The stencilled inscription in all its gold blazoned character sits loudly behind this Toyota Hiace trotro bus (trotros are mini commuter buses). Like most inscriptions on commercial vehicles (both trotros and taxis), they express or communicate sentiments, either from personal experience, highlight a favourite proverb or a biblical reference.
‘Fear Women’ is one of the common refrain every young male has heard at a point in their life; either shouted into their ears by their paternal relations and sometimes repeated by women or whispered to them by friends from other quarters.
The refrain feeds into a popular, yet ill- conceived construct that suggest women to be the worst of two evils; an irony if you come to think of it. The blatant message the refrain underlines is this: men should be careful of women since they could engineer their downfall. To justify this point, the propagators of such arguments are quick to refer to selected passages from the Bible and other religious books, as well as anecdotes of life.
Women have been at the receiving end of the stick when it comes to how they are treated in and by society. In most cases, especially in the context of Africa, women are treated with contempt, and in some cases, as second class citizens. This societal construct is part of a broader establishment built by patriarchy. And despite the efforts by women and some of their male counterparts who believe all persons, devoid of gender tags deserve to be treated fairly and with respect in all aspects, like their fellow males, the situation seems far from the expected.
One avenue where the entrenchment of this notion is pervasive is within the entertainment world, specifically the music industry. Since the emergence of hip-hop some four decades ago, the genre had thrived on demeaning women in various ways. Labels such as ‘whores’, ‘bitches’, ‘gold diggers’ have been and continue to be used to describe women; advancing the culture of stereotyping women.
A lot has been written about the culture of sexism and misogyny in hip-hop, both by academics and hip hop journalists. A simple google search would avail a host of articles and books on the subject. Some of this articles have even posited the idea that, the explicit misogyny has been weaponised to rob women of their self-esteem and confidence; making them inferior to their male counterparts. However, some women have embraced the label, flipping it around to their own benefits- see singer, Princess Vitarah, rapper, Cardi B, and model Amber Rose.
A quick scan across the music scene in Ghana reveals songs that emphasise this trope. These artists can be said to be following what exists in hip-hop; where they mostly take inspiration from. This isn’t to justify the actions of these artists, but to highlight its source.
A couple of days ago, I replayed a favourite song by one of my favourite Ghanaian artist, Worlasi. The song was “Nukata”. The song’s afro-soul vibe, acapella rendition and minimal aesthetics makes it a great listen. The lyrics are delivered in a series of styles- there’s a show of vulnerability and abrasiveness. (For clarity sake, the citing of “Nukata” is not to criticise the song or Worlasi. It is to contextualise the subject under discussion).
“Nukata” from the reading of the lyrics is a song about a lady whose love is for sale. To be her lover, you need to be very solvent and ready to spend on her. Worlasi, perhaps made this song as a cautionary tale for men to avoid such crop of women. Lyrics such as: “more these girls dey want money/ like we vomit the money? / sometimes please ask your fada (father)”. The message is not lost here.
The well-intended cautionary message notwithstanding, “Nukata” further advances the storied construct that portrays women as parasites who feed on the successes of men. What is often overlooked in the narrative is the responsibility of these male ‘’victims’’ who assume the only way to a woman’s heart is by showering her with gifts or spending on her. They see a woman’s love as a commodity to be bought. Women have also realized that and beating men to their own tactics. Another point inherent in the song is that, such women are often not great with domestic work: “She no dey cook/ but she dey chop pass/ your next pay/ Be in next task”.
Aside “Nukata”, songs like “Wasei” by the late Omahene Pozo, tackled this trope from another angle. The song focused on ‘indecent’ (whatever that means) outfits by some ladies and his subtly attempt to blame females who dress in a provocative way as invitation to be raped. In 2006, a hiplife song came to dominate the airwaves. Performed by Dr. Poh, with support from 2Tee and Shilo, “Na Who” blamed a woman with big posterior as reason for falling a victim to road rage. In the song, Dr. Poh narrated a story about how he was distracted by a “fine fine lady”. The distraction resulted in his car landing ‘in a gutter’. At the end of the song, Dr. Poh squarely placed blame on the woman.
The award winning duo, R2Bees marked their entrance on the Ghanaian scene off the back of ”Yawa Girl”, a song that in simple terms, mocked a girl for being a ‘whore (or hoe). Their counterpart, Stay Jay also made his entry on the scene with another popular song that played on this ‘whorism’ theme. “Shashey Wowo” catapulted the Tema based artist from obscurity to national prominence.
These are but some few songs that emphasize the mantra about women and their knack for ripping men off using their sexual antics. These artists might not have been conscious of how these songs perpetuate this line of thinking. They created it for entertainment value, I suppose. However, considering how powerful music is, one cannot ignore the effect it has about shaping minds and perceptions.
Art, especially music, is one of the best avenues to deconstruct mind-sets. Judging women (often in negative terms), calling them by certain labels, ogling or fetishizing their bodies- mostly in lyrics or music videos- is unhealthy. We cannot eliminate the stereotype against women. What we can do is to recognise how affecting it is and find ways to eschew its entrenchment. We must be responsible.