The Ever Present Theme of Gender
Nervous Conditions is categorized as a Bildungsroman, or a coming of age story. By simply having a female protagonist/narrator, gender issues are already at play, because of the tendency of Bildungsroman’s to center around a male lead character. However in this story, the possible male lead died and as a result, allowed Tambu, our female lead, to live out her coming of age story.
One example of gender dynamics is when Tambu presents her interest of earning an education through selling maize to her father, and he blatantly rejects it based on the sexist thinking that women cannot have entrepreneurial skills or make use of an education. These sexist interactions are also seen between Nyasha and Babamukuru, when the kids come back from the school dance and Nyasha stays outside alone to speak with a boy and gets beaten for doing so, while Chido is allowed to stay out late with a girl.
These instances, among others, influence Tambu’s relationship with many of the people around her, possibly creating her ‘nervous conditions’, as well as how she views herself, all because of the (negative) difference being a woman makes in her culture/society.
With those examples in mind of how gender played a role in Tambu’s Zimbabwe, I researched the issue of gender in present day Zimbabwe to see how it has changed since the days of colonial rule. According to The Gender Index, “Although Zimbabwe has achieved gender parity in primary school education, there remains a gender gap in secondary and tertiary education enrolments. Further, women trail behind men on measures of economic empowerment, such as labour force participation, wage equality and representation in senior positions.” However, there are current safeguards in place such as the Curriculum Development Unit, which is charge of vetting all textbooks after examinations for gender stereotypes. This block of gender stereotypes being taught in school is definitely a good step towards a more gender equal country.
In addition, here is a site that I found extremely helpful in understanding the ever present theme of gender, relating to the literature of Zimbabwe (including Nervous Conditions), and the traditional images of women.