Nnedi Okorafor’s novel Who Fears Death is a novel of magic and feminism in post-apocalyptic Africa. It is a novel that should be talked about in schools now more than ever with the “me too” movement and a strong push for feminism that is sweeping the nation. The novel has many examples of toxic masculinity such as rape, sexual mutilation of women and how only males can practice magic. However, it also shows how to fight against this oppression with bravery, love and hope.
Toxic masculinity is the concept that legitimizes men’s dominance in society and how women are subordinate to them. This novel does a great job in showing some of the most violent and extreme examples of toxic masculinity. This is shown in Who Fears Death when the very birth of the main character, Onyesonwu, was from a man raping her mother. This instantly sets up the main conflict of how women are seen in this post apocalyptic society. On top of that, when all the girls of Onyesonwu’s village reach puberty they have their vagina mutilated and spelled so they feel pain unless they are married. It is another way for men to control the women in the village and show they are superior to them.
As she grows, it becomes clear that Onyesonwu has magical abilities to shapeshift. However, the only man in the village who can teach her magic initially refused because he thinks women are too emotional to use magic. This stereotype type relates to real life stereotypes of women being too emotional to be in politics and other stressful and powerful positions. This novel shows a real life parallel of how sometimes women are feared because they could take power from men. This is shown through literal magic instead of politics or positions in the workplace. Onyesonwu quickly became more powerful than her male peers and even her own lover begins to resent her for having more power than him. This can be converted to real life as if a woman makes more many than her significant other and how that shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to the man but rather a success of the woman.
This novel and its strong female characters are important for young people to see and read about. It gives a safe space of a fantastical world to have the difficult conversations of gender inequality and what toxic masculinity actually looks like. Who Fears Death brings the demonstration of toxic masculinity to readers attention by the long lasting impact these things have on people's lives.
Lauren Sheil is a sophomore studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What do you think? Let Lauren know by tweeting her @laurensheil101.