n African Performance Review - Written , written : the misrepresentation of women in modern African performance

Volume 1, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1753-5964


In general, African theatre relegates women's cultural and historical contributions to their societies to a cursory footnote. This is partly due to the perception in certain quarters that women are disposed to being silent, peripheral figures in the socio-political order. Secondly, and a much more militating factor, is society's construction of women along socially constricting roles of daughter, sister, wife and mother. The two positions reveal the machinations of a patriarchal system that distorts women's contributions to society. The fact is that, although African histories and theatres often mythologize women, they still distort, ignore or refuse to celebrate their heroic achievements as part of a far-reaching, culturally instituted gender inequality that is designed to benefit men. A lot of modern African plays, even at the hands of women playwrights, are guilty of this gendered invisibility and misrepresentation of women. While their chronicle events, rituals and cultural practices that perpetuate male-domination, women characters rarely reach the complexity and heroic heights ascribed to men. This is to the effect that when women's contributions to society are not written out altogether, they are romanticized to abstraction, blurred or systematically written over. This essay will use Efua Sutherland's (1987), Tess Onwueme's (1997) and 'Zulu Sofola's (1977) to interrogate the misrepresentation of women in modern African performance. It will explore women's complicity in perpetuating their own relegation to subsidiary, decorative roles (Dolan, 1991) and suggest ways of redressing gender imbalance in performance.

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