In this, our third Roundtable Discussion here at OGOV, we are focusing on the unique perspective brought to the writing community by African women writers. This discussion features Emma Akuffo, Vida Ayitah and Mariska Taylor-Darko, and was moderated by Edith Faalong. After you are done reading, please be sure to use the comment section to join the conversation yourself!
Do you feel there are certain attributes women writers bring to their craft that are unique and necessary for telling the story of Ghana, or is gender not a factor?
Personally, I believe women bring more to the table in all spheres of life. Just this morning I was watching a North African movie where there was friction between men and women due to inequality. At the end of the day however, it ended by acknowledging the disparity between the role and status of women in society, but sounded that it will never change!
I say that the extent of this disparity is determined by society. Gender is and will always be determined by society. But in this writing field, the issue of gender does not matter much. Yet women have a broader and richer coverage of emotion than their male counterparts. Their writings especially when it comes to social issues, are hence denser and more specific.
Lets take a book like Une Si Longue Lettre by Mariama Bâ. It recounts the personal narrative of a recently widowed Senegalese woman, Ramatoulaye, in the form of a letter to her best friend from childhood. Following the death of her husband, Ramatoulaye writes to her friend during the period of mourning mandated by her Islamic faith. It goes on to expose the trials of women in the typical African society. I say that a man would not have done as much justice to this story. As a woman born and raised in such a society, Mariama Bâ is able to pull readers to feel what the main characters feel.
Lets also consider the works of Ama Ata Aidoo, Efua Sutherland, or our very own Mariska Taylor-Darko and Emma Akuffo, and we will understand that women bring certain attributes to writing that are unique and indispensable in telling the African and for that matter, the Ghanaian story.
I agree with Edith. Women are generally more intuitive, more sensitive and more inquisitive than men. We tend to focus on detail whilst men tend to look at the bigger picture. It's nice to see on OGOV that we have captured and blended these gender differences quite nicely!
Exactly. The emotions women bring to writing are dense and run too deep to ignore.
I also agree. Men tend to focus on the technical side of writing, whereas women tend to write what is in their hearts and I think that tends to have a greater impact on the reader. Sometimes I find it difficult to understand a poem after the first reading because of the elaborate and technical language used by the writer and these often seem to happen when reading male poetry (sorry guys!). I even heard one man comment that I did not have symbolism in my poems and that I was too direct and he went on and on about stanzas and all that. Excuse me, but poetry is an affair of the heart. It is to be read and understood at a glance, not to be analysed and theorised about.
Good point there, Mariska! A man once commented that I tend to be too "moralistic" in my poems. A kind of executioner thing, he said. But come on! If men can write about cars and call it a genuine "boy thing" why cant women write flowery, flowing girl-poems that speak of and defend their sisters? And yes, poetry is meant to be beautiful and easy, not some math equation to be analysed and brooded over for weeks. Without female writers, this whole world will be one sad grey slate.
Why has Ghanaian writing historically been so male dominated?
Honestly I do not have a definite conclusion on this. I however think that Ghanaian writing has been historically male dominated because, in earlier years, the African writer was reacting to strong and sometimes violent social issues which our women were not encouraged to meddle in. It's in actuality a world phenomenon as it applies to early Rome and other modern countries, as well.
Education and socialisation also plays a role in writing and our women were well inadequately prepared in both areas. How then could they put their natural intelligence and sentiments into words? We realise that the advent of gender development and equality coincided with the emergence of the most well known female writers in our world today. I believe men dominated the writing scene because women were not given the opportunity to break in.
Ghanaian writing has been male dominated in the past because to be honest women were relegated to the kitchen and bringing up kids and learning home science, etc. The woman's voice was and is powerful and yet was stifled. Instead of listening to it, people concentrated on what the "learned" men had to say. There is a group in London called "Find your Voice" and I think that is what Ghanaian women are doing today.
Honestly, I do not know why Ghanaian writing has been historically so male dominated. Maybe writing had been considered as some kind of "sport" that only the men could participate in. Or it was deemed unfit for women to venture out of the kitchen and waste valuable time on something like that. Don't forget though, that girl-child education had also been strongly opposed around that time, and even the most talented and gifted women do need some form of formal education to express their thoughts.
But I agree with Edith that in earlier times the African writer was reacting rather strongly and violently to social issues and women, as I suppose we all know, are said to be the demure type. But then again, maybe the world just never expected women to be so darn intelligent.
We should encourage our girls, through word and deed to aim higher than is expected culturally. They should grow up with the mindset that nothing is impossible if they work hard and are determined. I think it is also a social class issue. The poorer, less literate, families will not prioritise education and may actively discourage girls from pursuing education to a significant level. Therefore, we must not forget to reach out/communicate to these less visible parts of our society. Certain traditions remain but there should me some means of compromise.
True talking, Emma. It's all about what we put into the spirit from infancy. Encouragement always goes a long way. Nothing beats the gift planted in the mind, so that should be the target. We can infuse this into our writings from time to time.
While I agree with both Emma and Edith, I must also say that from infancy, children should be taught self-reliance. I do not speak for everyone, but from my own family and close friends, I realize that we tend to believe and expect too many miracles. The old saying still rules: that God helps those who help themselves.
We have to, as a people, learn to fight and stay focused on what we want. We must learn to invest the appropriate time and effort into achieving our goals, not spend nights and nights in churches praying and thinking that things are going to happen just because we believe.
Life is no bed of roses, anyone who dreams of being successful must accept the plain fact that opposition is all around. It may come from within or outside. All I am saying is, childhood, for many, is difficult, but this does not mean we're bound to fail. Let us believe that as a people with abilities, we are meant to succeed no matter our background or history. All it takes is hard work. Then more hard work.