This summer, I’ve invited my graduate students to submit blog posts to tellingtheflesh.com. Luckily, they’ve almost all expressed an interest. They’re a highly diverse bunch and I’m really looking forward to reading and posting their thoughts.
The first of these comes from Master of Gender Studies student, Pearl Sedziafa. Pearl came to MUN in 2012. She has an academic and professional background in Nursing and is currently working on a thesis proposal that considers the intersections of kinship and marital violence in Ghana. Pearl published this post on her blog as well.
Identity: Political Terrorization of Victoria Hama
by Pearl Sedziafa
Femininity involves subordination, calmness, politeness, passivity, modesty, sexiness, and physical attractiveness. The framework for femininity works to keep women in the private sphere, where female gender roles are confined to domesticity. When a woman subverts her traditional roles, she faces hostility, intimidation and terrorization, and this inherently culminates in violence towards the female body. In Ghana, there are quite a number of women who are actively engaged in the public sphere, but this subversion of traditional roles by women has come with its own gender politics. Indeed, the recent nomination of the Deputy Communications Minister, Ms. Victoria Hama, under the current government administration highlights 3 key areas of gender politics: the politics of the socio-cultural construction of women, the politics of difference in terms of femininity, and the politics of women’s involvement in the public and private sphere.
Ms. Victoria Hama was among the 26 listed candidates on March 26, 2013, for deputy ministerial positions in Ghana. Out of the 26 nominees, 5 persons were women (GhanaWeb, 2013). Although self-identified ‘Women’s Groups’ would have wanted more women in Parliament to serve as ministers and deputies, progress was said to have been made since Ghana began its journey on the road to national democracy (see African Women Development Fund’s congratulatory message for women politicians in Ghana). I was quite thrilled about the nominations, too, as an upcoming feminist, but my stance is not conservative. Yes, I do wish that more women would occupy the seats in Parliament to take a massive part in legislative decisions, but like many concerned Ghanaian citizens, I want to see women who have the ability to work towards women’s economic and social empowerment as well as gender equity. I want to have female leaders who can use power to remove the tentacles of oppression hanging around the neck of women and children, and also, work towards policies that make Ghana a better place in which to live (and this attention to developmental issues is what I demand from men in power too).
In that regard, one of such nominee who raised the eyebrows of many Ghanaians, especially those within our male-dominated media, was Victoria Hama. Victoria raised questions among many Ghanaians in relation to her ‘fit’ for a ministerial position. Ms. Hama is a young lady of 32, unmarried, very dark skinned, thick black hair and lips, about 6feet tall, practices Hinduism, and takes much space because of her ‘back-defense’. She is described in the media as the real ‘goddess of beauty’ (in the African context of beauty). To use a popular Ghanaian phrase, Victoria is often described as a type of woman with a ‘thick body’. In the media, it is noted that ‘the Deputy Communications Minister […], Victoria Hama, attracts so much attention with her looks’ (GhanaWeb, 2013). No doubt about it, it seems Victoria has ‘caught’ excessive attention within the male-dominated media unlike the other female nominees.
Instead of Ms. Hama concealing her body in much ‘bigger’ clothes and look ‘dull’ in order to wade off the male gaze a little, she is smart, and very fancy. Women who are closer to her body type will usually wear loose clothes that cover their entire bodies just to avoid excessive attention, or gaze in Ghana. On the contrary, Victoria has been spotted in skimpy and tight clothes all the time, thus, attracting much media attention, and her appearance in public spaces dominate discussions—she is ‘talked’ about as if she were not ‘present’—with the male-centered society throwing their wishful sexual desires in the air (see myjoyonline page for Victoria’s pictures and comments). She never shies away from the public space. Her biography shows that she has been involved in numerous political activities such as the Student’s Representative Council, the Women Commission and a National Women’s Organiser for National Union of Ghana Students during her time as a university student. She identifies as a ‘women’s activist’ and strongly demands the political, economic and social empowerment of women.
In the 2012 December polls in Ghana to elect a new president, including parliamentarians, in which Victoria stood as a parliamentarian on the ticket of the National Democratic Party, she lost flatly to her colleague, Ursula Owusu. Ms. Owusu has received so much attention for being ‘hard,’ and cutting her hair ‘flat’ like that of a man, and she has also earned the name ‘iron lady’ in media narratives (see GhanaWeb, 2010). Following this loss by Victoria to Ursula Owusu, Victoria Hama’s nomination as a deputy minister for communications came as a shock to many Ghanaians. To my surprise, critics dwelt on the ‘looks’ of Victoria Hama to disqualify her for the position of a deputy minister. Allegedly, media conversations about Victoria implied that she practices prostitution and so she is not ‘dignified’ enough to merit any position in a public office (see GhanaWeb). It was said also that Victoria ‘used her body’ to acquire the deputy ministerial position. With these piercing critics, one is tempted to ask why other female nominees are not receiving excessive media attention like Victoria Hama. Could it be that Victoria’s femininity is a threat in the public space? Or, is Victoria’s presence in the male-dominated space capable of preventing proper legislative decision-making? Why does Victoria seem to have a strong public presence in the media for her ‘looks’?
I will not deny that the presence of women in the public space attracts excessive news and blasphemy generally, but Victoria seems to have been attracting so much ‘news’. Victoria’s social critiques about her ‘looks’ have lasted more than that of any political female figure in history. Currently, while Victoria gets media coverage for her political duties, her ‘looks’ never escape the lens of the male-dominated media, especially with an emphasis on her ‘behind’ (see GhanaWeb). It is obvious that society is enacting true femininity through the male-dominated media. I suggest that society has a ‘perfect’ feminine image, or ideal, and this type of feminine image is desired in the private space. That is to say that the more beauty or physical attraction is inscribed on a particular female body (in the context of a specific culture), the more sexualized she becomes, and she is much more desired in the private space. This way of sexualizing a particular body could be uncomfortable in the public space. A female body is largely sexualized when she is particularly read through a socio-cultural feminine lens. Hence, such bodies are seen as least capable of handling power (in the public space). While there have been other women before Victoria in the public space, none have had such ‘gargantuan’ embodiment and media hype as Victoria. Victoria’s terrorization in the public space I suggest is due to her specific femininity, which is desired in the private space rather than in the public space. Clearly, Victoria’s body denotes the politics of women’s experiences with femininity and how society is largely a part in its being.
“Minister Victoria Hamah is a ‘goddess of beauty’” (2013; 2010). Retrieved May 25, 2013, fromhttp://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=271828
text copyright Pearl Sedziafa, 2013.