5 March 2013

The Sexy Bits

I knew coming to Ghana would bring opportunities to take classes and see things that my own university and culture does not offer…but I never realized just how cool it all would be. I am, proudly and loudly, enrolled in African Traditional Dance. We learn dances to actual drumming and singing that Ghanaians have been chanting since the beginning of time. We shake our rumps with wonderful expressions of past traditions. One dance we have learned- very tricky dance indeed- portrays old ways of harvesting and thankfulness to Earth; it’s so beautiful and exciting, but let’s just say…I am so white. A Ghanaian girl in my class, Benedicta, is absolutely wonderful. She gets so giddy and enthusiastic whenever I get the steps right, or like she says, “Move like a Ghanaian”. I’m half thankful that none of you will ever get to see this, but I’m also half disappointed that you’re missing out on some quality African dancing (not that it’s real quality when I’m the one flailing around). Being a part of these dances and aspect of the Ghanaian culture has made me see how influential Africa has been to the rest of the world, especially America.  I’m pretty sure half of the moves and rhythms I have been learning were somewhere in BeyoncĂ©’s earliest to latest albums. It’s so funny seeing how much of their traditions have been mixed with our own culture to equal jazz, hip-hop, all the way to rap and back again to anything you can shake to. It made me think of all the other aspects of African culture that have been passed on to other countries.

Chapter 5: The Sexy Bits

African music focuses on the lower half of the body; it’s all very fluid and natural as opposed to the stiff ways of the white man. The feet have to be quick and thoughtful while the butt is like the drum of the music-it keeps the rhythm and is the “show off” area. This makes me wonder: does African traditional music focus on the lower body because it is so sexualized, or has traditional African music itself sexualized the lower body?

In Ghana, a woman can walk around with her shoulders showing and breasts popping out and hardly be glanced at; however, I can be walking around in a half-length dress and nearly have my ankles nipped at. After the introduction of globalization, new fashions have opted Ghanaians to be a bit more revealing downstairs. The men are becoming desensitized to seeing more and more leg, but they still tend to get a good glance. Ghanaian men say that up top we all have the same thing, only different sizes, while the lower body is an entirely different story…obviously. As someone who already attracts enough attention here, I am very, extremely careful of what I wear on my lower half; if it’s too tight, it stays in the closet; if it’s too hot, it probably works. Here and there it’s nice to throw on a pair of shorts and just say “mazal tov”, but that’s usually when I’m feeling particularly uninterrupted and unaffected. Wearing things that are above my knee have proven to be fine as long as my bottom is not tightly revealed. The only choice at the end of the day is to think to myself, “The men are products of their environment and do not mean to offend me.” One of the boys in my dorm hall told me that they don’t mean pry or to make a woman feel uncomfortable, they only mean to express gratefulness to an attractive human being. When a Ghanaian man says flattery an American girl says sexual harassment. None-the-less, appreciating someone’s looks only is not valuing them as a human being, rather devaluing them entirely.

Traditional African music and sexualizing of the lower body has, in fact, carried into our own culture. Obviously Ghana is not the only culprit; rather it is the world as a whole. I completely understand that a man can be in awe by a woman’s beauty because women can be just the same about a man, but to treat her as solely beauty alone is quite the problem. I don’t want to sound like some kind of raging feminist; it’s not just women I’m concerned for. I've been able to see how this hurts the citizens, even the men, of this society. Most of the kids at the orphanage, boys and girls, have a very similar back story: their mothers have either passed away or have been divorced by their husbands and no longer have “assets” to provide for their children. The fathers that give their children away have not been taught the skills it takes to raise a child; in fact, it is socially frowned upon for a man to solely raise a child. The divorced women who cannot afford to raise their children alone have to give them away because this society is just barely allowing women means to survive alone. This leaves the children to a lifestyle very harmful to their development. If there were not such division of genders, I strongly believe the orphan numbers would decrease. By looking at a woman solely as means to reproduction, people in this society are devaluing their capability and potential. It implies that women are strictly for means of childbearing and then keeps the men from taking on these skills as well. I am seeing just how powerful the idea of sex can truly be.

Being an American girl in such a gendered society has given me a new appreciation for American girls; we may be loud, we may use foul language at times, we may even be slightly offensive here and there…but God dammit, we are free. A filter is unnecessary a lot of the time and our attire is exactly what we want it to be. I may not miss the loudness, but I do miss such opinionated mouths. We are eager products of an equally gendered society. There is always more room for equality of genders, and it should always be fought for, but I find myself thanking my country for allowing such equality to take place. Ghana has made me feel like I’m actually a girl…imagine that. I always looked at feminists, I'm sure like most people do, as strictly women for women empowerment. I realize now that is not the case; feminists are people for the balance of genders. Giving women their freedom, rights, and separation from gender roles empowers men just as much as it does women. It is no longer just about taking women out of the sexual spotlight; it is about men stepping into other aspects of societal roles as well. 

Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain