Gender Contradictions in Textile Production

The gender of cloth production is quite stable since men almost exclusively produce kente and adinkra cloth. Taboos reinforce this male dominance by threatening women with barrenness if they practice these crafts. In spite of this, many state institutions override these taboos by teaching women how to practice these crafts; however, contradictorily, even here the taboos are sometimes invoked.

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A Ghanaian woman who learned to weave kente at such an institution in the 1970s recounts the following exchange during her job interview:

So he (the director of the institution) asked me why there were so many professions here in Ghana, and I, a woman, wanted to weave cloth. And I said yes, here in Ghana no woman had ever woven cloth so… I wanted to weave cloth so that in future it would be a sign for Ghanaians and the Asante nation that a woman had woven cloth, and he said, “but if you weave you will not give birth,” and I said, “oh, I have given birth once so even if I don’t give birth again it doesn’t matter.”

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Outside such institutions, in the adinkra and kente producing communities, the taboos have been effective in reserving the production of these textiles for men. Women’s participation is generally limited to auxiliary roles leading to a certain amount of interdependence between women and men. Women prepare the dye used for stenciling adinkra and in many cases they undertake the sale of the cloth that men produce.  Prior to the introduction of mass produced yarns into the kente-weaving economy, women were also responsible for spinning the cotton that men used for weaving.

This interdependence means that female labor enables male cloth production. However, the female labor is rendered invisible in the end products of adinkra and kente and men are generally perceived to be the producers of these textiles.  Those institutions authenticate the status of adinkra and kente as “traditional.” This traditional status, in turn, is a key element linking male cloth makers with the tourism sector of the national economy, which is an additional source of privilege.

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About fraufiber

Itinerant textile worker and activist.

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