Panel 26

Revisiting language and gender in African settings

Panel organiser: Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, University of Ilorin, Nigeria

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Language has been generally theorised as an important tool in the performance and negotiation of gender, as well as the understanding/analysis of gendering and gender relations. In short, language is a prime instrument for doing, and undoing, gender. However, the apparent universalism of this theorisation has been complicated over time by exhibited differences in ethnic and cultural perceptions of ‘gender,’ ‘language’ and their intersection. These have led to, for example, scholarly contestation around the real or perceived ‘gender neutrality’ of some African languages. Yoruba, a West African language, has often been projected as a prime example of such ‘gender neutrality.’ Further complications of the relationship between language and gender have emerged from consideration of the intersection between ageism, sexism, patriarchy and the power conundrum in African settings. Questions have also been asked as to whether a perfect symmetry exists between language and social reality, or what intervening trajectories may complicate the equation. And language has featured prominently in the homosexuality/heterosexuality debate on Africa, etc.

This panel invites interventions devoted to the investigation of the multiple and possibly peculiar ways in which language impacts the performance of gender in African settings and how these may in turn enhance a broader understanding of gender and the gendering process. Panelists would hopefully explicate or shed new light on the intersection between language, gender, age, sexuality and ethnicity in African settings. Interventions are expected to be both data and theory driven, with data drawn from real life situations or from aesthetic representations.

Approved abstracts Panel 26

1. Of neutrality, language and sexuality discourse in Yoruba music: A study of Abass Akande ‘Obesere’ and Janet Ajilore ‘Saint Janet’

Author: Adeyemi Johnson Ademowo, (Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State Nigeria)

Sexuality is a central aspect of human life that encompasses sex, gender, identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. It is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs and, in some cases, misinterpreted as nothing but vulgarity. Hence, the derision of sexuality related discourses on the public space. The desire to preserve the ‘sanctity’ of the Yoruba language so that it will remain ‘morally clean’, has made sexuality discourse a taboo subject among the Yorubas. But the pertinent question is: how clean and neutral is Yoruba language? Using Foucault’s theory of sexuality embodied in his history of sexuality as a foil, we aver that the stigmatization of Obesere and Saint Janet’s music as “Immoral’ and ‘not fit for the ears’ is basically because they both frustrate efforts to control sex at the level of speech, and inadvertently intensify discourses on sex, sexual performance and the power relations among Yoruba men and women.

2. Redefining womanhood: Combating gender discrimination in Yoruba and Afro-Brazilian contemporary popular music

Author: Anike R. Omidire (Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria)

One of the Millennium Goals for world development is based on gender equality, economic and political empowerment of women. This is seen as a tool to resolve certain world problems like poverty, unemployment, gender inequality as well as a measure to guarantee a universal education for all. The preamble of the United Nation’s Communiqué of 1945 was a reaffirmation of faith in the fundamental human rights, dignity and worth of the human person, placing a great emphasis on equal rights of men and women. However, after so many years of the establishment of the United Nations, it is lamentable to see that all forms of humiliation, oppression and discrimination against women still persist in our societies. In gender relations, women are often seen as inferior to men or incapable of making simple decisions that will benefit any society or individuals. Nevertheless, female resistance and courage in confronting the diverse manifestations of gender discrimination have kept the women on their feet as is evident in different areas of social, cultural and ideological expressions by women. This work seeks to undertake a feminist analysis of womanhood as a weapon to combat gender discrimination in an attempt to see how the songs, “Obìrin ni mi” by Shola Allyson Obaniyi and “Mulher” by Mariene de Castro extol the values of the Ecofeminist theory which can be seen as a direct contribution of Yoruba and Afro-Brazilian women towards the attainment of this Millennium Goal that is represented by Gender Equality.

3. A discursive analysis of the epistemological understandings of gender mainstreaming and gender equality in development organisations in Cameroon

Authors: Lilian Lem Atanga (The University of Bamenda, Cameroon) and Relindis Neh Ngwa (The University of Dschang, Cameroon)

Language and gender in African contexts has previously been questioned as a valid epistemology (Atanga et al 2013). This paper seeks to show that although there are elaborate written documentation spelling out what gender equality and gender mainstreaming is, knowledge and understanding of gender equality and gender mainstreaming is still limited as observed in developmental discourses. The paper seeks to show that discourses on faulty understandings of gender equality and mainstreaming often translate into wrong practices regarding the two, and can lead to what Fricker (2009) calls epistemic injustices.

Relevant data consists of documentation from development oriented NGOs in Cameroon and interviews with development workers including participant observation.A quick look at most organisation websites in Cameroon show that they all claim to focus on mainstreaming gender in their organisation or projects. A further look shows that most reputable organisations, especially international non-governmental organisations have gender policies and gender action plans spelling out exactly what gender policies exist in the organisation and what should be done in their programs. Adiscursive analysis of the data (using CDA – vanDijk 2009) shows however that although gender policies and action plans of both national and international NGOs exist, the understanding and practice of gender mainstreaming (UN 2014) are still skewed by patriarchal ideologies and power relations between males and females in these development programs. Gendered discourses therefore shape knowledge and practices within development organisations. Results also show that although positive gendered discourses evolve within the Cameroonian context, gendered practices and understandings of gender mainstreaming are still very problematic within the organisations.

Key Words: Gender, epistemology, CDA, development organisations

4. Gendered discourses in the Cameroonian press

Author: Maureen Enongene Nzung (University of Buea, Cameroon)

This paper submits that language is a powerful tool used for social constructions and representations as well as a medium through which values and meanings are portrayed and can be used to perpetuate and/or challenge societal stereotypes. We set out to explore the ways in which language is used in the Cameroonian press of English expression to perpetuate, maintain and challenge gender constructions, perceptions and representations. It examines the language of newspapers, highlighting the role it plays in marginalising and undermining the experiences and identity of women. Using Critical Discourse Analysis(CDA) as both its theoretical and methodological framework data collected was qualitatively analysed and found out that through a number of discourse strategies, gender is constructed and sustained in the Cameroonian press; that women and men are constructed as being different from each other and play different roles in a society which expects them to be at opposite ends both at home and at work. There was an abundant use of passivisation when the press reported issues and events concerning women, side-lining them or rendering them completely invisible. We also found out that certain discourses serve to challenge stereotypical constructions of gender in post-colonial Cameroon. The study is important in that it contributes to the search for bias-free press, where no segment of the society therein represented is back-grounded or minimised.

5. Gender representation in cultural expressions of the Yoruba people

Authors: Ayobola Raji ( Fountain University Osogbo, Nigeria) and Asiru Hameed Tunde (Kenyatta University, Kenya)

Language has always been acknowledged as a vehicle of identity construction. This construction is always conditioned by socio-cultural affinities such as gender and religion. Language as a social 'weapon' in the service of identity construction is either explicit or implied. When it is explicit, it is gender-marked and when it is implicit, it is not overtly marked for gender. Consequently, if a language is not gender-marked, does it mean such a language is completely silent or neutral in terms of gender?

In this paper, we argue that although the Yoruba language is considered in scholarly circles as a gender-neutral language, there are instances of pragmatic gendering in its usage. That is, gendering should not only be viewed from the structural/grammatical markers in a language but from a pragmatic perspective of stereotypes.

Ten Nollywood movies will be purposively selected and analysed by identifying from the socio-cultural context, random lexical and structural gender-marked expressions. The study adopts Lazar (2007) Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis (FCDA) to substantiate our claim of positive and negative gender stereotypes in Yoruba. We conclude that gendering is not only located in the subjective and objective pronoun markers of languages but also, evidently, in the socio-cultural use of the language.

Key words: Yoruba, Socio-cultural, Gender, Language, FCDA, Nollywood

6. Youth language practices in Nigerian song lyrics: An analysis of gender-based expressions

Author: Folorunso Odidiomo (Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria)

Abstract. The practice of language creation by African youth has generally been established. Most studies on youth language claim that youth invent languages to suit their communicative/cognitive needs and particularly to enhance group identity and solidarity. The results of these studies have shown that youth languages deviate from the traditional norms and, more importantly, distinguish the youth from the older generations. On the basis of Nigerian linguistic plurality, few studies also have examined youth languages in urban centers and have drawn conclusion that males tend to contribute more than females into the ‘market’ of youth linguistic innovations. The issue of youth languages, especially males, focusing on women and their sexuality has not been adequately examined and, again, the interrelationship between these languages (argots, slangs, jargons and taboo words) and norms, values and practices of the older generations needs to be examined. This paper addresses the question of male dominance in the enterprise of Nigerian youth languages creation and of why the youth languages focus on women. The paper, drawing insights for analysis from Psychoanalytic Feminist Literary Theory/Gender studies, examines contemporary Hip-Hop song lyrics of some popular music circulating among the Nigerian youth. Based on the analysis of selected data, the paper shows that popular Nigerian artistes across the popular music spectrum associate with their songs and promote through the song texts the ideologies of masculinity. Apart from glorifying rape and abuse of women, Nigerian youth languages continually are depicting women ‘as second class’, ‘good only for sex’, ‘money-hungry’ and ‘easily bought’, The paper maintains that youth languages in Nigeria are not just distinct to the youth, but that the languages reflects the worldviews of the youth which are similar to that of their parents.

Keywords. Youth language, Sexuality, Women, Gender studies, Nigeria

7. African precolonial gendering perspectives: revisiting the linguistic evidence in Yoruba

Author: Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju (University of Ilorin, Nigeria)

Certain African linguistic peculiarities, such as the absence of generic pronouns in Yoruba, have figured prominently in the theorization of pre-colonial Africa as a somewhat Edenic ‘gender neutral’ idyll. This paper re-examines the linguistic evidence for gendering or non-gendering in pre-colonial Yoruba. Parameters that may serve as the “test of gender,” or of gendering, in western languages have been variously proposed in the literature (such as generic pronouns and nouns, “women as marked form,” “naming and androcentrism,” tests, etc). The paper checks these parameters, among others, against core linguistic elements that appear reflective of gendered practices in Yoruba society.

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