing patriarchy’s complicated relationship with the Nigerian
girl child, Jude Dibia’s Unbridled confronts the inherent
ignorance in a suffocating culture by innovatively analyzing
the omission of facts in patriarchy’s power politics while
establishing radical narratives that articulate taboo topics of
incest and sexual violence. Jumoke Verissimo (2016) points
out that “Dibia succeeded in creating Sex as a character
giving force to themes like Adultery, Childbearing; Rape,
Conception, Fornication, Homosexuality, Masturbation, and
Incest which are taking an entirely new dimension in the fray
of modern moral liberation” (n.p.). Dibia’s piece epitomizes
the social activist bent of conscionable Nigerian artists
whose contemporary dramatic plots reflect new aesthetics
re-centring women and other marginalized characters. His
narrative’s thematic preoccupation with parental abuse and
domestic violence discloses how suppressed trauma bears
grave repercussions for personal and social identity and
contributes to pushing women out of the public space.
At a time the world is clamoring for equal opportunities
for men and women, “We Shouldn’t Give Women Much
Opportunity” (2018, n.p.) reports a Nigerian federal
lawmaker, Mr. Muhammed Kazaure, warning against giving
women “too much opportunity.” As the #Metoo movement
gathers momentum globally and predatory men in power
positions are increasingly called out by abused women,
Nigeria with its culture of silence appears left behind.
Unbridled’s interrogation of the cravenness of traditional
masculinity taps into this global trend and stridently aligns
the need to implant something into Nigeria’s cultural
fabric—a need to sow a seed rejecting a misogynistic past. In
recent times, gender-based violence has spiked with toxic
masculinity’s role as the traditional type of manhood more
evident as provocateur. Kubuitsile (2008, n.p.) is worried
about Dibia’s gender as a voice for this movement noting
that “many have commented on the authenticity of Ngozi’s
female voice coming from a male writer,” although she
accepts that “Dibia seems to have a unique insight into the
female psyche.” Samuel Davis (2018) is however concerned
with “the continuum of the development of the protagonists’
personalities as they are tossed around and tampered with by
different characters with which they come in contact, as well
as events” (n.p.). Sexual abuse is about power, and in Nigeria,
the right to say no remains a luxury for most women. Dibia’s
initiative seeks to activate the powerful voices of women
erstwhile suppressed in an exhaustive patriarchal space to
challenge unflattering cultural assumptions of females as
one dimensional.
Unbridled tells the story of patriarchy’s complicated rela-
tionship with the girl child. It is a story of plausible charac-
ters, about the sensitive issue of incest, sexual abuse, and the
traumatic scars left on the girl child. The novel advocates
emancipation of its female protagonist, Erika also known as
Ngozi, abused from childhood by her father and later in
London by her White husband, James. The plot symbolizes
many untold crises that have become part of a national disas-
ter and, through coalescence of the geographical settings of
the novel, Dibia describes a neo-colonialist vision of Nigeria
whose national consciousness and social conditions remain
misogynistic and repressive. As the protagonist, Ngozi,
laments in the novel,
“I just hate this country”, I said. “What will you do about it”?
Uloma asked . . . “One day, I would leave this God-forsaken
place”. I said. “And where would you go”? Uloma asked.
“London.” I said. “I used to live next to this girl who always
travelled to London for holiday. She showed me pictures of
gardens and red double-decker buses and Trafalgar Square”.
(p. 74)
Nwabueze (2017) explains that “the novel touches on ques-
tions of postcolonial Black African culture successfully
excising new sexuality from itself” (p. 5). He wonders
whether such narrative is doomed by its own dynamism that
enables it to absorb fresh experiences, including elements of
other cultures, which a powerful segment of the citizenry
considers useful. Kubuitsile (2008, n.p.) informs that increas-
ingly seeking to confound these sexist stereotypes, writers,
Amonyeze and Okoye-Ugwu 3
like Dibia, present women in their bare state without labels.
In its visceral portrayal of sexual abuse Unbridled interro-
gates the cultural assumption that a woman ought to subli-
mate her sexuality and remain voiceless in the conversation
regarding how her body is appropriated by men. Arguing
for women’s rights to empowerment and sexual consent,
Unbridled reflects the experience of being human and rein-
forces society’s need to empathize with the marginalized. In
pushing our society’s long history of abuse closer to the light,
Dibia calls attention to Nigeria’s degenerating gender space,
thereby lionizing victims who resist abuse and demand
dignity.
On Pernicious Stereotypes
In Nigeria, just as elsewhere globally, narratives and ethical
considerations of social issues are most often framed from
authorial viewpoints of gender, class, religion, and ethnicity
and an ethical grasp of what the flow of culture ought to be.
The reticulation of these social concerns through the fictional
process is most often dependent on the writer’s understand-
ing of social value and human behavior in that geographical
space. More than 98% of Nigeria’s population claim adher-
ence to one faith-based group or the other (Christianity and
Islam) with their attendant claims of morality and ethical
behavior. These claims do not always translate to a highly
ethical society as evinced from Nigerian’s ranking on the
global corruption perception index. Collins refers to the
various intersections of social inequality as the “matrix of
domination” or the “vectors of oppression and privilege that
serve as oppressive measures towards women and change
the experience of living as a woman in society” (Ritzer &
Stepinisky, 2013, p. 204). In a conservationist space where
women are conceived as inferior to the male gender, the
female gender has been conveniently depicted both in the
real and in the fictional world as a mindless utilitarian vehi-
cle whose fate is to dance to the eternal tune of the patriar-
chal puppeteer. The Canadian Women’s Health Network
(2012) points out that hypersexualization of young girls, also
known as early sexualization, implies the depiction of girls
as sexual objects—an inappropriate imposition of products
or ideas on girls to make them view themselves as sexually
mature. Such stereotypes have become discriminatory, perni-
cious, and tolerant of sexual harassment. In the novel,
Ngozi’s (Erika) practice of weaponizing sex with James for
relaxation purposes is a fundamental aspect of her fragility.
This complex is further complicated by her sexual tryst with
her Nigerian neighbor, Providence, as a reward for his care. As
she observes, “something about his Nigerianness reflected a
quality of home, a nostalgic sense of care and empathy” (p. 67).
Ngozi reveals how she opted for a name change while chat-
ting with James: “Erika was the name we both agreed on
over the internet . . .” (p. 9). The need for growth and devel-
opment is what essentially drives her name change and rejec-
tion of a patriarchal label and its cultural kin: religion.
Religion has offered an increasingly restrictive space for
individual development and consistently supports a tradi-
tional conservative philosophy that is largely misogynistic.
Gender discrimination manifests in several guises, all
sanctioned by religious bodies under the dogma of “submit-
ting to one’s father and husband.” P. H. Collins (1986) echoes
Brittan and Maynard’s submission that “domination always
involves the objectification of the dominated; all forms of
oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity of the
oppressed” (p. 18). When agitations of gender empowerment
and equality eventually arise, they are most often countered
with a propaganda exploiting fear of a crisis of faith and col-
lapse of society. Dibia (2009) observes that “culturally, we
carry in our heads a notion of the female: what a woman
looks like and what a woman sounds like. (And the same is
true of the male.) Of course such wonderful definitions—
stereotypes—are man-made” (n.p.). Over time in Nigeria,
the folk motif of the rebellious daughter or wife became an
entrenched part of popular culture and any time marginalized
women spoke out there has been sexist alarum at so called
“feminists” in need of clipped wings. This chauvinist bent
has manifested in subtle social sanctions against women and
sometimes outright expulsion from the community. Nigeria’s
Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame
Pauline Tallen most recently reported an estimated two mil-
lion Nigerian women and girls sexually assaulted annually
(Punch, 2020).
A turning point has been reached in Nigeria’s social his-
tory as young Nigerian writers confront the cultural silence
toward incest, rape, and other forms of sexual abuse against
women. Through their art, they have analyzed shifting cultural
altitudes and set a template encouraging inclusive attitudes
and respect for the other sex. First- and second-generation
writers like Chinua Achebe, J.P. Clark, Elechi Amadi, and so
on allotted traditional roles to their female characters, but
younger writers in this social media–driven age have sought
to drive new agenda by making their female characters resist
continued assault of their basic human rights. These explicit
descriptions of sex by young Nigerian writers are seriously
decried by writers like Nnolim, Osofisan, and Adimora-
Ezigbo (Nwabueze, 2017, p. 6) who are classified by Nnolim
as belonging to the fleshy school. Osofisan, however, con-
cedes that the young writers have achieved much not mind-
ing the ecstasies of the libido in their novels that have an
under current of criticism beneath the love theme. He states
that this discussion is “sometimes very acerbic in fact of the
sorry political situation caused by irresponsible and corrupt
leadership. And hence, side by side with the erotic moments
are vivid pictures of the grim and squalid situations of the
populace” (Osofisan, 2009, p. 45). Walter P. Collins (2010)
states that “unlike the frustrating effort of their predecessors
to straddle cultural and ideological imperatives and the cre-
ative impulse, the new voices are basking in the warm glow
of worldwide approbation as they attempt to rewrite the
African story” (p. xiv).
4 SAGE Open
Jude Dibia and other young Nigerian writers work from a
vibrant postcolonial narrative that interrogates taboo topics
and trauma. W. P. Collins (2010) notes that
by adopting a redemptive strategy these novelists analyze the
memories of our social consciousness and through creative
agency confront the marginalized’s conflicted spatial identity
and the recurring and changing aspects of African life in a
globally connected world at the dawn of a new century. (p. xiii)
Dibia has declared an uncommon penchant to operate out-
side the gender box by highlighting the ways personal histo-
ries and memories influence gender behavior. By creating a
female protagonist, Ngozi (Erika), whose personal relation-
ship with the men in her life is built upon subservience to the
patriarchal needs of sexual exploitation, Dibia interrogates
the important question of identity and self-emancipation.
The novel explores the complexity of patriarchal abuse and
how negative sexual experiences of its female characters
affect their sense of cultural displacement and imperil their
social development. Dibia explores the traumatic life of
Ngozi, a desperate Nigerian immigrant, fleeing the horrors of
an abusive family to England buoyed by the false hope of
internet romance with a White man, James King. Ngozi, now
known as Erika, due to James’s linguistic unease with her
native name, discovers after a period that her condition has
deteriorated albeit her new status as Mrs. Erika King. Faced
with the prospect of continued slavery in a new land and hal-
lucinations of her past in Nigeria, Erika takes up the mission
of forming new allies in her quest for true freedom.
Dibia’s Unbridled navigates competing allegiances and
explores the cultural notion that dutiful daughters or wives
should remain submissive, long suffering, and voiceless. In
challenging the centers of power in Nigeria, Dibia’s novel
avails the reader a vivid detail of the personal stories of the
victims of forbidden relationship and the women scarred
inside and out. Nagesh Rao (2004) contends that “the world
of the postcolonial novel is itself a radically fractured space
where different social groups contend for power and control,
both of their world and of the narrative itself” (n.p.). Dibia
succeeds in creating a mental picture of sex—a concretized
presence giving breath to sexual themes like adultery, rape,
fornication, masturbation, and incest that litter our environ-
ment but are underreported especially at the family level. On
the premise that sex is about power, Dibia weaponizes the
marginalized female body and questions social phenomenon,
erstwhile muted by conservative writers. His strategy sub-
verts cultural conventions and compels society to acknowl-
edge pervasive acts going on daily in many Nigerian homes,
thereby coming to terms with the tinted lens through which
gender is viewed. Simon Gikandi (1987) states that “the
problem with control, whether secular or spiritual, is that it
assumes there is some consensus on what is acceptable and
what is undesired” (p. 166). A teenage village girl, Ngozi
Akachi, suffers various abuses at the hands of her family
members and is sent to Lagos to reside with an uncle whose
wife subjects her to further physical abuse. Ngozi’s feelings
of anger and insecurity affect her development of a positive
sex image due to her lack of justice assaulted by audacious
male abusers. Her future appears doomed until she forms a
friendship with Tiffany Okoro, a hairdresser, who takes her
under her wings until she departs for England to hook up
with James, her online lover. She finally finds her voice in
that distant land after more abuses. Erika, the semantically
transformed Ngozi, exhibits courage by leaving James who
has trampled on her dreams by lying about being “as com-
fortable as they come” (p. 17). However, she appears undig-
nified in her elopement with Providence, her Nigerian lover
in the United Kingdom, revealing a penchant to seek valida-
tion from the male gender. The dilemma of the Nigerian girl
child is lucidly captured in the novel when Providence’s
mother prays for God to punish her expectant co-wife with a
female child.
Although the novel is a creative fantasy of the author’s
reality, it is a narrative that bears striking resemblance to the
stories of incest and sexual torture coming out in increasing
numbers recently in the media. Ngozi’s despondency reflects
the traumatic attitude of Nigeria women forced into unwar-
ranted sexual assaults as she recalls, “I could hear voices
again . . . voices of suppressed memories” (Dibia, 2005a,
p. 4). The major theme in Unbridled is Nigeria’s insensitivity
to the psychological destruction of the girl child by the pow-
erful overbearing male parent. Onyijen (2014) remarks that
“abuse of power as evident in physical violence is also the
artistic concern of Jude Dibia in Unbridled” (p. 78). Dibia in
his fictional world reveals James as a White man who drama-
tizes violence in his domestic space. As a narrative that
invites us to consider sexuality and emasculation from the
perspective of those celebrating liberation and self-identity,
Dibia holds up a mirror to patriarchy and its mode of articu-
lating social ethics. Culturally, in Nigeria, as the child grows
up, he or she acquires a semiotic education of the gender
process. The child also acquires a social knowledge of acts
deemed transgressive, antisocial, and subversive to that
social code. Ode Ogede (2011) argues that “society’s failure
to accommodate difference harmoniously is an irrefutable
sign of arrogance” (p. 130). The child is taught about cultural
practice as a way of life but is not enlightened about the man-
made nature of those behavioral modes.
Authority figures most often use tools at their disposal,
religion inclusive, to extend the policy of exclusion to the
detriment of women. Unbridled highlights this ignorance at
the core of our national culture—a situation worsened
under decades of military rule with its straitjacketed
approach. Ngozi’s brother Nnamdi, who ought to protect
her, fails to exhibit the filial emotions of love and empathy
when her father repeatedly violates her body. Even when he
is confronted by Ngozi years later, he hides his inaction
behind the cultural excuse that “it is not a woman’s place to
complain about her father” (p. 151). Dibia uses Nnamdi’s
Amonyeze and Okoye-Ugwu 5
character to highlight Nigerians’ withdrawing attitude
toward complicit sensitive issues they would rather not
address. In capturing Nigeria’s history of girl child sex
abuse, Unbridled highlights the fears, tears, and despera-
tion of the young Nigerian woman and how her traumatic
past still affect her in a foreign clime. The author also high-
lights some women’s complicity in allowing patriarchy-
free reign. Ngozi’s mother is well aware of Ngozi’s abuse at
the hands of her husband yet she pretends to be unaware.
Ngozi’s aunt has her own notion of discipline and submis-
sion as she commands Ngozi’s two male cousins to restrain
her while she administered pepper to her genitals as punish-
ment for her perceived waywardness:
She got me and ordered me to lie on my back and spread my legs
. . . and felt her finger slip inside me to examine me. It felt
wriggly and foreign as being violated again, in my second home.
I then heard her cry out “Ngozi . . . Ngozi . . . Ngozi!” She
grabbed the jar of pepper, opened it and stuck her fingers into it.
I watched in pure horror . . . She stuck her peppered thumb in
me. (p. 100)
Dibia also highlights the paradox of ignorance when Tiffany,
Ngozi’s savior, while expressing her hatred for her mother
espouses a yearning for her own father’s approval. This
authorial concern also corresponds with Dibia’s (2005b)
Walking With Shadows in the scene where Adrian voices a
similar need for validation from his father. It is also evident
in Erika’s desire for both James’s and Gerald’s approval.
Dibia heightens our sense of the Nigerian society as a space
where the voices of traumatized memories are further inhib-
ited. It is noteworthy that Erika realizes the need to confront
this social malaise when she finally gains her voice in
London and returns home for her father’s burial. The allure
to frame home as a warm welcoming place is germane to
Erika’s bid for closure. In a moment of doubt that pulls her
back to the reality of Nigeria, she wonders, “maybe London
was too much of an ambition” (pp. 74–75). In this sense,
Dibia poses an oedipal paradigm that fleeing unresolved
issues is not the solution to tackling weighty problems. This
ideation manifests when Erika realizes that what is best for
her, that is, James, might be bad for her in the long term.
Religion and Unsafe Constructs
In Michel Foucault’s (1998) approach to sexuality, he links
power to knowledge, which, he submits, is socially con-
structed. He challenges the idea that power is wielded by
people or groups by way of “episodic” or “sovereign” acts of
domination or coercion, seeing it instead as dispersed and
pervasive. Nigerian writers of each generation have evolved
from the social condition of the period they find themselves
in. According to Foucault (1991), in Discipline and Punish,
through fixing of meaning and compartmentalizing thought
and reasoning, discourses create epistemic reality and
become a means of judging normality. Power is constituted
in conservative societies like Nigeria through accepted forms
of knowledge, social values, and religious beliefs. The reli-
gious dogma in Nigeria, as an informal enforcer of masculin-
ity, demands complete adherence to articles of faith and
transmutes this instruction to different facets of secular life
influenced by the family chain (Gaudio, 2014). Doctrinal
approaches also generate binary oppositions that exploit fear
and the threat of negative change in traditional family values
inadvertently sustaining marginalization. Terry Kupers
(2005) contrasts positive traits of masculinity that foster
pride and provision of social aids with toxic masculinity that
refers to “the constellation of socially regressive male traits
that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women,
homophobia and wanton violence” (pp. 713–724). Kupers
identifies such sexist ideology as a measure that counts cul-
ture as a valuable ally in justifying violence against the mar-
ginalized. This hegemonic masculinity misrepresents sex
and provokes greater reticence toward sexual abuse. This
manner of allocating social identity most often empowers the
male gaze while conveniently victimizing vulnerable bodies.
Dibia interrogates critical human rights occasioned by our
unique social contract by highlighting the noninclusive
nature of the Nigerian society. Ogede (2011) finds Dibia’s
narrative interesting because “it is not just giving visibility to
an erstwhile silent group but offering a plethora of counter-
acting images and representations of marginalized people in
different spheres of life and situations” (p. 203).
In Nigeria, living one’s life is a performance according to
social expectations and values, and status is an important
evaluation yardstick. The politics of female hypersexualiza-
tion according to Ratajkowski (2016, n.p.) suggests that
explicit sexuality and feminism are not mutually exclusive
ideals. Explicating Erika’s strength of character in her search
for a space in the intersection of private, family, and public
life, Dibia’s narrative arc highlights the psychological issues
usually ignored by Nigerian literature. Lopang (2014)
alludes that “in the national construction of sexual identity
certain sex relationships and gender roles were depicted as
alien and colonist practices. This picture of Africa became a
carefully cultivated worldview to escape from uncomfort-
able facts that challenge our world view” (p. 78). Unbridled
carries a powerful message for women on a rolling journey
through life like Erika, urging them to come out from the
shadows and make their voices heard. Lorde (2015) outlines
the importance of intersectionality as she acknowledges that
different prejudices are inherently linked. As an interpreter
of the Nigerian experience, Dibia interrogates the essential
meaning of family and its relationship to the larger society.
Highlighting the pervasive uses of religion as a patriarchal
tool to exploit and repress dissent, Dibia uses this strategy
comparatively to underscore the disparity between conser-
vative Nigeria and a more liberal global community. Ogede
(2011) observes that
6 SAGE Open
Creativity is a revitalising act of realignment; so to be of lasting
value, a new text alters its precursor(s) in crucial ways . . . so it
can fully assert its particular defining qualities. Often a new
text’s causes are better served by mounting a guerilla-type
insurgency against orthodoxy as it explodes its way into
existence . . . Whatever the writer’s primary inspirational tool
kit, to give itself, any claim to uniqueness, the maturing writers’
work has therefore to break out of the purely routine realm.
(p. 203)
The world of norms is carefully nurtured as the girl child
is born into it, socialized into its processes, and comes to
accept them as inalienable truths. This is evident in Erika’s
mother’s complicit silence. Judith Butler (2005) asserts that
norms do not have structured static position; “rather, norms
are always produced socially and they remain variable, con-
tingent. The norm only persists as norm to the extent that it is
acted out in social practice” (Butler, 2005, p. 46). The irony
is that incest is not vehemently condemned in the fiction;
rather, what is of concern to her family is Ngozi’s exposure
of her father’s incestuous act. It is a taboo to question her
place in society until when in London she transforms in name
to Erika and defies her assigned gender role. Dibia (2005a)
interchanges the Nigerian society with Ezi, Ngozi’s village, a
place she described, upon her return from London for her
father’s funeral, as a place where life “remained almost the
same as it was in my childhood: static, resisting ferociously
any outside influence of modernity” (p. 225). As a pointer to
the stated aims of religion in Nigeria, the church’s response
whenever such reported abuse cases get to the priest is to de-
emphasize the scandalous act, refuse to inform law enforce-
ment officials, instead urging the affected parties to pray for
divine intervention. Gikandi (1987) reflects on the function
of the African novel as an instrument of understanding the
individual and sociocultural levels. He surmises that “in this
respect, literary form is more than a mute vehicle for mime-
sis; it has a logic of its own” (p. x).
Dibia’s Unbridled reflects on pertinent themes of identity,
sexual abuse, subhuman immigrant conditions, misogyny,
and slavery. The novel analyzes the female bonds established
by Erika with Tiffany and Bessie, the Ghanaian, while
exploring their abusive relationships with males. Dibia
adopts binaries to highlight the past and his hopeful future
dreams. The novelist contends with how toxic masculinity,
as embodied by James, and Ngozi’s father, could be chal-
lenged in a hostile space where popular culture, religion, and
tradition normalizes unhealthy forms of male dominance,
violence, patriarchy, and rape culture. Ngozi is the protago-
nist’s Nigerian name that represents her past, whereas Erika
is her new name in a new space, England, where she hopes to
find redemption. To her chagrin James, her White husband
like her Nigerian father is abusive and both men remain
manipulative, violent individuals not minding their disparate
cultures. One could view Erika’s father from the lens of a
dysfunctional upbringing, caught up in a society whose ethi-
cal existence is facing a constant barrage. Erika’s father
has a fragile self-image that he misconstrues as power. He
is a man bereft of tenderness, lacking compassion, sense
of responsibility, and the basic attributes of humanity.
Providence, on the contrary, is gentle with women and treats
them with respect and compassion, having grown up in
Nigeria under the positive wings of his uncle whose early
influences in Providence’s life uplifted him. The key
moments that define Erika’s self-empowerment, that is,
when she left Nigeria for better chances abroad, when she
left James for Newcastle with Providence to start afresh, her
decision to delay marriage with Providence, and return to
Nigeria for her father’s burial to confront the ghosts of her
past, are all germane to the conversation Dibia desires
Nigerian society to have.
Social Experience and False Notions
There is a patriarchal notion imbibed by most Nigerians: the
idea that father knows best and remains unquestionable for
all his actions. This belief system, predicated on traditional
conservatism, has in most cases led to the abuse of moral
authority as illustrated by Mr. Akachi’s sexual perversion. As
a creative piece occupying space between art and social envi-
ronment, Unbridled reveals the way parental abuse has eaten
deep into the fabric of a largely sexist society. Erika’s family
tries to sustain the myth of a normal family by sending the
incestuous victim away to their extended family in Lagos to
prevent exposure of the Akachi family name to social ridi-
cule. Bessie, Erika’s Ghanaian neighbor, stresses the plight
of women and children within the traditional family unit
when she declares that society expects women to be fluid.
Men do not change, Bessie believes, especially not for
women who ought to adjust to suit men. The deeper issue
confronted in the novel is the failure of accountability at the
family level and a false picture of family painted by Ngozi’s
father and James. The novel advances new notions of
family: single mother type, made up of strangers (Tiffany
and Uloma), and a stronger female bonding that was absent
in Ngozi and her mother’s relationship.
Sexism in the novel is reflected in the manner Nnamdi,
Ngozi’s brother, uses Igbo language, to taunt her about her
low status in the society. On a mission to forcefully return
Erika to her abusive aunt’s house, Nnamdi derides her: “I na
emevo anyị! Can’t you see you are embarrassing the family”
(p. 133). Nnamdi’s statement mocks Erika’s submissive gen-
der attribute as he is not interested in Erika’s defense having
been ejected from their aunt’s house. He is equally unappre-
ciative of Tiffany’s and Uloma’s assistance in sheltering
Ngozi. Nnamdi is overtly anxious about his enforcement role
as the patriarchal representative of his pedophiliac father.
Providence and Thomas also loosely use the term woman to
address Erika; a linguistic attitude she believes emanates
from their fear that mere pronouncement of her name confers
her cultural presence and equality. Her new name, Erika, is
empowering and therapeutic for her as she bids to escape the
Amonyeze and Okoye-Ugwu 7
clutches of patriarchy. She is in proper shock at how James
treats her as property once she arrives in London, forcefully
kissing and caressing her butt at will in public to show domi-
nance. Erika’s need for love and acceptance is conflicted as
her inferior status on the social ladder is made more pro-
nounced by her inability to get Whites to correctly pronounce
her indigenous name. As James’s manipulation and exploita-
tion become overbearing, simultaneously Erika’s need for
acceptance and respect also peaks and Erika resists this new
trauma and elopes with Providence to Newcastle to start her
self-empowerment phase proper. There is promise of a hope-
ful future with Providence, but Erika has become wiser and
mindful of her need to define the terms of engagement.
Erika’s female friends, Tiffany and Uloma, have also been
victims of abuse at the hands of society and bear scars. Dibia
makes these women superheroes in their own rights through
their intervention in Ngozi’s case when Nnamdi forcefully
attempts to take her back. Ngozi’s posse is united in ques-
tioning Nnamdi’s moral authority as a patriarchal surrogate
by keeping Ngozi in perpetual bondage as Uloma retorts,
“Ngozi is going nowhere with you” (p. 135). Female eman-
cipation in Nigeria does not only recommend changing laws
to empower women (there are already enough extant laws)
but changing cultural attitudes to those laws. It is this attitu-
dinal threat of violence that Erika notices also lurks beneath
James’s supposedly calm demeanor.
When Erika, at the beginning of Dibia’s novel, declares,
“I have finally found my voice” (p. 1), she suggests a realis-
tic break, an escape from the bondage of a patriarchal gulag.
Ezi is a cultural cage that utilizes all weapons at its disposi-
tion to dominate, and in Unbridled, Dibia shows his reader
the emancipation of Ngozi from the grip of incest and sexual
violence. It is the type of toxic environment wherein patriar-
chy defines the essence of womanhood that Dibia highlights
through the predatory characters of James and Mr. Akachi.
This sexism is glaring in James’s declaration: of “looking to
settle down with an African Queen” (p. 7). Ngozi comes
alive when she experiences with Providence the sort of sex-
ual intimacy she has craved all her life. With Providence,
Ngozi finally enjoys love making as a liberating and invigo-
rating act that fulfills her romantic craving. Freed from the
performative shackles to which she was bound by James
and her father, she reaches an emotional threshold with
Providence that is sensually enriching and bereft of any vio-
lent abuse. Bessie, Erika’s female neighbor who has resided
in England for a long time yet holds firm to the potency of
Ghanaian juju, supports James’s spousal rights to control
Erika, stating, “Maybe he believes that you are his slave
then? . . . He married you, didn’t he? He believes he has
saved you and wants you to accept that you owe him eter-
nally” (Dibia, 2005a, p. 159). Although Erika disagrees
with Bessie’s argument on marital rights, she evidently dis-
plays a weakness for men who exercise some control over
her and derives some validation when these men satiate
their needs through her. It appears the Freudian ghosts of
Ngozi (her past) are omnipresent and still influence the role
she desires her liberated alter ego (Erika) to play.
Conclusion
Femi Osofisan (2001) avers that
social habits, whether casual or formal, the rituals of communal
etiquette or of official protocol; the improvisational tactics of
traditional pedagogy, such as folk tales and drama, the routine
gestures of the religious or political establishment—all these,
and so on, secrete their own message, which they gradually
inject into the growing child. (p. 3)
Dibia highlights the home as an important domestic realm
that is sadly an unsafe space for women. Barring Providence,
all the men who have been intimately involved with Erika
leave her with a rough experience. James, her White hus-
band, is the most disappointing in a foreign land she fanta-
sized over as her route to emancipation. After her intimate
connection with Providence, who showed promise as a car-
ing lover, Erika is more tactful in her sexual liaisons, being
more demanding of her due respect. At this point, she has
come to terms with her identity and the benefits of self-
empowerment. Dibia is empathetic in handling the strengths
and fragility of females existing in a judicial system preva-
lently biased against women and running on traditional fam-
ily values undermining their rights. The study concludes that
repressive social norms need humanist intervention to ensure
equitable alignment of women’s rights and social practice.
Simon Gikandi (1987) asserts that
while a community may express its identity through its
mythologies, it is also true that individuals may often find
themselves locked into a struggle with their community as to the
meaning of such myths and their implications for personal
conduct. (p. 165)
Although there have been half-hearted attempts to situate the
menace of sex abuse and harassment against women in
Nigeria in public discourse, such measures have only
revolved around the center tables of closeted conferences or
road marches where feminist activists carrying placards
chanted empowering songs while media cameras filmed.
Beyond the time slot paid for such publicity, further margin-
alization accounts do not make the national news. It is a nar-
rative that understates the challenges denuding Nigeria’s
social fabric and perpetuating prejudice.
Mary S. C. Okolo (2007) believes “the basic question of
social coordination in Africa is how to build a society where
people can freely realize their potential to achieve this.
There’s need to examine the process, institutions and agency
that make up our political life” (p. 136). The issue of sexual
abuse of the girl child bears grave cultural and aesthetic sig-
nificances for our national literature and praxis. The national
attitude of silence toward, supposedly “private,” issues
8 SAGE Open
affects the trajectory of human rights and emasculates the
victim’s sense of identity. In Unbridled, Dibia reveals the
sort of desired sex that is consensual and empathic, portray-
ing this ideal through Uloma, who Ngozi stayed with in
Lagos after fleeing her uncle’s house. Uloma has “make-up”
sex with her boyfriend in their shared apartment, and as
Ngozi recalls, “I could still hear the muffled tears mixed with
sighs of heated passion” (p. 65). In an increasingly agenda-
driven age, redemptive novels like Unbridled have carved
out advocacy paths by tagging systems of institutional com-
plicity. Significantly, Erika’s father is never made to face the
law because he is part of the same corrupt system perpetuat-
ing abuse, injustice, and trivializing sexual violence. In
focusing on victims of sexual abuse, and advancing the need
for engagement with a dynamic culture adaptive to emergent
realities, Dibia stresses how ignorant cultural attitudes
destroy communal cohesion rather than promote such value.
We are at a critical point in Nigeria’s history as women in
the face of globalization become more empowered, break out
from their passive mould, and make their voices heard. There
is pressing need to uproot sexism in Nigeria and replace it
with something healthy and humanizing. Everyone needs to
participate in this conversation for social change. Men need
to be part of the solution not the problem by being more
empathic toward women just as Providence recognized
Ngozi’s predicament and intervened. Enson (2017) recom-
mends awareness training and teaching on gender identity,
equality, and disseminating information about the sexual-
ization and objectification of women. Dibia’s Unbridled
captures the inner struggles of sexual victims and the need
for society to support them more. As can be gleaned from
Tiffany’s and Uloma’s intervention in the novel, every
Nigerian is responsible for a healthy social environment
where sexual violence and abuse remain unacceptable.
Further critical engagements are needed in this area to ensure
oppression never wins this race. The need to maintain public
awareness of modes of gender abuse for possible social inter-
vention is paramount. It is never wrong to do the right thing.
Authors’ Note
We respect the views and positions of all ideas and sources we have
honestly reproduced.
Acknowledgments
We wish to acknowledge our families and colleagues for their help
and support during this research.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
ORCID iD
Chinenye Amonyeze https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6462-9460
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This paper argues that African writers who set out to give the literary world an African perspective of the Indigenous people during colonialism did so by giving a convenient image of the African's sexuality. This image stems out of the fact that the African's sexuality was one in which same-sex relationships were portrayed as cultural imports of colonialism and not practices that were inherently part of the African. The paper shows how some influential West African writers either depicted homosexuality as evil or ignored it altogether despite the reality that was happening in the African continent. Furthermore, though there were instances in which the missionaries themselves were hypocritical in their denouncing of homosexuality this was not picked up by writers of African literature at the time. The gender politics was such that writers created an ideal image of the African male that was seen to have strong physical and spiritual characteristics to the effect that notions of homosexuality would be seen as improbable.
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Diacritics 31.4 (2001) 22-40 In recent years, the critique of poststructuralism, itself loquacious, has held that the postulation of a subject who is not self-grounding undermines the possibility of responsibility and, in particular, of giving an account of oneself. Critics have argued that the various critical reconsiderations of the subject, including those that do away with the theory of the subject altogether, cannot provide the basis for an account of responsibility, that if we are, as it were, divided, ungrounded, or incoherent from the start, it will be impossible to ground a notion of personal or social responsibility on the basis of such a view. I would like to try to rebut this view in what follows, and to show how a theory of subject-formation that acknowledges the limits of self-knowledge can work in the service of a conception of ethics and, indeed, of responsibility. If the subject is opaque to itself, it is not therefore licensed to do what it wants or to ignore its relations to others. Indeed, if it is precisely by virtue of its relations to others that it is opaque to itself, and if those relations to others are precisely the venue for its ethical responsibility, then it may well follow that it is precisely by virtue of the subject's opacity to itself that it sustains some of its most important ethical bonds. In all the talk about the social construction of the subject, we have perhaps overlooked the fact that the very being of the self is dependent not just on the existence of the Other—in its singularity, as Levinas would have it, though surely that—but also on the possibility that the normative horizon within which the Other sees and listens and knows and recognizes is also subject to a critical opening. This opening calls into question the limits of established regimes of truth, where a certain risking of the self becomes, as Levinas claims, the sign of virtue [see Foucault]. Whether or not the Other is singular, the Other is recognized and confers recognition through a set of norms that govern recognizability. So whereas the Other may be singular, if not radically personal, the norms are to some extent impersonal and indifferent, and they introduce a disorientation of perspective for the subject in the midst of recognition as an encounter. For if I understand myself to be conferring recognition on you, for instance, then I take seriously that the recognition comes from me. But in the moment that I realize that the terms by which I confer recognition are not mine alone, that I did not singlehandedly make them, then I am, as it were, dispossessed by the language that I offer. In a sense, I submit to a norm of recognition when I offer recognition to you, so that I am both subjected to that norm and the agency of its use. As Hegel would have it, recognition cannot be unilaterally given. In the moment that I give it, I am potentially given it, and the form by which I offer it is one that potentially is given to me. In this sense, one might say, I can never offer it, in the Hegelian sense, as a pure offering, since I am receiving it, at least potentially and structurally, in the moment, in the act, of giving. We might ask, as Levinas surely has, what kind of gift this is that returns to me so quickly, that never really leaves my hands. Is it the case that recognition consists, as it does for Hegel, in a reciprocal act whereby I recognize that the Other is structured in the same way that I am, and I recognize that the Other also makes, or can make, this very recognition of sameness? Or is there perhaps an encounter with alterity here that is not reducible to sameness? If it is the latter, how are we to understand this alterity? On the one hand, the Hegelian Other is always found outside, or at least it is first found outside, and only later recognized to be constitutive. This has led critics of Hegel to conclude that the Hegelian subject...