Sunday, January 30, 2011

My experience of gender in Ghana

In a previous post, I discussed my urge to escape from appearing female because I've been made so aware of it, as well as being aware of being white. Since then, I don't know if I am just walking and moving with more confidence or if I figured out how to swing my hips like a paper Ghanaian, but I've received a few less shout-outs and phone number inquiries. Whatever the change, I feel like I belong' more and more each day.

In Cape Coast, I have a friend (George) with whom I could ask about anything and everything Ghanaian. I learned so much with my incessant questions, and once, I asked him about how Ghanaian men pick up Ghanaian women. There could have been some misunderstanding due to a cultural/language barrier, but I'm pretty sure we understood each other. I asked if men ask women for their numbers all the time—like, will they ask just anyone? Or just someone they find attractive? He said that it doesn't happen all the time, and men really only ask for numbers when they think that someone is “very beautiful” (George's words).

This makes me think that it is indeed my foreignness that was earning me so much attention. (Awesome! Now I can at least throw out the theory that there's an invisible sign on my head that says 'I'm woman, I'm yours.') So let's agree that my foreignness was the source of my 'hotness,' and let me further develop my theory on gender based on another experience.

On Thursday the 27th, I spent 5 hours in a salon getting my hair braided with extensions. (By the way, salons are tiny little shops and they're absolutely EVERYWHERE!) So when you see me stateside, I'll have a head full of small twisted braids that reach down to the middle of my back! I've never done anything like this before but it's so affordable here, and I felt totally uninhibited, so I went for it. As a side note, I totally love my braids! I feel GhanaFab (get it? Instead of GhettoFab?) We should totally do this in the states more often.

I should explain another observation I've made while here. Hair is everything. It doesn't matter how hot or dusty or humid it is, immaculate hair do's are the rule, not the exception. Almost all women get their hair done, and this probably explains the prolific number of salons. In fact, as I sat in the salon, a woman who must have been at least 80 came in to get a weave (first they braid your hair into corn rows, and then sew, very tightly, strips of fake hair to the corn row braids). She had almost no hair, but when she left, she looked fabulous with an adorable black bob with streaks of red!

Anyway, as I walked back from the salon I received more attention than ever from Ghanaian women. Women on the streets were saying “mo-WI-uh-fay” (phonetically spelled for the Fante way to say, 'you are beautiful') or “very nice hair” as I walked by. I'd also say that I received fewer stares from men.

So here's my hypothesis to be tested worldwide! The more 'foreign'/'other'/'different' you look, the more attention you receive from the opposite sex*. And the more you practice popular fashion of a particular place, without looking generic, the more you impress people of the same sex*.

This is a pretty broad conjecture about sex, attention, and appearance, but I think that it could apply to just a general theory of attractiveness and gender.

Until next time I remain

a Rookie Anthropologist

*IMPORTANT: My language assumes heterosexuality, but I think that the same idea could apply amongst gay, bi-, trans-, and whatever- sexual people. For this case, I could only make observations about attractiveness between heterosexuals because it is definitely the dominant persuasion and performance here. And actually, I think that it's pretty difficult not to comply with heterosexual norms in Ghana, based on my conversations with friends who live here.


  1. This post goes out to GEAR... Can't wait to chat about gender roles with you all when I return!

  2. Your theory is interesting. I'm looking forward to hearing more.