Essay Sample on Gender Roles: Traditional vs African Culture

Published: 2023-07-29
Essay Sample on Gender Roles: Traditional vs African Culture
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Gender Culture
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1012 words
9 min read


For many years, the traditional social roles of women and men have remained unchanged. Women's normal social position is that of the person of the house, focusing on children, taking care of the family, and seeing them happy. Gender roles are usually based on the different expectations that society, groups, and individuals have of other persons based on their sex and based on each society's values and beliefs. In African culture, a woman possessed the power that binds the community together; men were the heads of the household while women managed the younger family members. Women are important in planning for a successful family, and they bear much responsibility for their family, including food production.

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In the film Den Muso by Souleymane Cisse, a young mute Mali woman is raped, and she becomes pregnant, followed with disastrous consequences within her family where her family and her rapist subsequently ignore and reject her. The film also covers the social and economic situation in urban Mali concerning how women are treated (Harrow, 2016). Ousmane Sembene's film Xala, which is set up in a black Africa growing middle class that is doomed to lose its power for aping with the western world, shows the predominant role of men and the oppression of women in the society. Both films are used differently to portray similar gender roles; men have been described as superior to women (Harrow, 2016).

Most of the African societies experience gender norms. This happens because of the different cultures and the various ways they expect men and women to behave. These norms specify roles men and women are expected to perform within the family or the society. In Africa, gender roles are not natural to women or men but are learned from elders and imposed by social values. In the film Xala, Ousmane shows how women's roles as wives are limited to just pleasing her husband while men symbolize social dominance. For instance, N'Gone was given the last words by her mother on duties as a subservient wife who should only aspire to please her husband. Her mother glorifies the man by saying, "man is the master, your duty as a wife is always to be available, not to raise your voice as a woman, and always be submissive (Harrow, 2016)."

In West Africa, where the films are set up, women occupy larger spaces within agriculture and in the market. Most women are farmers or are heavily involved in the market, or they do both. Despite the significant involvement of women in social activities, they still face gender stereotypes. In a typical African society, women are expected to be well behaved, be good wives, and are not allowed to speak when the elders are speaking while men have an enormous amount of freedom. This stereotype appears in the film Den Muso, where a mute girl ends up committing suicide after her family rejects her for getting pregnant. Her father throws her out, and her rapist discards her for another girl. Because of her trouble, she is unable to tell anyone her anger and ends up committing suicide after setting her lover's house on fire.

Awa, in the film Xala, plays a role that is characterized by motherhood, hospitality, and life with a man, best describes the role of women in the community. She depends both socially and economically on her husband, El Hadji. Awa personifies the dignity, reserve, loyalty, and patience that is always attributed to African women. And in the film, Den Muso, Sekou, rapes the female protagonist character, Tenin, who is mute. Tenin muteness symbolizes the lack of voice women experience in African society.

Men have always used their social position to oppress women, after being deserted by his two other wives, El Hadji goes to her at home where he recovers his Africanness. Also, he addresses only her in Wolof. Awa's obedience is expected from her society. In most cultural settings, women are expected to process female sex roles, be interested in males, and perform in a feminine way. In contrast, men are expected to handle male sex roles, act in a masculine way, and always be interested in females.

Women have fewer opportunities than men do globally. They have less access to primary and even higher education, safety, and greater health risk. Over the years, women have been fighting for equal opportunities to reach their full potential and attain gender equality. This is similar to the film Den Muso where Tenin was unable to get an education despite her father being able to afford it because her brothers were prioritized.

Gender equality would increase woman's sense of self-worth, her access to opportunities, her power to make decisions without external influence, her access to resources, the power to control her own life inside and outside the home, and the ability to effect changes. Women empowerment is only seen in Xala when Rama gets education. Rama's ability to get an education through her father, who was able to afford the cost, helped her to reason and gain her independence of mind and as well her autonomy as a character. Unlike N'Gone and other women who are relegated to stereotypical roles, Rama was able to stand tall and confront his father, which is a taboo in African tradition for children to face their elders, especially girls.


In conclusion, we can see in both films show how, when a woman transgresses the order of a man, they have no right to respond. Women are faced with violent words that question the integrity of their gender. In general, education, health, and safety are among the key areas women have less influence. In Africa, families with limited resources that cannot afford education costs, such as uniforms, essential supplies, and school fees for their children, will tend to prioritize education for the boys. Similar to health and safety, women have fewer opportunities for health education and sometimes-unequal power in sexual partnership.


Harrow, K. W. (2016). Women in 'African cinema'and 'Nollywood films': A shift in cinematic regimes. Journal of African Cinemas, 8(3), 233-248.

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