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Destroying the Female Character

Karimojong girl

Atekit is glued on the sofa reading a novel entitled ’The Lion and the Jewel’ by Wole Soyinka she is preparing to sit for her final UCE exams at the end of the year. ‘The Concubine’, by Elechi Amadi; ‘Things Fall Apart’ authored by Chinua Achebe are part of the set of books examinable by the Uganda National Examinations Board. Atekit acknowledges that the stories she reads have influenced and biased her perception of female character. She says that women have always been portrayed negatively; and questions the way the female character is presented.

If you have read an African novel or play, you will no doubt agree with me that; these stories are about what goes on in our surroundings; culture, experiences, attitudes; whether fiction or real. Literature experts assert that literature is an instrument for the creation of awareness and the propagation of culture among people and the literary artist is the mouthpiece of society.

This is reality; my days growing up as a child in the traditional rural settings of Soroti district in Uganda remind me of the satirical songs of praise and enchantment of personalities in the village, local music was composed to expose character and actions of the great, good, bad and ugly actions. Even a chicken thief, adulterous wife, hero, and witch where not left out. The praise songs of the brave hunters, boldness and potency were the hits in the village. The village belle, calico…was praised.

It is worth noting that literature is a mirror which reflects society’s feelings and thoughts. Literature has also had an impact on defining gender in the novels and poems we read. The roles assigned to female characters of the novels and plays have a message being communicated to the readers. The concern is what the readers learn from these characters as they strive to pass exams or derive pleasure. What implications does this have on them?

There is no doubt that the picture painted of a woman in the novels, plays we read, movies we watch is a reflection of what our society takes women and men to be. Naturally, there is nothing wrong in forming impressions of each other. However, most of the impressions formed are offensive. What a woman truly is contrasts sharply with what the world thinks of her. One literature professor once analysed some writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo; one of the Ghana’s prominent female voices commented “To the man, the bride is: a sexual aid, a wet nurse and a cook steward and a general housekeeper, a listening- post, an economic and general consultant, a field hand, a punch ball. This is the typical house wife”. Unfortunately, this is the picture of the characters we meet in most novels, movies and lyrics. The wife/mother is presented as a helpless victim that is expected to take anything and perform the magic of keeping a perfect home.

Elaine Showalter (literally critic and feminist) hits the nail right on the head when she says that “…….womanhood….is a fact of life….” If all a female character does in novels is grow, obtain a minimum qualification and get married, give birth, what do we expect our children to dream of? No wonder the average girl in Uganda does not aspire to be anything better than a good house wife and a mother. Catherine Biira argues that girls need role models to look up to. She gave an example of her sub county where for the last 20 years no girl passed UCE in division one. In 2011 she promised the best girl a scholarship for UACE. Indeed 3 passed excellently. Marriage has become a position of convenience when the UCE does not produce good results. It is not uncommon to find the period of agony taking over almost immediately for the remaining period of these marriages.

Chinua Achebe opined that the role of the writer is to “tell his people where the rain begun to beat them”. He considers a man who does not know where the rain begun to beat him will not know where to dry his clothes”. Analyzing how literary writers, movies makers, musicians have portrayed female characters in their works and how this might help in positive development or otherwise of the readers and listeners is critical.

The movie and music industry is rich with actors with high intellectual abilities such as Juliana Kanyomozi, Iryn Namubiru in Uganda. These females are loud and sexy I can bet you. It is almost impossible to watch a film without a sexual scene and where the female is subordinate and also there are very few advertisements without women parading half naked bodies. In movies and music videos for entertainment the male character does not dance naked. The female must be shown as a sexual partner who is ready to expose her parts in order to satisfy her audience. Thomas, Kyd (1558-1594) remarked that “For what is a play without a woman in it?” This tradition still exists both in reality and the fictional world. The question is: What is the purpose of this and who benefits from it?

The female is usually presented as a lifeless being who must do their husband’s bidding at all times or be beaten to submission in the novels, movies and music. Their primary role is to keep the men going. Sometimes women are crafted as baby machines that are supposed to bring in children in order to be accepted. It is better imagined if she dares in-laws by being barren or even has a little delay in childbirth. Unfortunately, such cases are still prevailing in many societies. The young reader of this text wants to see a character who would have perhaps acted differently to give some hope and courage.

In ‘Ant Hills of the Savannah’ where an expression is given about pressure most girls go through when it comes to the question of marriage in Africa. At only twenty years they panic and get embossed by the thought that it’s getting late for them. Such funny talk from girls like in ‘Ant Hills of the Savanna’; ‘Better to marry a rascal; better an unhappy marriage than an unhappy single life, better marry Mr. Wrong than wait for Mr. Right in heaven, all men are the same….
It’s common that the female is presented as the helpless victim. It is this helpless resignation to fate that the female gender has to wake up and deliberately walk away from. So how can there be any reasonable contribution to the development if she is categorized as an instrument for others’ comfort for sex? How does this impact positively on the lives of readers and young females that have read the texts prescribed by UNEB for UCE and other exams?
It is this graphic description of sex in these novels that makes one’s heart skip a beat. Did my daughters read this portion of the book in the class as a recommended text? How did they feel? How did the teacher handle this portion? Such text is been read by millions of youths across the globe. If we believe that literature is meant to effect change, this particular change may not be for our good. The study of literature cannot survive if it cannot illuminate human experiences, and human experience cannot today be illuminated without attention to the place of women in literature, in the sexuality of our lives, both in history and in the present. (Kessler-Harris & Mcbrein).

The influence of the female character in fiction reflects her influence in society. The stereotyping of the female character in most fictional texts is worrying. The male is always presented as a man in authority, responsibility and controls his environment and his own master. Artists seem extra careful when creating roles for the male character yet a female is created to be seen almost always as a ‘weaker sex’.

If literature is indeed an instrument for creation of awareness, we must project characters we expect to reveal human lessons. Lessons like this motivate the young readers to aim at financial independence and self sufficiency. If development is to affect us positively, there must be messages constituted in the texts we read, the music we listen to and the movies we watch. The thousands of readers that patronize our literary texts, music lyrics and movie images, must see directions to follow without anyone forcing rules down their throats.

Gender sensitivity, must therefore be reflected in our writings, music and movies. The girl does not always have to be portrayed as a cook, cleaner and fetcher of water from the top streams while the boys play football. The character creation must show the female character changing bulbs and fixing simple repairs at homes. We must craft characters that portray females as leaders, decision makers, respected persons other related positions. I’m proud of real heroes like Hon. Dr. Specioza Kazibwe (Once Vice president), Hon. Maria Kiwanuka (Minister of Finance), Hon. Alupo Jessica (Minister of Education), Miria Matembe in Uganda who have lived heroic lives should be reflected in the character choices of future literacy works. These were male dominated areas. Literature should reflect such characters in fiction to motivate the women and create mentors they can emulate. Literature can become a viable instrument of gender sensitivity and this sensitivity points to the route of development effortlessly.

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Comments

Leina's picture

Thank you sister ,you have

Thank you sister ,you have said it all!We have to raise our voices against this world wide war on women.We have been reduced to objects of pleasure by the media ,been described as evil by writers and tortured to silence by society but the time is up for a revolution that would seize our dignity from the our common enemy "Culture".We can do it!!!!!
Again this is a good piece sister!
Warm regards,
Leina

Wendyiscalm's picture

Hello

Ikirimat,

Your article is important. Perhaps what you and your article are saying is that it is time for YOU to write a book putting you and your women in a beautiful light. Someone has to start the first thread of a blanket. Perhaps it should be you.

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

ikirimat's picture

Wendy, thank you for

Wendy, thank you for appreciating this article. I think you have given me a bright idea. This area deserves to be documented and shared as a book. I will explore it.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Wendyiscalm's picture

I AM SO HAPPY

Hi Kirimat,

I am so happy that you may write a book. Please. You owe us and the world this. Who better than you who has lived your life and has such a passion in this article.

My son gave me an idea since I am not a writer He is a writer and said I should write a book because of my life. But he suggested since I had never written a book that rather than sit down and write the book from beginning to end that I think of an incident and then write the incident about it in the prsent tense. Then think of another situation, person or incident and write it down. I did it that way and it was great and much more fun. Before you know it, I had many chapters. At the end I put it all together. So, there are many ways to write. For me, If I had had to write from the first to the present I would have been bored and it would have kept me stuck. In my case, i would be at the grocery store buying food and think of an incident.then rush home nd write it down. Or I would be looking out the window and think of an incident and write it down. So, what I am saying is we all have different want to do things and you can find what works best for you. when I would take time to sit for an afternoon at 1pm to write for a little while. The next thing I knew I looked at the clock and it was 4pm. I never had seen "time fly" as we say in this way. That I was reminded is God's or the universes way of saying we are doing the right thing.

I hope you will honor yourself, us at WP and women all over the world with what you have inside and have experienced and seen on the outside.

As my son, often reminded me, "Mom, start where you are. The important thing is to start."

I am so excited for you. Please keep me posted.

You have my enthusiasm and blesings, my friend,

Wendy

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together)

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

ikirimat's picture

Im excited

Wendy, you are a friend indeed.

This is just the advise I have been waiting for!!!. I have never written a book but after reading your comment, I am sure I now know I can achieve my dream of one day writing a book in an area Im passioate about- women.

I am going to keep you posted and also inbox you on this one.

Regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Wendyiscalm's picture

I AM SO EXCITED

Hello Grace,

I love your first name. What could be better. I have never written a book either but this one I have just written is going to be pivotal to women and a huge success. I can feel it. My email address is: headingforgreatness@gmail.com if you should ever choose a more private mode of communication with me. Here I was a person who could not write and several WP women have read it or are in the process of reading it and critiquing it for me and we think it is a winner.

So, please whatever I can do. If you decide you want to read the manuscript I can download it to your email address but I know there is a concern for privacy so I will be not offended if you don't.

The main point is "THIS IS YOUR TIME !" Now girl. In fact, Joel Osteen has written what I consider an important book "THIS IS YOUR TIME" and I feel he is speaking to YOU as he was to me and so many others. If you cannot get it at the library, cannot afford to buy it (I understand the financial limitations in your country. I am not trying to be rude), I will buy and mail you the book myself. Because if you have any resistance, this book will get rid of it. I would get up in the morning and the thought of writing a book was overwhelming. So, each morning I would write down, one concrete step I could take THAT DAY to move me specifically forward. Sometimes it can just be going on line to google How to write a book or something.

God is on your side so what are you waiting for, Grace. With a name like Grace how can you be anything but a winner.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy

It takes one little step at a time to get to the top of the ladder, one word at a time to write a page, one page at a time to write a chapter, one chapter at a time to write a book. " Haha I just made that up, can you tell. :) And don't worry about editing it as you go, just let it flow. You can go back later and rewrite.

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

ikirimat's picture

I have checked for this book

I have checked for this book by Joel Osteen in our book stores but this particular book isnt here but I look forward to reading this book soon. Thanks and God Bless You.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Wendyiscalm's picture

Another idea

Hi Grace,

If you have the capability you could go to Joelosteen.com. Joel Osteen is an excellent minister who motivates in a very make sense kind of way and he is funny. Every day he has an inspirational message. More importantly you can go to some of his previous daily messages and you will be impressed with how much he talks about just what you need to hear right now. Just a thought.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

calupo's picture

THE TIME IS NOW

Hello,

Go for it Grace. Wendy is right, there is that something special in you that you have to let out, you have the material. The time is now and the weapon is in your hands. May God bless you.

Christine

ikirimat's picture

Thank you my sis, I am on the

Thank you my sis, I am on the way. Its such a unique expirence, giving me a chance to do deeper analysis of the issues.
I will keep all updated.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Wendyiscalm's picture

Love it

Hi Christine,

I love your firm enthusiasm to Grace.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

ola.mahadi's picture

good luck

Wish you all the best loved the passion in your article hope you start your book soon
All the best
Ola

It is never too late to try make your way to your dream and left up your expectation.
Sudanes Women Building Peace
www.suwepmovement.org

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