P109


Fashioning sexuality in popular culture 
Convenors:
Rachel Spronk (University of Amsterdam)
Sandra Manuel (Universidade Eduardo Mondlane & Kaleidoscopio Research Institute)
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Discussant:
Peter Geschiere (University of Amsterdam)
Format:
Panels
Location:
KH106
Start time:
1 July, 2017 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
1

Short Abstract:

This panel aims at bringing together papers that focus on the making and unmaking of sexuality through various forms of popular culture in the ways sexuality is used as a tool for communicating moral meanings, for exploring boundaries and for self-expression.

Long Abstract

This panel aims at bringing together a range of empirical studies that focus on the making and unmaking of sexuality through various forms of popular culture. From print media, local films, TV, social media and other spaces of popular culture like fashion and advertising, sexuality is used as a tool for communicating moral meanings, for exploring boundaries and for self-expression. From the popular Dear Dolly columns half way the previous century up to the current flamboyant display of celebrities, sexuality is imagined and reimagined over the decades in many different ways. Sexuality is a personal affair and it is a particular dense transfer point of cultural, religious and social sensibilities through which groups and individuals distinguish themselves vis-a-vis others. Sexuality is therefore often studied as dependent on relations of power that limit self-expression to normative conceptions. Instead, we invite papers that focus on the ways normative structures both limit and enable expressions of sexuality, as we believe that popular media provide an analytical vantage point to study this ambiguous fashioning of sexuality. We invite papers that investigate how boundaries are explored and how new ways of envisioning sexuality are sounded out. What kind of aesthetic choices and sensorial practices are implicated in popular culture? How are qualities such as pleasure, chastity, self-care, affection, self-indulgence and much more, mediated, by whom, for whom? We welcome historically grounded papers that discuss the link between sexuality and popular culture highlighting continuity and change.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Sandra Manuel (Universidade Eduardo Mondlane & Kaleidoscopio Research Institute)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores Maputo upper class's specific dynamics of intimate relationships, social mobility, family pressure and economic and political interest in shaping internal dynamics of relationship, specifically in regards to intimate violence.

Paper long abstract:

In late 2016 the daughter of the Mozambique's preceding president was killed by her husband. In 2015, the daughter of the first Mozambican president was blinded and she accuses the ex-partner of attacking her. These two incidents raised interest to deepen my research on dynamics of relationships among the well-off in Maputo.

My results indicated that financial stability and education together with non-heteronormative sexual practices and notions of sexual pleasure within this group of young adults prompt timid transformations in gender praxis, thus denoting more equity and more autonomous sexual lives for women. However, these dynamics are mediated by ideas of monogamy and gendered notions related to "tradition" and "modernity" as well as "(non-) African-ness". The juxtaposition of these opposing value-systems creates a complex scenario in which sexual-romantic-intimate relationships are being constantly (re-)negotiated via control, silence, pressure, public demonstrations of love, violence, humiliation, tests, and even blackmail and witchcraft.

This paper expands the conclusions of such research and explores specific dynamics of the relationships, social mobility, family pressure and economic and political interest in shaping internal dynamics of relationship, specifically in regards to intimate violence.

Author:

Ewa Majczak (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

I explore how seduction is negotiated through popular dressing styles among young Bamileke women in Yaoundé. The normative structures of the urban and rural - the state, the church and the village - mediate these styles aesthetically, revealing changing perceptions of sexuality in public space.

Paper long abstract:

Young Bamileke women in Yaoundé embrace dressing styles seen on fashion websites, lifestyle magazines and music videoclips. The particular aesthetic that emerges across those dressing styles is tightness - these garments are 'sexy' as they reveal shapes and naked parts of the female body. 'Sexy' ways of dressing partake in representations of urban female subjectivity. Yet, the Cameroonian government launched a campaign in 2013 to combat such 'sexy' dressing, deeming it humiliating for a respectable Cameroonian women.

Influenced by the campaign but also by church and 'village' aesthetic norms, young women negotiate their dressing style in between what is sexy and what is respectable, that is, ample, body concealing garments. Such garments are associated with rural women. Dress style negotiation has high stakes: it is not only a way of self-expression, but a key avenue in the pursuit of social adulthood bestowed by marriage. Seducing a potential marriage partner involves uncovering certain parts of the body to signal unmarried status. Yet to elicit respect other parts should be covered, which might equally signal married and rural status. Navigating a way in between different representations of seduction becomes a challenging task.

The popular dressing styles form part of wider visual bodily practices aimed at seduction called 'nyanga'. Historically these practices were underpinned by logic of concealing. Today, however, the embrace of 'sexy' styles have imparted upon seduction a logic of revealing. In this way they change perceptions and meanings of acceptable seduction and reshape the experience of sexuality in public space.

Author:

Letitia Smuts (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses the tensions between what is communicated about sexualities in local popular culture and the experiences of young middle class men and women living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Instead, these individuals believe that the western media has largely shaped their sexual identities.

Paper long abstract:

South Africa's repressive sexual practices and laws during the apartheid years meant that sexualities were rarely questioned or debated in public, which led to strict heteronormative conceptualisations of sexuality. Since the democratic transition in 1994, messages about, and representations of, sex and sexuality have become more visible by means of circulation through television, movies, magazines, advertisements, and on-line social networking. However, the focus is more often directed at heterosexual individuals in lower socio-economic classes due to their high risk to HIV-infection and sexual violence. This paper is based on an ethnographic study and considers how young 18-28 year-old middle-class men and women view and shape their own (hetero)sexual identities with particular reference to what they are exposed to in popular culture. The findings show that contemporary local media is in conflict with middle-class realities as they claim that they cannot relate with what is being communicated. As a result, they draw more heavily from what they are exposed to in popular culture from the West. For instance, celebrities like Kanye West and Beyoncé are noted to be role models for the ideal heterosexual man and woman. These exposures set them apart from the majority of young South Africans who fall within the lower class and opens up re-imaginings of how heterosexuality is performed within everyday life. This paper also shows the constant interplay and tensions with the legacies of the past in conjunction with the new-found sexual opportunities and freedoms that contemporary democratic South Africa has to offer.

Author:

Chrispinus Wasike (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

This paper critically analyses two award-winning Kenyan films with a view of unpacking the different ways in which they explore new ways of expressing queer sexuality in Kenya. The focus is on highlighting how film as a popular culture is the new tool of fashioning queer sexuality in contemporary Kenya.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the renewed fashioning and making of queer sexuality through the popular culture and media format of film in Kenya. Through a critical discourse analysis of two recent Kenyan award-winning popular film texts by the Nest Collection titled, Stories of Our Lives and Tuko Macho, the paper focuses on how the film genre has become a frontier of exploring the moral boundaries and interrogating the social forms of tolerance/intolerance towards sexual minorities and queer sexuality in Kenya. In a largely homophobic social and cultural context that often limits open expression of all forms of gay/lesbian sexuality, we examine how local films have become effective tools of fashioning and envisioning new ways of enabling and flourishing same-sex relationships and cultivating social structures that appreciate sexual choices and different ways of pleasure.

Author:

Olusegun Adekoya (Obafemi Awolowo University)

Paper short abstract:

The essay examines Emecheta's brand of feminism in The Joys of Motherhood and the impact of urbanization on motherhood as experienced by Nnu Ego who is worn by work before her time in Lagos as she struggles to raise her seven children almost single-handed because her husband is irresponsible

Paper long abstract:

Accounting for the small 'f' that Buchi Emecheta claims for her brand of feminism, the essay discusses the impact that urbanization has on marriage and motherhood in The Joys of Motherhood, using the dolorous experience of Nnu Ego who migrates from Ibuza, a village where tradition is still strong and her marriage is considered tragic because it produces no children, to Lagos a modern city where life is difficult. It argues that the small 'f' connotes rejection of absolutism and extremism in gender discourse and acceptance of the truth of paradox that permeates all cultures and human relationships. It also implies a celebration of motherhood and other salutary indigenous African/Igbo values,in spite of numerous sins of patriarchy and polygyny that reify women and reduce them to slaves. Both the sins and the values are elucidated, while a comparison is drawn between Ibuza (tradition) and Lagos (modernity)that are interdependent for continued coexistence. The essay posits that Emecheta uses the novel to signify indispensability of women's reproductive role in propagation of culture and its impracticability without male contribution, demand freedom, honour and respect for mothers, and foreground the necessity of gender complementarities on which diverse forms of African feminism are founded. It concludes with a statement on the inevitability of change in African/Igbo cosmology, as all entreaties and prayers to Nnu Ego, after her lonely and miserable death caused by neglect by her husband and sons, are unanswered.