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Opinions of Friday, 4 August 2006

Columnist: Ankomah, Afua

Of Insensitivity And Deodorant

On the 22nd of July 2006, I was scandalised. I am usually shocked by the level of gender insensitivity in Ghana, especially since I was raised by a gender wide-awake and seriously aware Ghanaian man. I guess Daddy Dearest spoilt me – because I thought all Ghanaian men were that enlightened.

If you, dear reader, are a Ghanaian man who falls into the category that believes women should cook (rather than can cook, which is the preferable alternative) or leave the duties that require some degree of exertion to men, then you are exactly the kind of person I am targeting with my sharp pen.

The level of gender insensitivity in Ghana is so high that even jokes concerning the stereotypical weaknesses of women in particular should not be tolerated at all. Take, for example, the CIMG Advert of the Year (MEN ONLY, CAR TYRE). I have long wanted to write scathingly about the huge holes in that advert and the demerits it poses to female progression in our society. In a country where men are entitled to rape their wives, because there is allegedly no such phenomenon in marriage, the slightest hint of not taking women seriously tends to have negative consequences on all members of the gender. Feeble arguments such as ‘when a man isn’t in the mood, there’s nothing he can do about it’ and ‘some women say “no” when they mean “yes”’ are only lame phrases believed by the smallest of uneducated minds. Such arguments should not be given the light of day or the space to exist in our increasingly global and aware society.

I was particularly appalled the first time I watched the MEN ONLY advert, not because I felt it was demeaning to women, but rather because I was devastated that women would or could demean themselves and each other in such a fashion - by agreeing to do an advert of this nature in the first place. The money must have been good. I hope they are getting paid a whopping sum every time the advert is shown – enough to compensate all women in Ghana and around the world for the damage to their image as a result of the advert’s airplay – should the case ever be taken up.

On the other hand, I wondered who was involved in writing the script – surely, Ghanaian women who understand the quirks of our society and know that the spectrum of TV viewers is extremely broad, would never get involved in scripting anything so potentially destructive to the cause of gender equity. But I am being unfair. If you have not seen the advert, the least I can do is explain it to you objectively, so you can make up your own mind:

Two men are standing on either side of a brown gate, watching traffic go by. Three girls in a car have just realised they have a flat tyre, and are desperate to move along. They try everything – from reading the manual on ‘How to change a car tyre’ to rolling the spare tyre out and attempting to figure out what various tools do, but they can’t for the life of them figure out what to do next. Meanwhile, the men a short distance away are laughing at their efforts. Male voice over: Sorry, girls…some things are for Men Only.

The picture fades out, and the MEN ONLY logo appears, advertising deodorant of the same name.

The advert is seemingly harmless, and indeed would be in a different cultural context, but there are seriously men who believe that women should not, or even cannot change tyres, operate heavy equipment or machinery, or (stretching it even further) take on leadership roles in society. Unfortunately, there are also women who believe that too – which makes an apparently harmless and light-hearted advert a culturally inappropriate example of stereotypes held against members of a certain gender. This ends up being publicly paraded discrimination instigating further gender discrimination and segregation in other sectors of our socioeconomic lives.

On the 22nd of July, I was shocked to find out that this commercial had been hailed as the Advert of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana. Who were the judges? How on earth could they have come to such a decision? Were there any women among them? Were there any gender sensitive men among them? Did the judges not realise the serious dampener they had put on the quest for gender equity, or the inappropriate ideas they had just endorsed?

Ghanaian culture is far from being completely gender insensitive. In his book Girls’ Nubility Rites in Ashanti, Peter Sarpong writes about Ashanti Attitudes to the Sexes, “If all children are very precious in Ashanti, the value of girls is inestimable.” However, after further reading of that particular section, the value of a woman tends to reside in both age and her womb (for the record, a woman is worth more than her ability to bear children).

“Whereas the boy is completely incapable of providing successors for his matrilineage, in the girl the lineage has potential males as well as further potential females…many adult bachelors have rough handling from their matrilineage women who may tease and provoke them with such remarks as: ‘You are not virile, you woman’”.

But contemporary Ghanaian society is well on the way to leaving the traditions of old (both good and bad) behind. In today’s socioeconomic context, women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves to both men and women who are watching and waiting to criticise. CIMG has just slapped on another layer of doubt about the competence of any member of the female gender. I can only prove this point by citing the fact of the award itself.


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