The movie and music industry is rich with actors with high intellectual abilities such as Juliana Kanyomozi, Namubiru in Uganda. These females are loud and sexy. I bet you, it is almost impossible to watch a film without a sexual scene and one where the female is subordinate. Again there are very few advertisements without women parading half naked bodies on the screen. 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? Of course women contribute greatly to the development of the family and their communities.
The woman is usually presented as a lifeless being who must do her husband’s bidding at all times or be beaten into submission. We see this representation in 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 today. The young reader of this text wants to see a character who would have perhaps acted differently to give some hope.
Another literary scenario exists in the Ant Hills of the Savannah where an expression is given about the pressure most girls go through when it comes to the question of marriage in Africa. At only twenty years-old, they panic and get pressed by the thought that time is passing them by. I have heard all sorts of funny talk from girls just like in the 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,’ and ‘all men are the same’.
On many occasions, the woman 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 her development if she is categorized as an instrument for others’ comfort or for sex? How does this impact positively on the lives of readers and young females that have read the text prescribed by UNEB for UCE and other exams?
It is this graphic description of sex in novels that makes one’s heart jump. 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 being 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 female character in fiction reflects her influence in society. We believe that every aspect of life should be covered by the literary artist. We are however alarmed at the stereotyping of the female character in most fictional texts. The male is always presented as a man in authority, responsible otherwise. He controls his environment and is his own master. Literature does not reduce the man to a shadow of his real self. It appears as if writers are extra careful when creating roles for the male character. When a female is created, she has to be seen almost always as a “weaker sex”. 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.
If literature is indeed an instrument for creation of awareness, we must project characters we expect to reveal human lessons. This statement is pregnant and summarizes the helplessness of any female that lives in the past. Lessons like this motivate the young readers to aim at financial independence and self-sufficiency. The author draws our attention to the several opportunities available for anybody who wishes to explore them. Instead of portraying the typical female character as a sex instrument she gives this advice through the narrative point of view. This indeed is progressive. 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 also 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 characters creation must show the female character changing bulbs and fixing simple repairs at homes. We must craft characters that protect females as well as male directors, principal officers and other related positions. We are proud of real heroes like Dr. Specioza Kazibwe, Maria Kiwanuka, and Syda Bumba who have been vice president and ministers of finance in Uganda respectively. This was an otherwise male dominated area. We expect that literature should reflect such characters in fiction to motivate the youth and create mentors they can emulate. Others such as Joyce Mpanga, Winnie Byanyima, and Miria Matembe who have lived heroic lives should be reflected in the character choices of future literacy works. That literature can become a viable instrument of gender sensitivity and this sensitivity points to the route of development effortlessly. I would like to see our literary works actively challenging the stereotypes that have been imposed on African women throughout history.
About the Writer
Ikirimat Grace Odeke (Ms) is currently the Senior National Programme Officer of Policy and Planning at the Population Secretariat in Uganda. She has extensive experience working with communities and national institutions in sectoral and local government planning; advocacy and policy dialogue, training, data analysis and management and is the founding member and coordinator of the Sexual Health Improvement Project (SHIP) where she is self-motivated, passionate and enthusiastic about sharing, transferring and imparting the knowledge and skills acquired to others as a way of making a contribution to improving the quality of life of young people. She has a Masters Degree in Demography and a Postgraduate Diploma in Demography from the Cairo Demographic Centre in Egypt and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences (Sociology and Social Administration) from Makerere University, Kampala. She believes in being positive and keen to succeed as a principle. Grace is a mother to five (two are teens) and a friend.