Panel 3

Thinking beyond colonial concepts of gender/sexuality

Panel organiser: Signe Arnfred, Roskilde University, Denmark

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Colonial notions of gender and sexuality are rooted in the Bible, with its expulsion of female desire (Eve from the Garden of Eden) and separation of sexuality from motherhood (Virgin Mary). A male/female hierarchical dichotomy of dominance/subordination is taken for granted, along with heterosexuality, marriage as a central institution, and patriliny as the kinship system par excellence.

Feminist anthropology from the 1970s onwards has contested some of these notions. However, feminist views have also been taken as a point of departure for Gender-and-Development lines of thinking, where issues of formal political gender equality and women’s rights have taken centre stage, while sexuality is seen in terms of male domination/female vulnerability, with sex as a zone of risk and danger for women.

Post- and decolonial scholars insist on a more radical critique, seeing ‘gender’ as well as ‘race’ as European constructions, introduced to the rest of the world in the process of colonization. Colonial relations of domination are justified by the invention of ‘race’ as a biological distinction, and gender power relations are introduced, while claimed to be natural and already there, rooted in biology and bodies. According to Oyrnk Oyewm, “for females, colonization was a twofold process of racial inferiorization and gender subordination. The creation of ‘women’ as a category was one of the very first accomplishments of the colonial state.”

In order better to understand dynamics of contemporary African lives, thinking beyond colonial concepts is needed. The panel invites studies which – rooted in empirical investigations – challenge conventional concepts of gender and sexuality.

Approved abstracts Panel 3

1. ‘Are you married to a Maasai?’ - Cultural encounters between Tanzanian teachers and self perceived gender equal Danes in Global Citizenship training

Author: Lene Bull Christiansen (Roskilde University, Denmark)

Postcolonial feminist critiques of the representational practices around subaltern voices (e.g. Minh-ha, 1989; Mohanty, 1991; Spivak, 1988) have predominantly taken point of departure in Western representations of ‘the subaltern other’. Equally critiques of development practices, have depicted the power relations between North and South, with reference to the unequal distribution of representational power between North and South (e.g. Eriksson Baaz, 2005; Kapoor, 2004, 2008). This paper explores a more complicated representational dynamic – that is, the interplay between local Tanzanian teachers and Danes, who participate in Global Citizenship training during a 3 week ‘voluntourist’ (see Mostafanezhad, 2013) trip to Arusha Tanzania, with the Danish NGO Action Aid (Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke). The paper examines the gendered representations that emerge from these teaching sessions, and the positionalities that open op between the self perceptions of the Danish participants as ‘gender equal’ and the activist and academic accounts of Maasai culture produced by the teachers.

2. Young women in the “decolonizing project” in South Africa: from subaltern to intersectional feminism

Author: Amanda Gouws (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa)

The “born free” free generation of children, (born after 1994 when South Africa became a democracy) many of whom are now students caught South Africa off guard when they started, with what is now called, the hashtag campaigns (#RhodesmustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, #FeesmustFall). At the forefront of the campaigns were many black women students who articulated their claims in a black consciousness/Fanonian discourse. They organized protest marches and sit ins and started to identify themselves as intersectional feminists. They are vocal and outspoken. This paper investigates these young women’s understanding of their identities as articulated in post-colonial conditions,whcih they argue are not post-colonial. For them the decolonization project in South Africa has failed and need to be resurrected. These women also champion the demands of ltbgi communities, putting sexual identities and female sexuality central.

3. Beyond patriarchy: Women's power and marginality among South African Nguni-speakers, 8th-19th century CE

Author: Raevin Jimenez (Northwestern University, USA)

Configurations of “patriarchy” have dominated reporting and analysis of southern African gender relations and marriage practices since the early 20th century. Scholarship on bridewealth, in particular, emphasizes the ways in which traditional marriage practices reproduce women within subordinate and marginal social roles. Using comparative historical linguistics, my research on the history of social reproduction among South African Nguni-speakers counters historical narratives of “patriarchy” to reveal complex gender relations that hinged more on generational age than physical sex. In my larger research, I argue that before ca. 10th century CE, Nguni-speakers did not organize socially or politically around gender in particularly salient ways. Gendered dimensions of unequal power relations originated in the household, but disadvantaged young men as much as young women, as Nguni-speaking elders sought to establish new ways of reproducing young people into marriageable adults. This approach seeks to disaggregate static and naturalized categories like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ (among other kin-based social roles) in order to determine the histories according to which Nguni-speakers constructed these roles. My work approaches Nguni gender history in two ways: by seeking to deconstruct colonial constructs of gender, and especially femininity, and by reconstructing word histories for gender dimensions of social life. In doing so, I seek to make transparent the ways in which the positionalities of western observers influenced interpretations of complex gender relations. At the same time, I draw on African feminist scholarship, and gender theory from comparative colonial literature (including Latin America, India, and Native America) in order to compose an intellectual framework that reveals my own interpretive approach. Finally, the evidence generated through comparative historical linguistics offers a unique lens into the distant past, posing stark contrasts to colonial conceptualizations of gender. The proposed paper will address the deconstruction of colonial gender concepts in southern Africa, new frameworks, and provide key examples from linguistic evidence of the ways in which this approach to gender history yields a valuable new narrative.

4. Speaking back to the black-and-white notions of race and gender

Author: Mai Palmberg (Pargas, Finland)

Historically race and gender have been important parts of the colonial legitimising of power. Deconstructing these ideologies is still on the agenda, and both researchers and journalists and other writers on social and economic relations still have a role as watchdogs against racism and gendered exploitation.

Paradoxically, perhaps, I propose a simultaneous movement in another direction. I argue that the binary "us" and "them", in which race and gender have been tuned, needs to give way by a more complicated map of the groups and categories whose relations we want to analyse. Class needs to be revived, and new concepts introduced.

While gender subordination of women continues and finds new forms in pseudo-religious violence, for example in Nigeria, there is a need and an opportunity to revisit gender's conventional categories of men and women, fixed for all time. In Africa since the 1990s there are several debates, which acknowledge the existence, historically and today, of different forms of sexual orientation. The debate also deconstructs the nationalist male role model. In some countries, like Uganda, the debate takes the form of a political struggle on unequal terms. In others, films are made which put the issues on the table.

What is the role of scholars and intellectuals in the North? Self-critical retrospection has achieved an analysis of the link between imperialism/colonialism and representation forms of stereotypes, prejudices, denigration, and racism.

To develop knowledge and change requires cross-continental dialogue. Artists have a special role in this dialogue to give powerful, sometimes complex, comments of "speaking back", not only to colonialism and post-colonialism, but also to nationalist myths. In my presentation I will show some examples.

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