The Systematic Self-Whorification of the Young African Woman

Brigitte Sesu Tilley-Gyado, a Nigerian musician and author wrote a wonderful article called The Systematic “Whorification” of the  Young African Woman. She writes: “After all, the contemporary media is partly responsible. Young women are the overwhelming majority of sexualized images in the media, fashion, music and porn industries. Yet where are the celebrated young African women inventors, business and national leaders of history in the media? Nowhere. According to the mainstream media, the non-sexualized autonomously successful young African woman does not exist.” I would like to applaud the writer for writing the article, it is issues like these that we need to be discussing as African women. A few questions must be raised. Who is responsible for the perceptions that the world has about the young African woman?  If we blame the world for its perceptions of us, are we not objectifying ourselves? Do we as African women perpetuate the notion that we are victims and consequently submit to whatever world views may already exist about ourselves? When we blame the world for its perceptions of us we are merely giving over our power to define who we are as modern young African women. Liberation of women in many parts of the world and most parts of Africa, is still necessary. We have however, made strides in the empowerment and emancipation of African women in many parts of our continent. So what becomes of the young African woman who has been liberated? How do we ensure that our young women do not perpetuate their own “systematic whorification?” How should we conduct ourselves with this newly found freedom? Many young women in Africa  subject themselves to the same treatment meted out by our society especially men. Many have become sexual slaves with even lesser value than when we were once ‘owned’ as the term suggested by the writer. It is correct to believe that in many African nations and cultures the young African woman is silenced? Are we voiceless and are we prevented from sitting in positions of influence and power? Are we still seen as child bearers, who must be “traded” for marriage as suggested by the article. The writer of the The Systematic “Whorification” of the Young African Woman suggests that the African traditional form of dowry, known as” lobola” in South Africa, is a means of trading the African young woman, this exchange happens between males of the families involved. The writer did not however criticize the traditional form of the engagement of Western women. Surely the traditional engagement ring must hold the same value as a “payment” since it serves the same purpose as the traditional African dowry. Why is it wrong for men to be involved in lobola negotiations? A woman is after all marrying a man, thus the men in her life are most likely better skilled to discern the quality of the male the young woman has chosen to marry. Having said that the exclusion of women in the process is not beneficial to the tradition. “People first” is a Sotho saying, “a person is a person because of other persons” is a popular saying one among Nguni speakers. These proverbs are an expression of our African lifestyles  which are fundamentally communal and relational. African philosophy understands that each human being has an impact on the community. Other people are simply an extension of ourselves. There is another Xhosa proverb that articulates this better, it literally says that whatever you do to others, you do to yourself. While culture and tradition must change according to the needs and challenges experienced by each generation, this ideology is not illogical. Every human being that exists was given birth to by someone, had to be nurtured by various members of society including teachers. The driver of our African traditions was always relational in its foundation. It is wrong to cut African traditions which are about relationships and turn them into cold business terms even though today they might appear to be but first African systems are relational. The moment we begin to view African marriages from a non-relational world view we misinterpret an entire continent. In addition we then impose foreign standards as superior to ours. The writer suggests a mindset that is heavily influenced by the negative view of western feminists who see the African woman as the lowest person in the food chain. Seeing African marriages as a business transaction, where the woman is only a voiceless victim is true in many parts of our continent, where young women are given away in marriage without a choice, however the majority of the time women get married because they want to. “Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination. Most forms of feminism characterize patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to women.” 1 The assumption that we as African women are still powerless victims and pawns in a man’s game is  the education Africans have inherited from prestigious western universities Our education does not promote an appreciation for African thinking in general and these ideas expressed through “whorification of African women” is a by-product.  We adopt Western ideologies to the detriment of our African ideologies. This is why we need African education developed in Africa by Africans rather than a slap stick copy and paste of Western education and its ideologies. A few years ago my  atheist liberal white lecturer once looked at me pitifully and said: “shame, not only are you black, but you are a black woman”. She said it  with the conviction that by me being female and black was the biggest blow the universe could have given me. It was as though there was no hope for me. However hard I tried, life would be a challenge for me. Mind you apartheid had fallen and this was now the new South Africa.  She still believed that there was no hope for the black woman even in the new South Africa with our government introducing policies to empower black women socially and economically. The fact that our situation had changed did not give her a hint that my fortunes had changed or that my future as a young African woman had never looked brighter. This kind of thinking keeps us as young African women believing that we are victims even when our fortunes have changed. If we want the media to report on the successes of young African women in business, politics, science, academia or any other subject matter , this is the time to do so. We have no business complaining. With all the information and the social media platforms and the education that is now available we are spitting on the faces of every young African woman who is suffering and those who lived in darker times. Our greatest misfortune in our current age is not that we have challenges on our African continent. Our greatest challenge is that we do not recognise  our fortunes. Our thinking is still like we are  waiting for liberation as we fight our oppressors. We still chant old struggle songs. For what reason? It is utterly shameful to be a leader who leads yet complains like one who is powerless. If you want to know why Africa with all its western education and all other kinds of education is not transformed as fast as we would like to see it, it is this fact alone, that we cannot see ourselves as we ought to. Chinweizu argues: “Because every man has as boss his wife or his mother, or some other woman in his life, men may rule the world, but women rule the men who rule the world.  Thus contrary to appearances, woman is boss, the overall boss, of the world.2 Once upon a time in a critical time in the history of South Africa arose a young African woman in the Eastern Cape. She as an unmarried young African woman had the ear of her people young and old, men and women. Her nation so trusted in her ability to lead the nation into freedom with her wisdom and knowledge that her people suffered greatly because she misguided the nation. What she had to say was taken with all seriousness that its effects had an implication of the entire destiny of the people in the land. The story of Nongqawuse tells me that a young African woman had a voice even before feminism or any other kind of liberal thinking ever came to shores of Africa. Perhaps the people of the Eastern Cape were the few that believed in a woman’s voice. What do we say of the queens of ancient Africa from Egypt and Ethopia? We might not have a great history but there are more young leaders who are available in every part of Africa who can lead if they so wish, provided they believe. Only God knows whether Lindiwe Mazibuko is doing in any good in parliament but she is there as a young African woman. Does she have African ideas? We do need more young African women in positions of influence? Nothing should stop us. We can no longer make excuses.   Reference:
  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/patriachy
  2. Chinweizu, Anatomy of Female Power (Lagos, Nigeria: Pero Press, 1990) 12 / http://forumonpublicpolicy.com/archivespring07/chukwuma.pdf
  3. Picutures: Copy Right of Nana Kofi Asihene Photography All Rights Reserved.
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Siki Dlanga

I am a South African woman who laughs out loud. I think beauty is not well understood so too often it is exploited and too often its power underrated. The course of life is most impacted by those who have the most significant conversations. Thus life is the sum of conversations. I hope to capture you with the beauty of being in conversation.

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