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African Journal of AIDS Research
ISSN: 1608-5906 (Print) 1727-9445 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/raar20
“Dying to be women”: explorations and
implications of narrative parameters of female
youth sexuality in Zimbabwe
Ngonidzashe Muwonwa
To cite this article: Ngonidzashe Muwonwa (2017) “Dying to be women”: explorations and
implications of narrative parameters of female youth sexuality in Zimbabwe, African Journal of AIDS
Research, 16:3, 185-191, DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2017.1346693
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.2989/16085906.2017.1346693
Published online: 05 Oct 2017.
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Date: 26 October 2017, At: 07:50
Copyright © NISC (Pty) Ltd
African Journal of AIDS Research 2017, 16(3): 185–191
AJAR
ISSN 1608-5906 EISSN 1727-9445
http://dx.doi.org/10.2989/16085906.2017.1346693
“Dying to be women”: explorations and implications of narrative parameters
of female youth sexuality in Zimbabwe
Ngonidzashe Muwonwa
Downloaded by [University of Florida] at 07:50 26 October 2017
Theatre Arts, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe
Email: [email protected]
This article considers how socio-cultural ideologies and practices can act as social technologies that help produce
specific sexual practices and identities in young women. It identifies young women’s libidinal economics as one
contributing factor responsible for prescriptive gender roles in Southern Africa, and in this context, Zimbabwe.
Understanding the contexts and structures of socio-sexual ideologies circulating among young women as part of
their formal and informal sexual education might help address the root cause and understand the core conditions that
exacerbate young women’s sexual vulnerability Therefore youth-related programming may need to develop ways of
assisting young people to develop intellectual, social and psychological skills in order for them to take full advantage
of their youth. In revising prerequisites of womanhood and adulthood, there is need for a critical pedagogy which
incorporates “deviance” as a concept which empowers young women to question and challenge rather than reinstate
and reinforce normative pressures and essentialist perspectives of entering adulthood and “doing gender”.
Keywords: HIV and AIDS, libidinal economics, sexual cultures, sexual vulnerabilities
Introduction
This article provides some insights into the constructions of
youth sexuality by employing an economic and transactional
approach to the production, distribution and arrangement
of young women’s desires, fantasies, fears and pleasures.
The article argues that young women’s libidinal economics
in Southern Africa, and in this context, Zimbabwe, is
structured by a social meta-structure that operates via
cultural practices, styles of living and interacting, and
power distribution to promote specific ways of being. This
social meta-structure is referred to as “dying to be women”
which identifies womanhood as a strong influential concept
among young women which prescribes one’s access to
status, goods and social power. The article identifies young
women’s libidinal economics as one contributing factor
responsible for prescriptive gender roles in Southern Africa,
and in this context, Zimbabwe.
The gendered nature of this research resonates with
literature that considers young women to be particularly
vulnerable and to constitute most of the 11.8 million
15–25-year-olds living with HIV/AIDS throughout the
world (Stoebenau, Warner, Edmeades, J., & Sexton,
2015; UNAIDS, 2015). In turn, this is primarily linked with
unequal gender relations that make young women especially
vulnerable to coercive sex and afford them little space
to negotiate the nature of sexual relations (Kamndaya,
Kazembe, Vearay, Kabin, & Thomas, 2015). Over the past
decade, strong evidence has emerged on the relationship
between gender inequalities and HIV and AIDS rates in
Africa. This article submits that understanding the contexts
and structures of socio-sexual ideologies circulating among
young women as part of their formal and informal sexual
education might help in addressing the root cause and
understanding the core conditions that exacerbate young
women’s sexual vulnerability (UNAIDS, 2015). In Zimbabwe,
young women’s sexual vulnerability is highlighted through
unprotected sex, intergenerational sexual relationships,
concurrent sexual partnerships and sexual abuse which
expose them to risk of contracting HIV and AIDS (Mabhunu,
2013; Wekwete & Manyeruke, 2012)
Participatory youth media as narratives of female youth
sexuality
This article is extracted from a PhD study at the University
of Zimbabwe entitled: “Youth participation in HIV and AIDS
entertainment and educational intervention programming in
Zimbabwe: a multi-media action research”. The research
was granted ethical clearance by the University of
Zimbabwe’s Higher Degrees Committee, which also acts as
the Research Ethics Committee. Against this background,
data collected for this research satisfied research ethics
of confidentiality, minimising risk to participants and
mutual respect. An action research design was chosen
for this study to ensure the research design; methods
and interpretations were congruent with young people’s
world views and responsive to their needs to counter
“traditional models” of research on young people (LeclercMadlala, 2005), which restrict their voice and agency. The
methodology adopted was based on a hypothetical position
that participatory entertainment and education youth media
have the potential to excavate embedded identities of
young women’s sexuality. Against this position, I worked
African Journal of AIDS Research is co-published by NISC (Pty) Ltd and Informa UK Limited (trading as Taylor & Francis Group)
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186
together with 40 other young women at the University of
Zimbabwe, to design, set up and facilitate a universitybased initiative called Stepping Out…Youth Project which
formed the basis of the participatory methodology of this
research. Of the 40 young women involved in the project 6
participated as core-researchers, 14 as full-time volunteers
and 20 as project specific participants. The author was
involved in selecting the first two co-researchers who were
once active members of a young women’s leadership
project on campus. These two became the first Creative
Director and Programmes Officer of the project, helping
set up and invite other young women from diverse
socio-economic and religious backgrounds within the
university campus.
Over a period of 30 months, we held creative workshops
which involved story creation, rehearsals, film shootings
and public presentations of drama performances. Within
these creative workshops young women shared their life
experiences on campus in the process of creating storylines
for different media productions. These workshops were
organised and coordinated by the Creative Director of
Stepping Out...Youth Project. Therefore I participated in
the workshop as an observer and sometimes asked a few
questions for clarification. My minimal involvement in the
creative processes was based on the need to allow the
voices of young women to dominate the process. Artistic
“experientiality and experimentality” (Hannula, Souranta, &
Vaden, 2005, p. 1) were at the core of the research design.
This is defined by Hannula et al. (2005) as research framed
by practice-based and practice-driven researches which
have an underlying attitude to open and build mediums of
expression as methods of knowledge production. Within
this research framework, the artist produces art work and
researches the creative processes and products, thus
adding to the accumulation of knowledge.
As this research was concerned with youth sexuality
and identity, and associated tensions and complexities;
performance ethnography offered a relevant context for
questioning, critiquing and exploring social practices
around young women’s sexuality. The author found
processes of “collecting stories” from the young women for
their performances as a dynamic, cross-sectional process
of self-reflection that had the potential to shift socio-sexual
attitudes, values and actions (Alexander, 2005). As part
of the project, young women’s sexuality narratives and
representations were packaged into an episodic theatre
play, Young Desires, a short dramatic skit, Todini (What
shall we do?), and a short film, Scholastica, which form
the specific case studies for this article. Young Desires is
about five young women who live together in a rented room
outside the university campus who suspect that one of
their roommates has aborted and hidden her foetus in their
room. Todini explores October’s life on campus and how
she tries to juggle multiple concurrent partners which lead
her to contracting HIV. The third case study, Scholastica,
follows the life of Scholastica, a young woman from the
rural areas who comes to the city to attend university. It
shows how her life changes on campus as she makes
new friends and finds her sexuality. In this article, these
participatory multimedia productions are analysed to reflect
on the following critical issues:
Muwonwa
• What are the culturally prescribed versions of
womanhood promoted in the texts?
• What are the ideological foundations exposed by the
multimedia texts?
• What are the possible implications of these ideologies
towards the development of positive sexual practices
in young women, especially within a context of HIV and
AIDS?
Desirability, chastity and purity as prescribed forms of
womanhood
A close analysis of case studies exposes a running thread
that seems to suggest the socialisation of young women
demands that they “desire men” through a focalisation on
marriage. Young women in the texts reproduce discourses
of traditional values and responsible sexual behaviour
promoted through abstinence and postponement of sex until
marriage. For example, in Young Desires, Mauline, a devout
Christian, opens the episode with a long and winding prayer
that comically positions her “desires”:
Mauline: Lord, I need you to answer me….I need
someone in my life….someone you have chosen for
me,.… I am a woman who loves you and is beautiful.
Please give me a man who fears you but who also
can provide for me…someone like John, Lord….
but not like John because he is a womaniser….
maybe someone like Joe, Agnes’ boyfriend….he is
handsome but give him resources….
She stops praying loudly having sensed that
someone has entered the room. It is Delilah,
who has overheard her prayer and can’t hold her
laughter...
Delilah: I am sorry…I didn’t mean to disturb you …..
I didn’t know you are also interested in boys…
Mauline (dismissively): Who doesn’t want to get
married?
What is evident here is a clear focus on marriage as
the above scenario exposes how female sexuality is
initiated through discourses of “(desire)-ability”, which
is conceptualised as desire and desirability. Mauline
and Delilah seem to agree that there is no problem in
desiring a man. Mauline, as a Christian, cleverly avoids
accepting that she desires a man by replacing “man” with
“marriage” as a means to be morally correct. In analysing
and evaluating desires, fantasies and fears as part of the
matrix of exchange, Mauline is a key example who reveals
that young women are taught and socialised to internalise
subconsciously the desire for men, whether as boyfriends
in an attempt to overcome the fear of failing to attract a
male companion or as a male companion with the right
credentials. This pressure for companionship is referred
to as “relational imperative” (Holland & Eisenhart, 1990).
It is therefore arguable that a relational imperative and its
associated desires, fears and phobias create a “deficit
identity” in young women which pushes them to kick start
the intimate transaction (Reynolds & Taylor, 2005). What
is evident then is that socio-sexual and cultural discourses
help to produce desires that link and incline young women to
male consumption as part of self-validation. To confirm this
“need” and pressure, one young woman confessed during
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African Journal of AIDS Research 2017, 16(3): 185–191
the playmaking process that her father had categorically
stated to her that when she comes back home after three
years of learning at the university she must bring two things:
a degree and a husband.
The relational imperative and deficit identity discourse
structures young women as primary producers within the
sexual economic matrix forcing them to become agentic
towards the fulfilment of their desires. Delilah in Young
Desires categorically expresses that: “And how do you
expect to get a man when you close yourself indoors all
day?”
Delilah insinuates the existence of an equation of desire
that Mauline is ignorant of or is against. Delilah seems to
be suggesting that Mauline’s desire for a man or marriage
must be matched by making herself desirable and available.
This code of behaviour may help to explain why Amanda
in Young Desires seems to be obsessed with “attention to
detail” each time she goes out of their room. Amanda applies
a lot of make-up and always makes an extra effort in her
dressing. Amanda, like Samantha in Scholastica, justifies
her emphasis on make-up and how she looks in public by
saying that: “you never know whom you will meet, just be
prepared always!” This shows that she and others have
internalised their desire by transforming it into desirability as
an everyday value.
Mauline in Young Desires agrees with other girls in
the play in relation to the expectation that a woman must
desire male companionship in its various formats. However,
she detests Delilah’s suggestion as it is inconsistent with
expected traditional norms of women’s sexual behaviour.
She is against depicting herself “like a whore” in public.
Mauline’s means of becoming desirable is to remain pure as
supported by Agnes in Young Desires when she says: “Sex
is for marriage, and I will keep myself pure for my partner”.
This reveals the discourse of chastity and modesty as a
means of countering and satisfying the struggle between
desire and desirability. Mauline and Agnes favour traditional
values and responsible sexual behaviour promoted through
abstinence and postponement of sex until marriage as
part of the larger prestige-object economy of marriage and
intimate activities (Marindo, Pearson, & Casteline, 2003).
The discourse of marriage aligns itself to Zimbabwe’s
traditional Shona model of sexuality which is aimed at
grooming young women into becoming responsible wives.
There is a clear disdain for male–female sexual relationships
outside marriage.
However, in response to Agnes’ categorical declaration
that she will remain pure for her future husband, Debra asks
her with a surprised tone:
Debra: So how are you going to keep your boyfriend
without ‘giving’ him some?
Agnes (defiantly): If he is serious, then he must be
willing to wait until marriage.
Debra: If you are serious about him, you will have to
give him some my girl! (Young Desires)
Debra’s response defiantly articulates razor sharp politics
challenging Agnes’ essentialist thinking that a particular
and specific solution categorically applies to all situations.
Debra’s response is constructed in relation to men and
clearly demonstrates that young women’s sexual practices
and decisions are implicated in larger socio-political
187
processes constituted in and through power relations. While
opposing Agnes’ response, Debra’s question reveals the
discourse that presents sex as something of value a woman
sells to a man. For Agnes, she will give her husband sex
when he marries her and in return she will get pride and
honour. For Debra, it is that which she needs to sell to also
keep her man and maintain her pride and honour of having a
boyfriend on campus.
Using the desire to marry as a site of analysis illuminates
the visible and invisible precarious dialectic of attempting to
live up to the social identity of “married woman”. As already
highlighted, young women like Agnes and Mauline reproduce
discourses of traditional values and responsible sexual
behaviour promoted through abstinence and postponement
of sex until marriage. There is a clear focus on marriage,
which scholars have noted contributes to structuring many
young women’s intimate choices. For example, in Zimbabwe
females are expected to pursue marriage (Muzvidziwa, 2002)
or “face stigma and discrimination” (Mbiti, 1969, p. 106):
For African peoples, marriage is a duty, a
requirement from corporate society. Otherwise,
he who does not participate in it is a curse to the
community, he is a rebel and law-breaker, he is not
only abnormal but “under human”. Failure to get
married means that the person has rejected society
and society rejects him in return.
Therefore, in a society that promotes marriage and more
importantly, motherhood as central to women’s identities
(Sharp & Ganong, 2011) it is not surprising for Amanda in
Young Desires to offer Agnes advice on why having sex with
her boyfriend is important as a way to keep him:
You are in your final year, if you don’t keep him, who
is going to marry you? Where are you going to get
a graduate when you are in the back of the beyond,
teaching….the only men you will meet are herd-boys
and maybe married teachers!
Furthermore, this reveals how young women are under
pressure to find a suitable husband before leaving campus.
Such expressions of domesticity, referred to as “third year
syndrome” (Gaidzanwa, 2001), see female students under
pressure to “catch” and “keep” a husband before graduation.
The idealisation of marriage is evidently very strong in
both statements, but a proclaimed desire to marry does
not always lead to the outcome of actually getting married.
As worldwide marriage rates have decreased and ages at
first marriage have increased substantially over the past 40
years (Johnson, 2012), researchers have to be interested in
the possible variables and consequences associated with
the desire to marry, especially when many factors prevent
young women from finding suitable partners to start a family.
Examining young women’s pressure and desire to marry
within a context of HIV and AIDS may help shed light on
some aspects of young women’s environmental behaviours
such as multiple concurrent partnerships, as elaborated in
the next section.
Brazenly heterosexual competitive imperative and the
control of young women’s sexualities
The focus in this section is on the consequences of
participating in libidinal economics based on dying to be
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188
women as exposed in the case studies. For example, in the
short film, Scholastica, which explores issues of “becoming
a woman”, Scholastica is shown as developing a heightened
sexuality which she deploys competitively against men and
her fellow students. Scholastica, who comes to the big city
for her university education having stayed in rural areas all
her life envies her room-mates’ life and lifestyle, clothes
and make-up. Out of her envy for the modern trappings of
make-up and nice looking clothes, Scholastica accepts
Samantha’s invitation to go out to a night club where she is
unwittingly initiated into prostitution. Scholastica is not poor
but her desire for modern things attracts her to Samantha’s
lifestyle.
Her desire to be desirable is completed when she goes
out with Samantha, because older men are attracted to
her. Unfortunately, she is drugged by one of the patrons
and wakes up only after she has been raped. After such a
grave incident, Scholastica surprisingly goes full throttle
prostituting, surpassing even Samantha who seems to
have fallen on hard times because she has contracted
a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and is unwilling to
go to the university clinic to have treated. Scholastica has
“found” her sexuality and seems to be enjoying a sense of
sexual empowerment, She even seduces one of her male
lecturers to change her failing coursework marks. In one
of their room-mate talks, Samantha advises Scholastica
to concentrate on her academic work rather than having
multiple sexual relationships. She agrees and both young
women appear worried and stressed about how they are
going to get married as they have destroyed their future
prospects. Samantha has already “caught” her boyfriend
who seems unaware of her history and is pinning her hopes
on him. As the film ends, Scholastica is seen hugging and
kissing a fellow male student, which leaves the viewer
concluding that she has also found a student boyfriend on
campus.
This short film clearly shows that the dynamic struggle
between desire and desirability has the potential to expose
young women to sexual objectification, a form of gender
oppression, which enables a host of other oppressions
to be imposed on women (Fredickson & Roberts, 1997).
From Scholastica’s case, female sexuality is forged out of
the untenable positions of innate private desire and public
desirability. The conflict between desire and desirability
has tension-bearing possibilities on young women. Cohen
(2012) points out that such conflict produces a double bind
which forces young women to fall victim to very narrow
definitions of sexual desirability. Within this disempowered
framework, helplessness is imposed on young women,
which helps account for some of the negative relationships
they engage in. The politics of desire and desirability also
has the potential of producing female competition, especially
in the presence of male approval. Such a phenomenon is
exemplified in Scholastica which depicts young women with
different class backgrounds. For example, Scholastica, who
shares the same room with Samantha, always feels a sense
of inferiority which feeds Samantha’s sense of superiority.
Samantha looks down upon Scholastica because of her
lack of “sophistication” as she does not know how to use
make-up or have trendy clothing. Scholastica does not think
twice when she is invited for a night out by Samantha and
Muwonwa
her other friends, as she has always been envious of them.
When Scholastica is now fully engaged in prostitution she
accuses Samantha of jealousy as she is attracting more men
and has more money. They seems to be a competitive spirit
among the girls. Masvaure (2010) confirms the existence
of this competitive spirit at the University of Zimbabwe
specifically, which forces female students to engage in
transactional sex to attain or maintain a modern lifestyle.
She argues that apart from subsistence and survival, young
women on campus entered into transactional relationships
as a means of prestige-making as exemplified from this
interview excerpt (Masvaure 2010, p. 862).
I don’t even know what drove me to be in that
relationship, coz my mother’s sister has got a salon.
She always says if you want to have a new hairstyle,
come to me. If you have got something you need,
come to me. My brother works for some NGOs [and
he too says] ‘I’ll give you anything that you need’.
My mother is a teacher, of course, but she’s [also]
a florist. She always sends me money. Of course,
I just need to be flashy on campus. That’s what I
wanted (Tendai, 20 years old).
Even though money and material resources are a key
feature in transactional relationships, the findings indicate
they hold other attractions or are being driven by other
underlying discourses. The competitive notion of being
“flashy on campus” must also be held in high regard which
Masvaure (2010, p. 861) defines as the “desire to be seen
and to be visible on campus through the conspicuous
consumption of particular luxury goods”. Masvaure
acknowledges how being flashy is about competing with
one’s peers, asserting one’s superiority over one’s rivals and
carving out a niche for oneself as a high status individual.
This article further argues that competition among young
women is an ideological consequence of responding to the
politics of desire and desirability engrained in socio-cultural
sexuality discourses imbibed by young women as they enter
adulthood.
However, within the short film, young women seem to be
exposed to a double bind while attempting to balance the
politics of desire and desirability. After Scholastica finds
her sexuality, she suffers humiliation from male students on
campus when she goes for lectures wearing a short dress.
There is male backlash at females deploying their bodies
in public in sexually assertive ways. This backlash has the
possibility of producing a double bind. This is defined as
a contradictory or ambiguous situation as young women’s
expectations are met with unexpected reactions from males
as they disapprove instead of approve their attempts of being
desirable through “body display”. One post-performance
discussion held on 21 October 2014 at the University of
Zimbabwe’s Beit Hall focusing on the dynamics of space
and female sexuality confirms Cohen’s (2012) claims that
women in general are victims of narrow definitions of sexual
desirability. In this discussion, female students complained
that there were specific spaces on campus they avoided to
escape the “male gaze” (see Gaidzanwa, 2001) on young
women and sports at University of Zimbabwe).
Caputi (2002) has conceptualised this male gaze at
women’s bodies as “everyday pornography”, defining it as
a kind of pornographic impulse that has crept into society,
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African Journal of AIDS Research 2017, 16(3): 185–191
generating a new cultural lexicon surrounding women’s
bodies, desires and needs. The powerful male gaze which
young women avoid on campus shows that aspects of male
student culture attempt to force gender conformity on female
students, to trap them in traditional discourses of female
respectability which serve patriarchal agendas (Hungwe,
2006). The physical, psychological and emotional violence
through sexual objectification that young female students
experience on campus has the potential to lead to habitual
body monitoring, which in turn can increase women’s
opportunities for shame and anxiety (Wilson, 2013).
In reflecting on the short stage play, Todini, a direct
consequence of female competition is highlighted by October
who has multiple concurrent partners which represent a form
of sexual conquest as a marker of “successful” womanhood.
October believes that having more sexual conquests is of
value and is surprised by Zvaramba’s claim that she has one
boyfriend when she points out that her boyfriend is not able
to financially support her:
October: How many panties do you have?
Zvaramba (surprised): What has that got to do
with what we are discussing? (Debra looks at her
demanding an answer still) I have three good ones
October: So why do you put all your eggs in one
basket…why do you depend on one man like that…
what if he plays you…what are you going to do?
Zvaramba: Ah, you are crazy, I don’t cheat
October: It’s not called cheating…its protecting
yourself!
October seems to be confirming findings from other
studies which highlight how young women often attempt
to maximise the number of sexual partners as a means of
increasing economic and social security (Cage & Bledsoe,
1994; Luke, 2005; Meeker & Calves, 1997;). These
examples endorse the accepted notions of femininity which
remain based on women having a connection with a man
to protect and care for her (Reynolds & Wetherell, 2003).
In contextualising multiple concurrent partnerships, the
Bay-Cheng (2003) theorisation of youth sexuality as a
socially-situated, sexualised power system might be useful.
Multiple concurrency among young women might be a
by-product of high levels of competition and aggression
among females “which enable female students to fashion
themselves as more sophisticated, more successful
and even as more sexually appealing than their peers”
connecting sexuality with social power (Masvaure, 2010,
p. 857). Multiple concurrencies among young women reflect
a “brazenly heterosexually competitive imperative that
seems to have been assimilated into the culture of young
women” (Duncan, 2004, p. 174).
This competitive culture as an ethos of young women’s
transition to adulthood distorts and complicates their
interpersonal relationships, exposing them to vulnerable
behaviours. Stockley and Campbell (2013) argue that an
endemic competitive nature in young women, especially
in poverty stricken communities, may conspire to escalate
levels of competition for well-resourced men even for
short-lived relationships. Unfortunately, Tanenbaum (2002)
points out that competition between women serves only the
status quo, keeping women from gaining more power over
their lives, work, and relationships.
189
The brazen heterosexual drive also places a high premium
on partner choice, burdening young women to try and
“marry up” (Gaidzanwa, 2001) which consequently places
women in a subservient position. For example, Zvanyadza
is forced to enter into a relationship with Mukoma, the
caretaker at their rented room, as October persuades her
that he is of her class. October vehemently refuses to sleep
with Mukoma, arguing that she only dates well to do men.
It is therefore evident that the conflation of gender and
class powerfully disempowers young women, as they seek
satisfying relationships with men. In an attempt to marry up,
young women may be forced to enter into inter-generational
relationships, as these are the men who are likely to offer
the suitable “class”. Such a conceptual position helps
us understand, for example, October’s defence of her
age-disparate relationship with a married man when she
categorically declares: “She (referring to his wife) can’t
satisfy him, so I will do it for her…for a fee of course!”
October’s response is in alignment with to anthropological
literature which presents young women as active social
agents who recognise their sexuality as a key resource
useful to gain financial resources from older men in
exchange for sexual services (Hawkins, Price, & Mussa,
2009; Leclerc-Madlala, 2005; Masvaure, 2010; Stoebenau et
al., 2011). On another note, as A relationship with a well to
do man is a “much sought-after but elusive goal” (Cherlin,
2004, p. 846), sexual relationships between young women
and older men involving economic transactions have been
offered as a likely explanation for gender differences in HIV
prevalence in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa (Hawkins et
al., 2009). Hawkins et al. (2009) have theorised that age and
economic asymmetries within sexual relationships are not
simply the outcome of individual behaviour or the individual
attributes of those involved. Luke (2003) also confirms that
sexual behaviour is negotiated within a wider social, cultural
and economic context reinforced by factors such as family
and peer pressure, social and economic institutions and
gender-based inequalities and power choices.
Implications of study: unmasking normative pressure
The emotional and sexual narratives of young women
presented in this article are politically relevant as they
provide an important avenue into understanding young
women’s sexual cultures as avenues of how they express
and perform their sexuality within a gendered framework.
Compared with past generations for whom marriage and
parenthood were virtually a prerequisite for becoming an
adult, young people today may need to be influenced to
view these as life choices, not requirements. Therefore
youth-related programming may need to develop ways
of assisting young people to develop intellectual, social
and psychological skills for them to take full advantage of
their youth. In revising prerequisites of womanhood and
adulthood, there is need for a critical pedagogy which
incorporates “deviance” as a concept which empowers
young women to question and challenge rather than
reinstate and reinforce normative pressures and essentialist
perspectives of entering adulthood and “doing gender”.
In line with the above conceptualisations of a critical
pedagogy that challenges rather than endorses essentialist
190
and normative ideologies, there is need for intervention
programming to explore how young women may cross
ideologically constructed boundaries, divisions and positions
to add to the complexity and intersecting ways in which
gender and sexuality are constructed, reinforced, and
repeatedly performed.
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Conclusion
This article considers how socio-cultural ideologies and
practices act as social technologies that help to produce
specific sexual practices and identities in young women. This
article allowed some useful insights into the constructions of
youth sexuality by employing an economic and transactional
approach to the production, distribution and arrangement
of young women’s desires, fantasies, fears and pleasures.
The article argues that young women’s libidinal economics
in Southern Africa, and in this context, Zimbabwe, is
structured by a social meta-structure that operates via
cultural practices, styles of living and interacting, and power
distribution to promote specific ways of being. This social
meta-structure is referred to as “dying to be women” which
identifies womanhood as a strong influential concept among
young women which prescribes one’s access to status,
goods and social power.
Although one cannot and should not generalise from
this quantity and type of data, some recurring themes
emerged from the youth media texts. The analysis of youth
media texts attempted to make links between discourse
and behaviour in young women through rendering visible
socio-sexual discourses and their possible linkages to
external behaviours. As a result, sexuality education and
current behaviour change HIV prevention messages may
need to expose socio-sexual ideologies that young women
unwittingly subscribe. Such a process might challenge and
expose the oppression embedded within discourses which
inform some sexual cultures which, unfortunately, collude
with patriarchy. Failure to do so may result in HIV and AIDS
prevention programmes targeted at young women having
little meaning and impact against their perceived goals,
especially within a Zimbabwean context in which structural
conditions offer few opportunities and limited hope for a
secure socio-economic future.
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