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Women, Sex and Politics: The Dynamics of Being Labelled a Whore

I have to confess, I have political ambitions. 2 years ago I thought maybe I should aim to be a Member of Parliament and work my way to being a Minister (I quite fancy being Minister for Information). The ultimate of course would be to run for President but as a person with dual nationality that office is out of my reach. I then started this blog (on a whim) and thought ‘I guess I can’t run for public office again’.

One of the strategies used to control women’s behaviour is labeling. So much import is placed by society on how a woman is supposed to act, and straying beyond certain parameters can lead to being called a ‘whore’, ‘prostitute’, ‘easy’…these descriptors are gendered and automatically bring up images of women who are refusing to conform to patriarchal norms. A man acting in the same way a (supposed) ‘whore’ acts will not be regarded with the same (or probably any) level of scorn. It is all too easy for a woman to be vilified and scorned ESPECIALLY by casting aspersions on her sexual behaviour. The patriarchal ideal is that a woman should be ‘married’ off, and be under the control of a man. Under this construct, an unmarried woman therefore becomes a ‘dangerous’ woman. An unmarried woman who asserts her sexual rights? In the eyes of traditional patriarchal society, that is even more dangerous.

Now lets add politics to the mix of women and sex. In Ghana today, women are severely under-represented in formal politics. I believe we possibly have fewer women in politics today than we did during the time of Kwame Nkrumah. The first women who entered parliament in Ghana were derided as having nothing of value to say, today women are unable to enter the political space because they are single, divorced or have a reputation (of course there are also a whole host of other reasons why women are not entering politics which includes politics is seen as a man’s domain, women lack access to the resources needed to be successful in politics, political parties are male dominated and do not elect women into ‘winnable’ seats, etc.) Despite my interest in politics one of the reasons I have decided not to pursue politics is because I have already aired most of my dirty laundry on this very site. Can you imagine what a field day my political opponents would have? They wouldn’t need to look very hard to be able to call me an ashawo.

Kofi Ametewee, a regular reader and commenter on this blog brought two news articles to the attention of Abena and I, http://news.peacefmonline.com/features/201006/48421.php#commentsread
and http://news.myjoyonline.com/politics/201006/47648.asp
As far as I am concerned there are situations in which one needs to put partisan politics aside (as hard as that is) and we all need to hold the people who hold public positions of authority and leadership to higher standards of behaviour.

What are your thoughts?

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Published on: 16 June 2010 by in General Issues

has written 286 stories on this site.

23 Comments
  1. I think both Nana’s and Abena’s pieces should be required reading in all Ghanaian secondary schools. That’s where the rethinking of how women are seen should probably start, in places where attitudes are not too calcified. Begin, but not end, the pressure should be kept on all of our politicians to run a political environment in which women get a fair shake. Our political system is too boy-centric, when women are present, they are underrepresented and often decorative. I have been in serious political meetings that have felt like an old boys meeting of the all boys school I went to, with the token woman basically there providing gender icing on the cake. And these were very intelligent, accomplished women.

    I have no doubt that our formal business world suffers from similar gender imbalances.

    These situations lead to the feeling of impunity that led Mr. Jinapor to utter his impolitic words. In a sense, he did us all a service by exposing attitudes that are a commonplace at high levels of Ghanaian society. As an aside, I was once chagrinned when a Ghanaian lawyer I was hosting in NY asked the woman I was dating (Harvard JD/MBA, no less) how many holes a woman had. He then went on to enumerate them. I was hoping the ground would open up and swallow him. What possesses men to try to destroy women’s sense of self-worth in this way?

    I believe that we have arrived at what Obama called a ‘teaching moment’. We can’t afford to lose the momentum.

  2. Abena Gyekye says:

    @ Nana – Yep. Like I said: Cerebral. Nicely done.

    @Kofi – As for you, you are indeed a gender traitor! A man with progressive thoughts toward his female counterpart(s), and a Black African none-the-less?? Scandalous! :)

  3. Esi Cleland says:

    No frigging way! You’re not even going to contest because of what your opponents will say? Please please rethink that. Because I am sure you will not need to look very far to find Ashawo men. So, you could go in armed with facts about them. If they play dirty, you play dirtier. Please don’t cower into the corner because that would be letting them win. We’ve been doing that for too damn long. Please run. Isn’t there also minister for womens affairs. And for education, and culture, and even defense and finance if you so choose? Broaden your horizon.

    Point number 2.
    Sometimes when I read blogs, i feel a sense of hopelessness. Because people like myself and Kofi Ametewee who read what you and other bloggers write are already “converted”. The people who really need to read this blog post, who need an awakening, sadly aren’t here. So what’s the point? My uncle tells me (not to discourage me, but as food for thought), that the kind of people who read my blog are the people who don’t need it. We probably should be thinking of preaching to the unconverted. Afterall, what fun is there in telling feminists like myself and possibly Kofi what you just wrote here? We know. We agree. We get it. Our real jobs lie ahead.

    I wish we had more dissenters in this and other spaces. People who disagreed with us. People who forced as to rethink or at least reconsider our positions, arguments, and thoughts. Then we might be prepared for the unconverted.

  4. Ginger says:

    Nana, you can vie for Minister of women affairs :-p [we have that in Nigeria, don't know about Ghana]. I shall vote for you!

    @that aside, this blog is akin to political suicide in our African context shaa. A woman talking about sex in public?? abomination!

  5. Bois d'ebene says:

    Random: I have no party loyalties but I have to say I love Samia Nkrumah, how vocal and eloquent she is in parliament!

    @ Esi: you’ll be surprised but I suspect that there are some dissenters in this space. Just because a man feels free to talk about sex on this blog does not mean he is feminist or pro-feminist. But knowing how strongly most of us feel about these issues, I’m not sure the dissenters are brave enough to speak up here. They’ll probably save their comments for when they are with their posse and wait quietly for the next post on g-spots and clitorises to make some noise again…my 2 cents

    @Nana: please run. I am going to get my voter’s ID card made now…run so I actually have a reason to stand in line and vote…pleeeeease

  6. Boakyewaa says:

    I got the same reaction Esi did. It’s a little disheartening. I really feel you on this one, Nana. I’ve been a victim of labeling too many times, still am. People are really hasty to jump to conclusions. But like Esi said, the open minded people are already converts. It’s hard to get through to the close minded people fools out there.
    The issue is too deep and ingrained in our culture for it to change in the next decade. Traditional patriarchical mindsets will always dominate and define how women behave. A few will rebel, but I don’t see a revolution coming anytime soon. Even if more rebel, it just means there are more people that the silly ones will call sluts.

  7. Golda Addo says:

    As for me, I will say only one thing!
    Run for your political post, and damn the rest!
    Who doesn’t have dirt in his or her life?

    I’ll vote for you!

  8. Nana Darkoa says:

    @Kofi – Thank you for bringing this story to our attention and ecouraging us to take action no matter how small. Thanks also for standing against men who give other men (and women) a bad name.

    @Abena – Thank you BFFFL

    @Esi – I have actually thought carefully about all the Ministries and the one I feel most confident that I can run well is the Ministry for Information – mainly because of my passion for communications. I also think communications can be a power tool to educate the masses. I’m not interested in the Ministry for Women Affairs (although I am an ardent feminist) because I believe it is one of the least resourced ministries. I also think feminists should be in all ministries and not just the Ministry for women. I’m really not interested in playing political tit for tat so I do not even want to have to arm myself with ‘dirty facts’ about political opponents although i recognise that is the way the political game runs. I also think I can potentially do an equal amount of good outside the political arena so combine that with the open skeletons in my ‘Adventures’ closet = a decision not to run for politics

    @Ginger – Lol. You have the impression in your brief comment that you are Nigerian so how will you vote for me? I appreciate the cyber support though…maybe if I change my mind about running, I will also run an online campaign :) See comment above for why I’m not interested in being the Minister for Women (and children)

    @Bois d’ebene – Too true – I have the same suspicions you hold. Sometimes I have thought ‘Wow, this blog is really a safe space. I can voice my innermost thoughts and get nothing but support’, but there has been the occasional virulent comment which has been quickly dealt with by the community of ‘commenters’ that read the blog. Thanks for your vote :) If i do decide to run I’ll remind you….

    @Boakyewaa – Cuz, I feel you on the labelling. Anyone who speaks her mind openly especially around issues of sexuality is very quickly labelled. I think the only thing we can do is consciously not join in with labelling. We also need to be extra careful not to label others and to jump to the defence of people who are labelled.

    @Golda – Thank you! I have 2 votes so far!!!

  9. Ginger says:

    Hey Nana. Yep, I am Nigerian for my sins. See, if you want to run for the ministry of Information please go for it, guns blazing. You prolly know more about what it entails than the those gone before. [IT wise, Diplomacy wise, English wise lol]. Your fan club moi included will support you however we can.

    But note, I didn’t mean Ministry of women/children as a sop or something. I think its a much ignored ministry because even the women manning it have not used their position to change harmful policies affecting women and children. The right head be it man or woman can turn that position into gold. just saying..

  10. Nsoromma says:

    The whole argument is very interesting. Firstly, Ursula Owusu was the person throwing out accusations without naming anyone and to get so offended when the same is thrown back at her is hardly fair.

    HOWEVER, she did raise an interesting point about the treatment of women in politics which I must agree with. I’m not a fan of dirty politicking and sexuality is indeed one patriarchal way of barring female entry into politics. However, dirty politics being what it is there are other unfair boundaries to politics that men may also face. The problem, I do not think is just patriarchy in politics. It’s is dirty politics which seeks to make personal attacks at people and ignore the real issues, that is the problem. And from listening to Ursula Owusu and Jon Jinapor, they both seem to follow in that nasty tradition.

    I’m with Kofi thou, education has a real role to play. Those of us blessed enough to be highly educated need to spread the word that politics should be about issues that matter. It’s amazing how often people make political decisions based on who they believe Politicians are. And this is based on what the media etc. say. We, the educated, need to teach the up-and-coming they they should listen to the policies. Personally, you can have had 27 different partners every year for the past 17 years, if you are talking sense you are talking sense. And that is what we need to teach people.

    I also have a love for politics, I’m still considering entering politics in GH. But that my sexuality will be cast into light so much (more than it would in my country of birth, the UK), is definitely a deterrent. But hey Nana, I will if you will! ;)

  11. Nana and Nsoromma: I think Ghana is ready, if it isn’t it should be made so, of the kind of bright independent shackle-breaking power you represent. The old game, as you point out, Nsoromma, is tired, nasty, worn out. It papers over a deep inner core of corruption and ineptitude, which only survives because good people like you are intimidated by their sincere reflections on their imperfections. And, funnily, your imperfections pale compared to theirs. However, nothing great is gained easily. If you want change, be prepared to work your you-know-what off. Let’s not abdicate our responsibilities and cede one of the most important parts of national life to the corrupt, the visionless, the inept and the liars.

    If you decide to run, I’ll offer my services for free. I have run political campaigns before. It can be done!

  12. novisi says:

    funny stuff!!!
    come to think of it, there’s just a thin line b/n prostitution and what we call marriage generally.

    in the classic prostitution business a couple hook-up with the ‘treaty’ (mostly unwritten) that one party would pay the other for fun that both people enjoy!!! and this may last for some for a time ranging from some few minutes to hours to even an undefined limit.

    and then for the classic marriage too, there’s a ‘treaty that states that a couple would remain ‘coupled’ and give each other fun and for that one party is made to pay ‘something’ for the expected lifelong ‘coupling’. depending on the traditions involved it may be the man paying for the woman or vice versa!!!

    there’s already politics involved in both the classic ‘prostitution’ and the disguised prostitution called marriage anyway.

    so what is the big deal if one is a prostitute and chooses to engage in just some more politics, the classic one?????????????

  13. Mike says:

    I personally have a problem with people who resort to insults and get loud during discussions. It bugs me even more when educated people do that. It is soooo “nkurasisem” (ghetto, uncouth).
    But people like that can’t suppress that characteristic for long. It eventually comes out.
    Nana Darkoa, I think your blog will be a good addendum to your resume if you should run for public office. Yes, it will open you up for negative criticism but as long as you are focused and don’t get caught up in the mud-slinging game, it can serve as an advantage.
    It is a record of your mindset and that is documented history/information that is currently not available on people holding public office now…. e.g Mr Jinapor.

  14. Nana says:

    Clean politics with just issues can be done and I think people on this forum(Nana D, Nsoromma) will be excellent to take the lead. I was also on the staff of Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts. He was above personal attacks and focused on the issues. Its excruciating not to trade jabs with an inept opponent but it feels better after you win. I am applying for my dual citizenship and you will have my vote.

  15. Omanba Forum says:

    I’m sorry to say that Ghana does not appear to be ready to separate one’s morals from one’s politics and what one stands for. And it’s definitely going to take the entrance of our modern generation into politics in order to do away with the culture of dirty politicking.
    Unfortunately, it appears that even the young ones who are on the political scene at the moment are beginning to apply the same dirty political tricks of their elders! Is there some kind of training school or what?
    Visit us at Omanbaforum dot com

  16. Kojo Amaning says:

    Nana Darkoa, i am a first time reader to this blog and I am not exactly sure what your thoughts are about a number of issues so i cannot begin to promise a vote. That being said, i am going to preface with you must be kidding me.
    You are a young lady who is airing her dirty laundry herself, i get the impression you have talked about a few things on radio which we Ghanaians find controversial. As long as you have owned it and embraced who you are, nobody can “smear” your name, especially because we are a lot dirtier as a group of people than you can imagine.
    As long as you have great ideas and you are willing to put it into play, please follow through. I am not going to pretend people will not have adverse things to say about you, but that is simply politics. If you believe in something, other people will believe in you so please, do consider following through with your political ambitions because you will be amazed at how much acceptance and embrace will come from people in the face of not so positive words about you.
    All I ask is, let the thought roam around in your mind a little longer.

  17. kinkidi says:

    I really don’t get this whole Ghanaian thing about “It’s ok if a man does it but it isn’t if a woman does it”. It just doesn’t make sense; yet I see a lot of Ghanaian mothers raising their children like that. Girls have curfew boys don’t. Boys can have sex, girls can’t. Girls go to the kitchen boys don’t and the list of rubbish principles is endless.

    Nana, by starting this blog, you already have chosen the unpleasant responsibility of having to lead. Don’t tell me you’re that sensitive? Who says a little slander can’t go a long way to make you Ghana’s first properly liberated female politician?

    Remember, if a dream doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth pursuing.

  18. ely says:

    Interesting. Got me wondering where I’ve been during the heat of the argument? Ok, my point: The issue in our part of the world is that it’s ok, personality strenghtening even, when a man sleeps around but an abomination when a woman does not marry her first boyfriend. The scale of measurement is not even the same!! In my opinion, the way forward is for female politicians not to indulge in dirty politiking and stick to the issues, make your male opponents feel and look stupid for swimming in the mad by being above average, effecient.

  19. i am enjoyed reading the article and comments that follow. I am an African male who is very open to a woman having equal rights to her male counterpart.I have come to learn one thing that we cannot dismiss. We cannot forget that African as a continent suffers in all areas due to lack of education. Be it management of Aids and its repercussions, natural resources, respect for other beings! Before we can break our problems down to itsy-bitsy pieces we have to recognize that mass education is number one! If I was not taught in my youth to be an independent thinker to appreciate different cultures as an extenstion of who i am I would never respect anyone’s rights in general let alone those of women! Let us approach our issues as Africans first then men/women second!

  20. Corey Gilkes says:

    I must say that I had some respect and admiration for you before, but I have doubly that now!!

    And for the record I too would like to see you in the political arena. It’s sobering though how alike our societies are in terms of how your sexual self would “disqualify” you from standing for office. Only last year we made history in electing a Prime Minister who is not only a woman but also, being of East Indian descent, belonged to a predominantly Hindu-oriented party that had very entrenched Hindu patriarchal values. Even then, there are still disparaging whispers about her (allegedly) nonmonogamous sexual life as if that has anything to do with how she and the coalition party she leads runs the country.

    But who knows, perhaps there is time yet particularly if more young people (the future voters) were educated to approach politics in ways different from the old male chauvinist styles we have been saddled with. All the best to you, whatever you do.

    • Nana Darkoa says:

      Thank you so much Corey. I really appreciate the feedback. You have also reminded me of my political ambitions which at the moment I have decided to shelf for entrepreneurship but who knows what the future holds :)

      Its interesting to hear about Trinidad’s new Prime Minister and good news to hear about a woman rising to that position in Trinidad. Thank you so much for sharing. I am inspired :)

  21. Corey Gilkes says:

    I understand that women entrepreneurs were once highly valued in Nigeria, Senegal and many other West African countries, perhaps that could be a springboard for your career ;-)

    Kamla Persad-Bessessar is not the first female Prime Minister in the Caribbean; Eugenia Charles rose to prominence in Dominica years before as did Janet Jagan, the widow of the late Guyanese president Cheddi Jagan.

    But while their election to political office is certainly a milestone, the real hurdle is changing the politics itself to something less patriarchal. Let’s look at Condoleeza Rice, Madeline Albright and even Margaret Thatcher in England: women who occupied powerful political positions that nevertheless reflected and upheld patricentric interests. They all ultimately made decisions that impacted devastatingly on millions of faceless women who happen to be the ones responsible for gathering and processing food and water in their respective societies. It has been pointed out by people like Vandana Shiva in India that the new colonialism and imperialism is the privatisation of water, indigenous medicines, seeds and food production all of which were traditionally the primary concerns of women. What is needed is a new approach to politics which in my opinion involves the re-visiting of certain political institutions that existed in many parts of Africa but never in Europe so far as I have been able to research. And whether a woman is sexually active and active in ways well outside the confines of closed monogamy should not have much bearing (I wonder how many people are aware that some of the major historical figures of the 20th century alone who kept to rigid “traditional” Western values were some of the most vicious abusers of human rights this world has ever seen)

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