Today I experienced socialization at its finest. I saw and heard first hand how people learn gender roles and how language (especially in the media) can shape an entire culture.
Ms. Esther Armah from Webster University gave us a lecture this morning on women in the media. She spoke about the importance of the radio to Ghanaians. They have not always had liberated press, but since they now have the liberty to have radio that is not as regulated everyone listens to it. Every Ghanaian listens to morning radio. Thus, what the radio says and how they frame news has the ability to shape how people think about themselves and others in relation to society. The radio has the power of socialization in Ghana.
She continued to list all five major stations and told us that every single one has male dominated hosts. Occasionally, they will have women guests, herself included, but the majority of time a 52% female population is listening to how men frame the stories with their patriarchal language. Language is very powerful in storytelling. Change comes through language, but so does stagnation.
One example she gave to enhance our understanding was the way in which Ghanaians talk about rape. The males on the radio will hear about a rape case, and instead to saying, “pastor raped young girl,” they will say, “young girl had sex with pastor.” This is all about education. There is no sex education other than scientific reproduction taught in school or abstinence taught in church. There are no safe places to talk about safe sex and what that looks like in an emotionally and physically healthy way. Not to say that sex outside of marriage does not happen, but people do not talk about it. Education is key and knowing what type of language to use can shape the ways in which people think about sex.
There was a story about a young girl who probably had a mental disorder. She kept hearing voices, could not focus in school, and could not sleep at night. Her parents concluded that she was plagued by a demon, so they took her to their pastor to see if he could fix her. Ms. Armah told us that pastors sometimes use the cloak of religion to justify sexually assaulting women. This pastor claimed that he could not fix the girl in a day, but he could see what he could do if she moved in with him and his wife. For the next three months she lived with the pastor, and he impregnated her against her will. When the parents found out, their reaction was not to report the rape and incriminate the pastor. Rather, they thought about the reputation of the girl instead of her safety. The parents insisted that the pastor marry their daughter so she would not loose her reputation. This is a reflection of the culture and the way that these parents were taught to think about these issues of rape. They were taught to not have illegitimate children, so their daughter must marry her attacker. This story was all over the radio. They were blaming the victim and using words like “sex” instead of rape to speak about the issue. Before the marriage could happen, the girl’s family heard of the pastor marrying another girl, so they rushed to the wedding. The fifteen-year-old girl walked in on the marriage of the pastor to another teenager who he had raped and impregnated as well. The media had a frenzy over this story and made it comedic. They laughed at the fact that she walked in on another wedding and framed the story to make the fifteen year old sound like a gold-digger who did not get the pastor for herself like she had planned. They made the girl sound like she wanted to be raped and impregnated by this man and that she did not do a good enough job following through with her plan because she did not end up marrying him.
The language the radio uses feeds the continuation of the way in which Ghanaians, both male and female, think about rape. Men hear these stories and think they can get away with raping younger women. It is on-air pornography. Women hear these stories and teach themselves to think that they are always to blame. It normalizes rape because it is seen as the same thing as sex. If there were education to teach the difference and teach people the words to use, society itself would eventually shift its ideology. (I would like to point out that it is unfair to read this story and think that all Ghanaian pastors act accordingly.)
After the lecture, we went to Joy FM, one of the largest radio and TV stations in Ghana, and got to see sexism played out. We spoke with one female and one male reporter in the newsroom, and both genders confirmed the sexism in the workforce without even knowing it. We talked to the woman first about how she got her position and why she felt that there were not as many women in her field. She spoke about how she had to toughen up for her job. She had to take on male roles and not always act like a woman for her position. When we questioned the man, he said that he would love to have more women in journalism and broadcasting, but he told us that the males were not the problem, women were. It is not that people are not hiring women; it is that women are not applying for the jobs. He said that women do not want to do fieldwork. They do not want to have to talk with politicians because they don’t want to have to deal with them looking down upon them. He said that most women could not handle the position.
All this was said, and they both thought they were for women’s rights in the workforce. The whole problem is not that they are against women working; it is that women don’t feel like they can. They don’t think they will be respected or valued. This is a problem of the society as a whole and how it molds gender roles. Women should not have to change who they are or how they act for a position. Sure, a woman can become more confident, but that does not make her more “male.”
As I thought about the ways in which change comes through education, media, and overall socialization, I began to realize the ways in which I was angered by how the journalists spoke was because of the way I was socialized to think about gender roles. I grew up in a family with an equal balance of power between my parents. They definitely had different roles they chose to play, but it was not that my dad had all the powerful ones leaving the weaker ones to my mom. In fact, most of the time I would only ask my mom questions about what I could and couldn’t do because I knew my dad would just tell me to ask my mom. Because I grew up in a household with a confident, powerful, and strong female role model, I became frustrated that the journalists were assuming that women had to change who they were and become more masculine to be strong. I will never know if one way to think about gender roles is better than the other because I am biased…Everyone is. You always think your way is better. So, yes, I think that there needs to be more opportunities for males and females alike to learn how to see each other as powerful in their own individual ways, not based on gender but based on each person, but I cannot rationally defend that argument because it is the way I feel, not “truth.” The way the Ghanaians have been socialized is not bad or evil; it’s just different. I might think it is unfair, but that is based on what I am comparing it to. They might feel the same way about American culture. Who knows?