Breaking the Code: Interrogating Female Cross-dressing in Southeastern Nigeria


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


Department of Fine and Applied Arts


How would a feminist view the tradition of the Igbo of southeast Nigeria which forbade women wearing of anything that could pass in-between their thighs (like pants) because such a style was men's sartorial prerogative? The sumptuary rule had been broken in the early part of the twentieth century. However, the historical facts surrounding the abolition and the cultural anxiety that marked early instances of female cross-dressing among the African group appear entangled. This study investigates the historical development of female cross-dressing and interrogates how the phenomenon is used to challenge and change gender stereotype among the Igbo. Analysis will explore how the use of panties and pants by the Igbo women disrupt(ed) indigenous social order of representation. Exploring how the female fashion marked a definitive move away from the once taken-for-granted idea of male dress will help us to grasp how power, knowledge and language underlie social construction.