With my intention to do research on breast cancer and the social/gender stigmas relating to breast cancer, I was genuinely interested when Dr. Yeboah made her lectures this week on the themes of gender norms in contemporary Ghanaian literature. She introduced two books to the class: The Girl Who Can and Beyond the Horizon. These two books really enhanced the problems of gender norms that specifically limit and materialize the role of a woman. The assigned reading, Beyond the Horizon, especially left me with a strong impression, to say the very least. The book was worded in a very powerful narrative of a young, naive woman who was exploited and deprived of humanity by her husband who cherished these gender norms in a patriarchal society. While these gender norms may not be strictly unique to the Ghanaian culture, it was interesting to see how these norms were deployed in the context of traditional African culture. Gender was not only socially constructed under African culture, but they were also biologically dictated. For instance, women with big hips and large upper torso were seen to be “fit” for childbirth and thus framing these two physical features as the landmark of feminine beauty.
Even before learning about gender norms in my literature class, I was able to catch a glimpse of how gender norms can play out in Ghanaian society. As the only male student in the group volunteering at K.A.T.H., I was able to pick out certain behaviors and attitudes that were different when directed to me, a male student, as compared to the times when it was directed to other female students in the group. For example, there would be instances where the doctors would only make eye contacts with me while addressing the group. Another time, one of the doctors directed his answer to the question to me through SMS, despite the fact that the question was specifically asked by one of the female students. I am sure that my experience does not fully exemplify the magnitude of gender norms operating within Ghanaian society–it may be just the fragment. Yet, this was the time when I realized gender norms are very real and impose their forms in every aspect of life, regardless of social status, educational background, or professional settings.
As more I get to explore the gender norms that are present here in Ghana, I have found myself with more questions than answers. For instance, in the midst of the tension between appreciating one’s culture and preserving one’s rights, how do Ghanaian women deal with this juxtaposition between cultural gender norms and women’s rights? What role does education play in this conflict? These are some of the questions I would further contemplate and hopefully get to grasp at least a rudimental understanding of these questions by the end of my stay in Ghana.
Links to Related Readings:
Article on Beyond the Horizon: https://kinnareads.com/2010/10/05/beyond-the-horizon-amma-darko/
Feminism in African Literature: http://forumonpublicpolicy.com/archivespring07/chukwuma.pdf