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African Women, Fashion, and Scapegoating

by Audrey Wipper

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A contemporary public controversy in East and Central Africa focuses on the attire and behavior of African women, what they should and shouldn’t wear, what they should and shouldn’t do. A barrage of criticism lambastes the use of cosmetics and the wearing of particular fashions. Popular magazines feature articles entiled: “How Do You Like Your Women: This Way or That?” They display pictures of a young woman in stretch pants next to one in traditional garb. Letters to the editor of newspapers accuse women of being blantantly provocative and of having completely lost their morals. Newspaper headlines read “Africa’s Sex Battle” and “Why Must We Ape Western Ways?” Tribal associations pass resolutions stating that short dresses and wigs should be banned because they are not in the interests of African dignity and culture.

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