Article published in:Living with Patriarchy: Discursive constructions of gendered subjects across cultures
Edited by Danijela Majstorović and Inger Lassen
[Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 45] 2011
► pp. 169–194
Liberia’s ‘Iron Lady’ vs. George Weah
Politics is one field in which patriarchy has enjoyed some level of acceptance over the years. For instance, some researchers (Gidengil and Everitt 1999; Sapiro 1993; Atanga 2007) have indicated that many people have always perceived politics as the field for ‘men’. Accordingly, women who subscribe to the ‘ideals’ of womanhood should not engage in politics. This does not only constrain women’s political ambitions, but it also constructs them as politically weak and unfit for such ‘serious’ business. This assumption has however been challenged by the changing roles of women as they construct multiple identities. In this paper, I discuss two texts (profiles of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Weah) from the BBC produced on the Liberian election in 2005, which represent both the traces and changes in patriarchal practices in Africa. Important to this election was that Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf (if elected) was going to be the first female African president – a role perceived as inconsistent with socio-cultural roles of (African) women. So, to what extent was gender (rather than experience) considered a major factor in the BBC’s profiles? The results show that this political discourse is gendered because a man and a woman are the major aspirants. However, the issue of ‘gender’ becomes ‘omni-relevant’ (Holmes 1997) and explicit only in Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf’s profile. This, I argue, is because the text producers perceive her to be ‘the deviant’ one. In this way, her political ambition is presented as a challenge to patriarchy.
Keywords: discourse(s), gender, Liberia, media, patriarchy, politics
Published online: 26 October 2011