Academic journal article Africa

Wombs as God's Laboratories: Pentecostal Discourses of Femininity in Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Africa

Wombs as God's Laboratories: Pentecostal Discourses of Femininity in Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Studies of born-again Churches in Africa generally conclude that they help members embrace modernity. Their teachings provide the ideological bases for members to embrace changing material realities. Such studies are rather silent on the demands of this ideological frame on women and men. This article looks at two Zimbabwean women's organisations, Gracious Woman and Precious Stones, affiliated to Zimbabwe Assemblies of God in Africa and Family of God respectively. Using ethnographic methods, it argues that such organisations teach women domesticity and romanticise female subordination as glorifying God. They discourage individualism by exalting motherhood, wifehood and domesticity as service to God. These demands emerge at a time when life is changing drastically in urban areas as women get educated and enter the professions. Economically a small but growing number of black families have experienced some upward mobility--something these Churches encourage through 'the gospel of prosperity'. Although accumulation and upward mobility free families from (traditional) kin obligations which the Churches encourage, women are discouraged from resisting the patriarchal yoke even when material circumstances make it possible. The organisations repackage patriarchy as Christian faith. The article concludes that if these Churches are concerned with managing modernity, then they see modernity as female subordination.

Studies of urban Pentecostal (also referred to as 'born again') Churches in Africa have generally concluded that this variant of Christianity helps people to cope with the pressures and demands of 'modernity' (see Meyer, 1996, 1998, for Ghana; van Dijk, 1998, for Malawi; and Maxwell, 1998, for Zimbabwe). 'Modernity' here is taken to mean 'leaving' traditional ways of life or 'breaking with the past' (Meyer, 1998), meaning an end to ancestral worship, being tied to kin, 'split families' because of labour migration, use of traditional medicine and health care and belief in the occult (see also van Dijk, 1998). Traditional culture is portrayed as 'the work of the devil' and therefore antithetical to God (see Maxwell, 1998; Meyer, 1998; van Dijk, 1998). These studies show that Pentecostalism provides an ideological framework, which legitimises behaviours contrary to tradition as described above. They encourage individualism, which not only enables saving and accumulation but also a process of class formation. However, these studies are silent on the gendered nuances of this process of social change, accumulation and class formation. What roles are expected of 'born again' men and women? This study tries to answer the question by looking at discourses of femininity as purveyed by urban-based Pentecostal women's organisations, Gracious Woman and Precious Stones, affiliated to two prominent Pentecostal Churches, the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God in Africa (ZAOGA) and Family of God (FOG) respectively. (1) It will be argued that these organisations focus on domesticity as a way of setting born-again women apart from other women, as a sign of their modernity and faith. However (contrary to Martin, 2002: 98, 169), the teachings simultaneously tighten the patriarchal grip on women.

Information on these organisations and what they teach was gathered through observation and interviews with selected informants, starting slowly in April 1999 and ending in July 2000. This entailed attending meetings and functions such as weddings, baby showers, baby welcomes and kitchen teas. In total three weddings, two kitchen teas, two baby showers and baby welcomes, and twenty-two prayer meetings were attended. I also analysed printed and audio publications of the two organisations.

CHRISTIANITY AND ZIMBABWEAN WOMEN: A BRIEF HISTORICAL REVIEW

From the colonial era the christianisation of women was driven by the need to train a corps of women who as wives of already christianised men could facilitate the creation of 'Christian homes' through teaching about Christian domesticity, Christian wifehood, housekeeping and motherhood (see Ranger, 1995: 34; Labode, 1993: 128-34; Schmidt, 1992: 129-31; Rogers, 1981). …

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