The impact of living with Zulu pensioner grandmothers as household heads on the gender construction and sexuality of their teenage granddaughters.
Mangalparsad, Roshilla Sharitha.
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African pensioner grandmothers and their teenage granddaughters constitute a vulnerable sector in our communities. Despite financial constraints these grandmothers struggle against great odds to provide a better life for their granddaughters. In such households, granddaughters are exposed to socialization strategies that are devised to cope with limitations. These strategies impact on the way they construct notions of gender and sexuality. Using qualitative research methodology to investigate the responses to interviews and questionnaires of a selected group of five female teenage learners and their grandmothers at a secondary school in Northdale, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, I discuss how these learners and their principal carers construct gender and sexuality. I make use of postmodern principles to analyse the impact of changing household patterns and coping strategies on these young women. I discuss the gendered division of labour, their 'perceived' notions about femininity and masculinity and bodies. I focus especially on how grandmothers use their own construction of gender and sexuality in influencing their granddaughters by what they say and also by what they do not say. In this investigation, I include Western theorizing and traditional African teachings about gender construction and sexuality. This study demonstrates that gender is not innate but fluid and that constructions of sexuality can create docile 'feminine' bodies. However, there are indications that these young women are resisting the constructs of their grandmothers to create new discourses of their own. Female agency is a mechanism that can be utilized to generate new subjectivities.