Learning to be men
at a teachers' college in Zimbabwe


Rob Pattman

Birbeck College, University of London

Copyright © 1998, by Rob Pattman, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. I had been recruited by a British developmental agency, International Co-operation for Development (ICD), to lecture in Theory of Education at a teachers' College in Zimbabwe in 1991. The Theory of Education department was the biggest in the College, comprising ten lecturers with interests in the sociology, psychology and philosophy of education. Theory of Education was understood as an important part of the curriculum, closely associated with the social and intellectual development of students. It was the only subject taught to all the students in a particular year at the same time, and, unlike other subjects, it was taught (twice weekly) in the lecture theatre which could accommodate the large numbers (over 300).

  2. The only other whites at teachers' Colleges in Zimbabwe were expatriate lecturers like myself. With the ending at Independence of schools for blacks or whites only and the introduction of free primary education, whites overwhelmingly boycotted the government sector and chose to send their children to private schools with fees way beyond the reach of most Zimbabweans. White teachers also moved from the state to the private sector. Institutions of higher education became almost exclusively black as young whites went to pursue their studies abroad--usually South Africa--or did not bother with higher education, proceeding instead to their family businesses. For their failure to integrate with blacks in education, to travel by public transport, to be seen in high density suburbs, to play or watch football, to visit beer halls, and to watch Zimbabwean bands, white Zimbabweans were often referred to as "Rhodies."

  3. Shortly after I arrived, I was sometimes greeted and thanked by black Zimbabweans for coming with my educational skills and expertise to help them. The assumption was that I had skills as a teacher trainer which Zimbabweans had not. Also it was assumed by staff (and students) that I came from a country with a long tradition of development, whose institutions and practices provided models for Zimbabwe to emulate. This idealised view of Britain went hand in hand with suspicions of expatriates as being arrogant and concerned with criticising "black" culture and "black" attempts to develop. In Theory of Education lectures, Britain was presented as having a history of democratic institutions and a meritocratic education system, free and accessible at all stages to everyone. I surprised and impressed staff and students with my "honesty" when I challenged these views in lectures I was asked to give on education in England. It was assumed that as a white person I had a vested interest in peddling the familiar image of Britain as a model developed and democratic society and that I must be honest to subvert this picture.

  4. I tried to resist being a white colonial figure in my lectures not only by speaking critically about education in Britain but by developing student-centred pedagogies. The fact that I was lecturing on the sociology of education, gender and culture in Zimbabwe to students who were much more knowledgeable than I on these topics emphasised the absurdity of adopting a didactic style and becoming an expatriate expert. Dividing students into groups to respond to issues raised by the lecturer was a familiar strategy used by Theory of Education lecturers who taught large numbers of students in two-hour slots. But for me, group work was a starting point. Often I split students into groups and gave them, as topics to discuss, extracts from popular cultural texts and interviews I had conducted with some of them about their experience and understanding of education, culture and gender. These discussions were followed by feedback and discussion in a plenary session. I saw the interviews with students as important resources, and alternatives to the British and American texts used in the Department. I make use of them in this paper.[1]

  5. The importance students and lecturers attached to "culture" (a term used interchangeably with "tradition") reflected their opposition to white racism and their anxieties about becoming westernised and detached by virtue of their education from their African roots. The invisibility of whites in "black" places and institutions in Zimbabwe was recognised as evidence of white racism. Culture and tradition were invoked in idealised ways which homogenised rural communities, reconstructed blackness as a positive identity and, ironically, affirmed the individuality, modernity and superiority of educated people at College.

  6. Culture came to be identified with the rural community, a key element in the construction of the identities of College students and lecturers. The rural areas, from which the majority of students came and where those from towns had close ties and attachments, were spoken of as "roots" from which they were, because of their education, detached. Lecturers living in Masvingo (the local town) talked about visiting their "homes" when they went to the rural areas to see their parents or aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. Unlike themselves, who lived in College or lecturers who lived in town, they called people who lived in rural areas "communities" which reflected, I think, a tendency to deindividualise and homogenise rural people as well as to idealise rural values and relationships. The "rural community" was the corollary of individual development and individuality which education was seen as promoting. The "rural community" affirmed the identities of students and lecturers as developing or developed individuals; it was different--homogenous and undeveloped--and also the same--"our roots," "our culture." The "rural community" was associated with "traditional values," understood in one sense as being undeveloped and old fashioned, and in another as timeless.

  7. The relationship between "educated" Zimbabweans and their "traditional" rural roots was a constant theme in Theory of Education lectures. Sometimes it was alluded to explicitly in discussions on the role of the teacher in the rural community, but normally it was implicit, as when cultural deficit theories were being put forward to explain the "failure" of children from particular rural backgrounds or when standards and values associated with rural life were praised as "past" or "traditional" values which needed preserving against erosion by "modernisation." Rural culture was presented by Theory of Education lecturers as both backward and idyllic. It validated a view of themselves as educated people, as both developed and loyal to their cultural roots.

  8. In the College's arts festival, a short play was performed about the sense of alienation experienced by many students when they returned home to the rural areas. This alienation was produced by the gulf of separation felt by both students and their parents. The message in the play was, "don't let your parents and aunts and uncles think you feel superior to them." While students may have been deferential to their parents and their rural homes, they laughed at AIDS plays which showed rural people with AIDS consulting N'angas (traditional healers), for this was viewed as a backward practice by people whose laughter confirmed their education.

  9. Though College life was understood as promoting cultural advancement and modern ways of thinking and behaving, this life was seen as presenting particular problems and challenges for women students. Women students were thought to be particularly susceptible to forgetting and even mocking their cultural roots and failing to fulfil the ideal role of an educated person distanced from but still sensitive and loyal to African culture. By blaming certain women students for being too modern, men students and lecturers identified themselves, in contrast, as loyal to their cultural roots.

  10. By presenting extracts from interviews with men and women students in my lectures, I wanted not only to be anti-colonial, but also to encourage the voices of women who were usually very quiet in the lecture theatre. Thus I split students into single-sex groups to respond to the interviews before reporting back in the mixed plenary session. I wanted to make it easier for women to develop and articulate their views, desires and anxieties and to speak out in the lecture theatre with men present, despite the disapproval they might encounter for speaking and thereby violating "culture." A balance of voices between genders became a major concern of mine when I was appointed AIDS co-ordinator at the end of my first term (December 1991), with responsibility for developing and implementing an AIDS educational programme aimed at our students.[2] I was chosen because of the interest I had expressed to members of staff about AIDS education.

  11. Addressing "traditional culture" as a discursive category rather than taking it for granted as a "real" extra-discursive category raises questions about how, when and against whom culture is invoked and about the emotional investments of those who invoke it in particular ways. I want to investigate these questions by focusing upon how "culture" was deployed in discourses at College and the resulting implications for the ways men students, in particular, identified and experienced themselves. How was male hegemony discursively constructed in College? How did men relate to and inhabit hegemonic masculinities ( in general see Connell)? How did they construct and live their identities in relation to women, other men, the "west" and "Zimbabwean culture"? I begin by illustrating how male hegemony was affirmed through the marginalisation of "modern" women during a lecture on the role of the student teacher on teaching practice. Drawing mainly upon interviews with men students, I then go on to investigate how they identified themselves and others.

  12. Teaching practice appeared to be very significant in reinforcing the difference and distance between the "primitive" community and the "modern" teacher--differences which were experienced in very gendered ways. The principal emphasised to students the importance of (male) student teachers not "falling in love" with (female) members of the community in case they made them pregnant and were obliged to support and maintain them when their year's teaching practice was over and they were back in College. I am sure that underlying the forceful way in which this often repeated warning was made was the assumption that student teachers were different from and superior to primitive communal people who would only hold them back if they became entangled with them. For potential women student-teachers the advice was not so much "don't become too familiar with the community," but "observe the values of the community by not going out at night or wearing trousers."

  13. The importance of "integrating with the community" was frequently stressed in lectures to 1st-year students to prepare them for their second year on teaching practice when they would work in rural schools. In one class I attended, the lecturer spoke disapprovingly about two women students for making no attempt to integrate with the community, and reported that they were criticised by their headmasters for wearing dreads and trousers. Smiling and shaking his head in disbelief, he said the students "did not take kindly" to these criticisms and wrote to the principal at College asking for transfers to other schools to do their teaching practice. There was some hissing from the women students, to which he responded, "we don't want emotions to get into the academic debate, we have to understand the community--get into their minds."

  14. He attempted to demonstrate the significance of traditional cultural expectations concerning the dress of women by asking all the women students (about 160) to stand up and then asking only those who would invite their parents to see them teaching PE in their track-suits to remain standing. Only about 15 were still standing. The lecturer passed a comment in Shona to these women, which one of them later translated to me as "you're letting down our culture." It seems likely, then, that a number of women sat down for fear of being publicly labelled as immoral or as violating culture. There was a great deal of background noise, whispers, laughter, shuffling in seats, with the women who kept standing very much the focal point of everyone's attention.

  15. One of these women, who had been called "spokeslady" and "bornfree" by men students because of her relatively frequent interventions in the lecture theatre and because she wore trousers and appeared not to fear public disapproval, pointed out that there was "a conflict between College policy and society," since College demanded that all students--women as well as men--wear track-suits for teaching PE. The conflict, she said, was not between the "individual and society." She was not challenging the view that women wearing trousers was "culturally" unacceptable, but the implication that she should feel ashamed for doing what the College required her to do. Another woman who was still standing, who also sometimes wore trousers and occasionally contributed in the lecture theatre, said, "I think society must adjust to us." This was greeted with hisses from the men.

  16. The lecturer appealed to these women by addressing them in a non-gendered way as "we" educated people.
    I ask you as teachers. You're going to be leaders. You must understand how things work. We must adjust to society. Society can not be bent by a small group of people who have been to College. We have been sent to College by them and what they want us to do is appreciate our own culture rather than adopt other cultures wholesale.
    A man drew attention to the sexualisation of women's bodies which informed anxieties about women wearing trousers. On the issue of women wearing track-suits for supervising PE, he said "The problems will arise because they're so tight fitting that they expose the contours and curves. The rural people won't like it." There was laughter and hissing from some women.

  17. "We need," said the lecturer, "to find an answer to this problem." He went on to provide an answer, the problem being understood not from the point of view of women students having to put up with people's hostile reactions but of people in the community being offended by women students. "After the lesson don't go to the nearest shop in that regalia. If you're going to restrict your gear to that lesson that's OK. Parents won't see you."

  18. Another man elaborated upon the offensive spectacle of women in PE attire. "Society expects women to be good mothers and good women shouldn't wear PE slips." This gave rise to more hissing, gasps of frustration and laughter from the women. The lecturer tried to calm things down and said, "You might want to dismiss what this man is saying, but in our culture they expect us to reflect some harmony between ourselves and what society expects."

  19. He then invited a man on to the stage, and requested him to "tell us what kind of woman you'd like to take to your rural home." The man, smiling, said "The lady should fear the Lord; she should be presentable to my mother and my whole family. My mother wouldn't allow me to marry a woman who wears dresses above the knees or trousers or dreads. And I want a lady who is beautiful." At this, the lecturer and the rest of the students laughed and the man left the stage.

  20. "I want," the lecturer said, "to concentrate on the second aspect. I think I can generalise. Our parents expect our fiancees not to wear trousers." The lecturer and most of the men spoke about the need of educated people (i.e. women) to adjust to rural values, but some of the men criticised educated people for becoming too western and trying to impose these "outside" values on rural communities. For example, a man suggested that the education system was culturally imperialist: "The elite are playing with models from European countries. We want rural people to adjust to these outside values."

  21. Another male lecturer agreed, distinguishing the "European" character of the College from the "African" character of home:
    The setting we have here is very European. If Mr Pattman wasn't to look out of the window and if it wasn't for all the black faces he would think he's in Manchester. [He was acquainted with lecture theatres in English Universities, having studied in England.] But at home it's very African. We need to compromise between curriculum and culture.
    He referred to me because I had asked why it was always women who were blamed for violating culture.

  22. I have provided a full narrative account of the interaction between men and women and the lecturer because this illustrates the androcentric form which anticolonial, anti-elitist appeals to culture took and the hegemony of this discourse. By including a full narrative account, I wish to convey the ways in which women who challenged this discourse were marginalised. Some women told me later that though they supported and admired the few women who remained standing and though they wanted to stand themselves, they felt too threatened to do so. The discourse which positioned women as potential violators of culture was being challenged and was being re-asserted as its challengers were publicly exposed as deviant.

  23. Whether students were judged positively for distancing themselves from "backward" values and practices or negatively for "forgetting culture" depended on their gender. The status of men students was often linked to their perceived level of cultural development, as indicated, for example, by knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of academic terms, names of educationalists and philosophers and fluency in English. 3rd-year men students, as I was told in conversations with them, often attempted to construct themselves as culturally superior to 1st-year men students (2nd-year students spent the year outside College on teaching practice) by talking in an academic language the lst-years did not understand, dropping names of educationalists they had never heard of and making fun of their poor English.

  24. Being "educated" and "modern" was how 3rd-year men presented themselves to impress and attract 1st-year women. They would often approach 1st-year women and ask them if they wanted help in their assignments. This was a theme addressed in a 1st-year student AIDS drama: not only was the 3rd-year man in this drama able to help the 1st-year woman with her assignment, but he was also (having completed his teaching practice for which students were paid) able to take her out.

  25. The 1st-year men were highly critical of love relationships between 3rd-year men and 1st-year women. In the AIDS drama I referred to, the men, particularly the lst-years, erupted with laughter when the 3rd-year man offered to help the 1st-year woman with her assignment, as if this was for them a familiar bone of contention. In a discussion I had on this topic with 1st-year men, one student expressed "frustration" at being "denied our privilege to have affairs over 1st-year females." They blamed 3rd-year men for exploiting the women, for impressing women with their knowledge, helping them with their assignments and spending money on them, only to "dump" them for their wives or other girlfriends when they left. But 1st-year women were also blamed by the 1st-year men for not resisting the advances of the 3rd-year men and for approaching 3rd-year men for help with their assignments. The benefits which 1st-year women derived from such a relationship emphasised their complicity, according to these 1st-year men, and being dumped when the 3rd-years left was understood as "just deserts."

  26. The College was an important site for the construction of gendered age hierarchies. The key age-hierarchical relations were between 1st-year and 3rd-year men and 1st-year women and 3rd-year men. The latter were easily sexualised, and as the popularity of sugar daddy stories about 1st-year women and 3rd-year men implied, there was a recognition that these heterosexual relations were oppressive to women. But lst-year men's investments in these stories reflected their anxieties about being rejected by women for more powerful men. Women were attacked in these stories for their arrogance, and they were discarded or rejected at the end of them. By telling these stories, men were re-assuring themselves that the power of women was short-lived. Even though the 1st-year men were critical of those 3rd-years who "took their women," they did not address them as others and demons in the way they identified their "taken" women. 1st-year women were understood not only as deserting them (1st-year men) but also as deserting "culture," selling themselves for 3rd-year men's knowledge and affluence. While some 1st-year men recognised that as 3rd-years they, too, might use their knowledge and money to seduce 1st-year women, they would reject 3rd-year women, who as 1st-years had been seduced by 3rd-year men because they were "stale." When I asked a group of 3rd-year men why 3rd-year men were attracted to 1st-year rather than 3rd-year women, they also spoke of how 3rd-year women had become "stale" and "morally loose." They spoke, too, about 3rd-year women's relationships with sugar daddies outside College. When these students talked about sugar daddies, they always referred to other men (not themselves in relation to lst-year women). As one of them said:

    It is perceived by male students that 3rd-year females have been going out with sugar daddies in Mucheke, Manhede and Stop over beer halls [local beer halls. So we [males] are afraid of contracting AIDS which is rampant in Masvingo [the local town]. They have become morally loose so much that they hunt for men. Male students are afraid of being said to be responsible for the pregnancies acquired during teacher practice from sugar daddies.

  27. The association of church goers with traditional values reflects the significance attached in contemporary Zimbabwe to religion and Christianity in particular. If Christianity was originally a colonial discourse which rendered blacks childlike and uncivilised, contemporary Christian discourses about "traditional African values" were often about the similarity between these and Christian values. The opposition which these discourses constructed was not so much between "primitive" cultural practices such as polygamy and "modern civilising" Christianity but between fundamental values about the sanctity of sex as observed by Christian and African traditional religion alike and the debasement and corruption of sex associated with modernisation and westernisation. In contrast to the Rhodesian Government's view of Christianity as a civilising influence on primitive Africans, prominent Zimbabwean Christians associated Christianity with "traditional African" values regarding love and sex to which they urged Zimbabweans to return.

  28. A statement made on AIDS by the Christian Churches in 1992 called for a reassertion of traditional values against modern hedonism and promiscuity. It was not Christianity but the artefacts of "modern culture" such as short skirts, trousers for women, women drinking, "punk" hairstyles for men, pre- and extra-marital sex which were presented as Western imports. Young people were urged to "resist the fashion of the day in matters of sexuality" and return to "traditional African culture." The statement affirmed that traditional African values "reinforced the Christian law in regard to chastity" by putting a premium on premarital abstinence and penalising "infringement of virginity."

  29. Consistently, the men presented themselves as giving in to temptation, as being slightly naughty and irresponsible for being hedonistic. The "bad things" which the church goers refrained from doing--getting drunk and being with prostitutes--were activities men did. But while the beer drinker could laugh about being tempted at the disco, the woman who "tempted" him became the object of derision. Women who "tempted" men at the disco were liable to be cartooned in the dining room or lecture theatre. If the cartoon was of a man and a woman it was intended, one man told me, to "make fun of the woman. The man just laughs at it but the woman is serious about it."

  30. Both church goers and beer drinkers were subjects of an anti-colonial discourse which positioned women in relation to male desire. The church goers, like the beer drinkers, were subjects of what Hollway refers to as a male sex-drive discourse: resisting "temptation," it is true, but nevertheless "tempted." In terms of this discourse, being a man might mean being moralistic, taking up the position of spokesperson for "culture" and criticising women for prostituting themselves. Or it might mean glorifying in the transgression and enjoying "prostitutes," and at the same time making it quite clear, through laughter and the "entertaining" stories they told other men, that they were not "in love" with them, that they were only "using" them to gratify their hedonistic desires. These two positions--moralistic and hedonistic--while represented in stereotypical ways by the division of men into church goers and beer drinkers, were by no means mutually exclusive in terms of how they were lived. For, in constructing women as prostitutes, men were simultaneously making them the objects of their desire and contempt. Thus beer drinkers were also critical of College as a potentially westernising and corrupting influence upon women students they "used."

  31. When beer drinkers told me about how they enjoyed themselves, I felt they were speaking to me "man to man," laughing and expressing surprise, for example, when I asked them why they were tempted, as if, as a man, I should know. But usually these men presented themselves as spokespeople for culture in the interviews I had with them, as they did in relation to the women who maintained a critical stance in the lecture theatre. At times, it seemed as if the men I interviewed were explaining their "culture" to me--a friendly and interested but critical white outsider. Occasionally, men criticised other black Zimbabwean men rather than women in the interviews I conducted. This happened when I asked a group of men who described themselves as beer drinkers about their responses to women in the disco, whom they called "loose." I began by asking if they were personally attracted to these women.
    Jacob: Definitely--most proposals emanate from Discos. We're attracted by the way a woman dances. We're encouraged.

    Chris: I'd say men are of loose morals. If you know you're not looking for such type of woman, why do you propose love to her?

    Anyway: I'm totally against what's being said here. When we look at man, man is quickly attracted by sight. Just seeing for a man, I need it now.

    Chris: You can't expect yourself to be attracted just because you've seen someone dancing, just because you've seen a lady's thighs. It means you've got loose morals yourself.

    Jacob: We're looking at culture. According to the culture of the Shona people, the girls are assumed to have low morals.

    Chris: What about men who dress in black punky dress? Why do you blame ladies only?

    Jacob: In that case men are to be blamed. But in our culture men may have ten wives. Is that loose morals?

    Chris: No, because he looks after the family. But the man of today, you impregnate one and another one and you dump her. Who is to be blamed--the lady or man?

    Jacob: Both.

    Chris: Both? Are you sure? So you mean to say our old people used to impregnate then drop a woman. Today the blame is on men.

    Jacob: I don't think so, because women are looked at as mirrors of culture. They're supposed to control themselves. They're not to accept every man on the street. So therefore they've got to guard against these temptations themselves. The men are set free.

    Anyway: Man is prone to temptation because of his nature. He's so fast. So we must blame women for not withholding their emotions.

    RP: Do you accept that? (to Chris)

    Chris: No, if he finds his child is playing with fire, he'll let the child continue to play and burn himself. The College is letting the woman do something bad and he'll join in instead of correcting the person.

    With a slight giggle, Jacob expressed the view that "culture" was polygamous. "Having wives" was used euphemistically by Jacob, as if men were "naughty" for having multiple sexual relations but in a sort of humorous and endearing way. Replying that the "men of today" impregnate and dump women, Chris not only challenged the view that men's "naughtiness" was "cultural" but also that it was amusing.

  32. Jacob and Anyway seemed surprised at Chris' intervention, as if this was the first time they had heard him blaming men for having loose morals. Jacob and Thomas, in their late twenties and were married with families, made slightly disparaging references in a good humoured and friendly way to Chris' youth and inexperience with women (he was 22). Surprisingly, Chris was invoking culture and tradition not against "loose" women but against irresponsible men.

  33. When Jacob justified double sexual standards by referring to "culture" as polygamous, Chris distinguished the kinds of traditional paternalism of polygamous men towards their wives from the modern practices of getting women pregnant and dumping them. Because men were traditionally polygamous, only women, according to Jacob, could be immoral. Thus it was women who had to "guard against temptations," and the men were "free" (presumably to succumb to them). Or, as Anyway put it, men were by "nature" prone to temptation and therefore not blameworthy. Only women could be blamed for provoking men's "fast" desire.

  34. At one stage, Jacob blamed both men and women, but this followed Chris' criticism of modern men for making women pregnant and then dumping them. Like Anyway and Jacob, Chris presented men as subjects with desires. But while Anyway and Jacob blamed some women for provoking men's desires, Chris stressed the vulnerability of women (to men's desires) and compared women who did "bad" things with children playing with fire, as if they were not really the author of (and accountable for) their own actions. The problem with modern society, as Chris defined it, was men "joining in" and not correcting "bad" women's behaviour, as if the alternative to exploiting women was looking after them like children, as in his construction of traditional polygamous culture. Chris challenged double sexual standards in a way which reinforced the cultural stereotype of men as subjects of desires and drives, putting the onus on them to control these, and, indirectly, the behaviour of women.

  35. When Chris inquired why men in black punky dress were not also blamed, Jacob argued that they were as culpable as particular women. This was not because Jacob saw such men as hedonistic, for he maintained men were "free." Rather, as I discovered in another interview, punky looking men were criticised for looking effeminate. One woman suggested that these men, and not women wearing trousers and short skirts, should be blamed. Addressing the men, she said: "You criticise women who wear trousers for setting a bad example to children, but what kind of example are those guys who perm their hair, pierce their ears and wear jewellery setting?" Hegemonic masculinity was constructed in opposition to women and punky men, and like particular women, punky men were positioned as violators of culture. While men with perms and earrings (none of whom were at College) may have been ridiculed by students for appearing feminine, this ridicule did not seem like a homophobic response. Both men and women were extremely homophobic, though this was only ever expressed in response to questions I asked about their attitudes to homoerotic relationships. When I asked whether some people at College were sexually attracted to people of the same sex, all the students I spoke to looked puzzled and suggested that this was not a Zimbabwean or African phenomenon. Of course that was how many men students described women wearing trousers and men with perms. But same-sex attraction was never mentioned. Raising the topic seemed to confirm my status as an outsider.

  36. Cindy Patton argues that Western researchers have often been unable to derive data on homosexuality in Africa not because homoerotic relations are peculiarly Western, but because of "the categories and stereotypes of Western researchers who understand homosexuality as a preference or identity in Western terms" (95). (The homosexual as a particular category of person was "invented" in the 19th century in the West [in general, see Weeks].) Oliver Phillips (471-491) argues that there is "no easy space" for black Zimbabwean men to assume this identity. This is because of the significance attached to heterosexual marriage which, through the payment of dowry (lobola) to compensate the bride's family for the loss of her services as she joins her husband's family, establishes linkages between patriarchal kinship networks. Getting married and having children is associated with being adult, and, as Phillips points out, is "virtually an obligation."

  37. It may have been that students' homophobic responses--almost all the students described people being attracted by people of the same sex as unnatural or unAfrican--were a denial of European concepts of homosexuality. Students spoke about homosexuals as distant and vague figures--a few whites, perhaps, who lived in Harare and maybe some blacks who had been influenced by them. There were no stories or rumours about homosexuals in College. I did, however, ask students, not about their attitudes to gay men and lesbians, but whether people were attracted by people of the same sex in College, and, if so, what their attitudes were to this. But since I, a white European, asked this question, it might have been assumed that I was asking whether particular (perverse) categories of people--gays and lesbians--existed in College.

  38. I was unable to research homoerotic attraction, and I felt that by pursuing homosexuality as a significant topic in the life of my students, I was in a way setting a "western" agenda. It seemed to me that homophobia, which was expressed together with surprise when I raised the topic of same-sex attraction and was directed against distant westernised figures, was not significant in the construction of the identities of College students. (This contrasts with recent accounts of the construction of young male heterosexual identities in England; see Nayak and Kehily 211-229, Epstein 105-114, and, in general, Mac An Ghaill.)

  39. But the "insignificance" of homosexuality in students' homophobic accounts contrasts with recent well-publicised Government tirades against gays and lesbians. In August 1995 President Mugabe ordered the expulsion of gays and lesbians who had a stall at the Zimbabwean International Book Fair, asserting that their presence was "outrageous" and "repugnant." Later that year he denounced "sodomists" as "behaving worse than dogs and pigs" (The Herald) and as a threat to "culture" and "tradition." "We have our own culture, and we must reeducate ourselves to our traditional values that made us human beings" (The Citizen). As in discourses which sexualise and problematise black women, "tradition" and "culture" were invoked against homosexuals, which, like black prostitutes, came to be associated with westernisation and corruption. Phillips points out that the "President's attack on sodomists has been delivered in the same context as a critique of white economic power [notably in connection with the quantity and quality of land possessed by white farmers] and that its aim has been to create a new sense of Africanism" (485). Ironically, it may be that a consequence of the Government's anti-colonial attack on homosexuals has been to make homosexuality less distant and detached for black College students. For a feature of this moral panic is the assumption that black Zimbabweans may become homosexual and violate their culture and traditions. It may be that 'homosexual' has become of significance in the construction of College student identities, and in the shoring up of hegemonic symbols of masculinity (the beer drinker and church goer) constructed around heterosexual desire.

  40. Student gendered identities were being constructed in a context in which sexuality was frequently being inferred even in lectures and connected (problematically) with women's bodies. Women's bodies were eroticised and women were blamed for tempting men. Women students' appearances were subject to public scrutiny and they were evaluated accordingly. In contrast, masculinities were taken for granted. By investigating these gender distinctions, I was, firstly, addressing them as social constructions rather than asocial essences, and, secondly, as identities whose construction was bound up with the eroticisation and problematisation of women. My focus was upon discourse as the medium through which masculinities and femininities were produced as particular relationships. To conclude, I shall begin by trying to summarise the discourse which I understood as hegemonic in that it seemed to structure everyday practices and identities and provided the terms of debate on gender issues. I shall concentrate upon its constructions of culture, sexuality and gender. I shall go on to reflect upon opposition to this discourse and challenges to hegemonic masculinities.

  41. Culture and Gender. Frantz Fanon argues that the
    passionate search for a national culture which existed before the colonial era finds its legitimate reason in the anxiety shared by native intellectuals to shrink away from that Western culture in which they all risk being swamped. Because they realise they are in danger of losing their lives and thus becoming lost to their people, these men, hot headed and with anger in their hearts, relentlessly determine to renew contact once more with the oldest and more pre-colonial springs of life of their people. (168-9)
    Though Fanon argues that the "claim to a national culture in the past" "rehabilitates that nation" and serves "as a justification for the hope of a future national culture," he is critical of the "native intellectual" who idealises a precolonial culture linking the identities and interests of all black people. The native intellectual, Fanon argues, wants to escape the "supremacy of the white man's culture" and, despairing that he is "breaking adrift from his people," feels the need to turn backwards towards his unknown roots and construct these as sacred, traditional and timeless. The effect is to reify culture "cutting it off from the events of today" (175). He further observes that the native intellectual "sets a high value on the customs, traditions and the appearances of his people; but his inevitable painful experience only seems to be a banal search for exoticism" (178).

  42. Fanon's understanding of the positioning of the black colonial or neo-colonial intellectual only partly accounts for the meanings attached to culture at College. Culture was idealised and reified as Fanon indicates. It was constructed as the roots of a black Zimbabwean or African identity. It was associated with "tradition," and appeals for a return to traditional cultural values were made in the face of a perceived crisis in sexual morality brought about by westernisation and modernisation. But whereas for Fanon culture is an ungendered category, in College it was mobilised against 'modern' women students. Women more than men were positioned as being at risk of losing their true identities as Africans. Either they were idealised as bearers of culture or made the dupes of westernisation and modernisation. In contrast, masculinity tended to be associated with defending or speaking on behalf of culture. It was as spokespeople for culture that some men lecturers and many of the men students I spoke to positioned themselves when talking about the threat posed by particular women. The relationship of educated people to culture was ambiguous, for culture was associated with idealised rural communal values in opposition to which educated people asserted their individuality and modernity. Traversing between culture and modernity was much more problematic for women than men students. Men were more likely to be judged positively for distancing themselves from backward values and practices; women were more likely to be judged negatively for forgetting culture. This position allowed men to mock their own attitudes to women, which they defined as cultural.

  43. Sexuality and Gender. Women were evaluated in relation to the "male (heterosexual) sex-drive," so that appeals against "sexual promiscuity" were directed at "promiscuous" women. The male sex-drive was viewed as "cultural." Men students constantly referred to culture to explain their "freedom," even their "cheating." But as "culture" was essentialised and idealised, this was a justification for double sexual standards rather than a recognition that these had no natural basis and were open to change. Indeed, culture and nature were often used interchangeably as the basis of the "male sex-drive." In terms of the male sex-drive discourse, women were divided into prostitutes, who tempted men in general, and good women, who complemented and were subordinate to a male partner. Clothes were key signifiers of these types of women. Women who wore trousers were seen as drawing attention to their eroticised shapes and as trying to emulate whites. Stories about women students having sexual relationships with older, richer and more powerful men than their male student contemporaries were frequently told in College in ways which implicated women as arrogant and manipulative temptresses.

  44. My way of critiquing masculinities, therefore, was to try to show how they were tied up with constructions of women, and, in particular, how women's representations as "loose" or "prostitutes" produced men as spokespeople for culture. This production meant understanding men as preservers of culture who desired and used those women whom they condemned.


  1. Though I was nervous about interviewing students because of the implication that they might be, in western eyes, problematic or unusual, the students I spoke to wanted to be interviewed and appeared to enjoy being interviewed in groups. There was often a great deal of laughter and passion expressed, and the interviews usually felt like engaging conversations. Back

  2. I elaborate on the AIDS programme in "Teaching Sex/AIDS Education in Zimbabwe," Curriculum Studies 4.2 (1996): 2730. Back

Works Cited

The Citizen, Johannesburg, South Africa, 12 August 95.

Connell, R. Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995.

Epstein, D. "'Boyz' Own Stories: Masculinities and Sexualities in Schools." Gender and Education. Special Issue, "Masculinities in Education." Ed. C. Griffin and S. Lees. 9.1 (1997): 105-14.

Fanon, F. The Wretched of the Earth. 1961. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

The Herald, Harare, Zimbabwe, 12 August 95.

Hollway, W. Subjectivity and Method in Psychology. London: Sage, 1989.

Mac an Ghaill, M. The Making of Men. Buckingham: Open UP, 1994.

Nayak, A. and Kehily, M. "Maying it Straight: Masculinities, Homophobia and Schooling." Journal of Gender Studies 5.2 (1996): 211-29.

Patton, C. Inventing AIDS. NY and London: Routledge, 1990.

Phillips, O. "Zimbabwean Law and the Production of a White Man's Disease." Social and Legal Studies 6.4 (1997): 471-91.

Weeks, J. Sexuality. London: Tavistock, 1986.

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