No, not S-E-X; there’s a time and place for that and it’s not now. I mean, females and males. Throughout history, a woman’s value has generally been determined by her appearance, ability to produce children, and tend to family. Where men are frequently represented in literature and media as leaders, hard workers, and the breadwinners; women are shown as nurturers. They’re the ones responsible for raising the future of our nations because a woman’s motherly instincts make them perfect for the role of parent. Right? I mean, all woman dream of mothering something to death, don’t they?
Well, In Baho!, a Burundian novel by Roland Rugero that explores the aftermath of war over wealth and social status, women are sexually objectified by their own husbands and neighbors. They’re treated like a commodity; their appearance and youth revered instead of their strong spirits and individuality.
Here, have an example from chapter 4, or IV if you’ve got Baho! cracked open and don’t understand Roman numbers all that well (don’t worry, you’re not alone, while writing this I had to check in with Google). The text refers to Kigeme, a girl everyone believes has just been saved from a rapist, as “precious goods” (Rugero 26). The actual passage reads like so:
“Izobikora turns towards his brothers and summons them to respond to Nyamuragi’s affront. Sullying precious goods acquired with great value over many years (a dowry, a marriage proposal, and long nights to convince the shy girl)? No! That’ll be enough of that! By raping Kigeme, the cursed mute has defiled all the other women in the region, and the men of Kanya consider themselves all affected. It’s time to crack down.”
In this case, women aren’t seen as humans, but instead as property. They either belong to their fathers or their husbands, in both cases; however, a man. And the mentioning of dowry here lets us (the readers) know that women are valuable to their family in that with her engagement they’ll receive some form of currency. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cash, it can be land or stocks (refer to page 4, paragraph 2: “Four weddings had solidified the family’s patrimony of goats and cattle”).
There’s also the entirety of chapter 10 we could look at. This chapter tells the story of “a daughter so beautiful that fig leaves bowed whenever she passed by.” Nicknamed Inabwiza, which means “she who has beauty,” her father desperately wants to delay marrying her off (Rugero 59). Because like your typical Disney princess, she’s supposed to wait until her prince charming comes along and sweeps her off her feet. Once more, this text shows that a strong focus is placed predominately on a woman’s complexion. In fact, in this chapter, the reader literally learns nothing about Inabwiza except that she’s gorgeous. Whether it be her father, her brothers, or the countless young suitors begging for her hand in marriage, it’s her appearance that’s worth mentioning. Inabwiza is only important and sought out for by so many men because of her sex appeal. Need more proof? Well here’s a question: What’s her real name? Do you want to know the answer? Too bad, I don’t know it! Nobody does; it wasn’t significant enough to mention.
What I want to get at is that while women have doubled-down on their fight against gender stereotypes and actively promote equal opportunities; novels such as Baho! document the oppression of women across borders. Literature is useful in that it can reflect culture and address the problems within a society, no matter how great it claims to be.