Original Research

Re-framing the prostitute identity in Zimbabwe: An approach to Virginia Phiri’s novel Highway queen (2010)

Oliver Nyambi
Literator | Vol 36, No 1 | a1105 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v36i1.1105 | © 2015 Oliver Nyambi | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 January 2014 | Published: 15 June 2015

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Oliver Nyambi, Department of English, University of Zululand, South Africa


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Abstract

In Zimbabwe, as in most traditionally conservative, patriarchal and Christian dominated countries, female sex work is abhorred on moral grounds as an unbecoming means of livelihood which takes away the practising woman’s social respectability. In such societies, then, the moral threat and stigma associated with female sex work affect women’s decisions on whether or not to take up sex work as a permanent means of livelihood. One can, however, ask how sustainable and stable these patriarchally constructed notions of morality and female identity are, especially in the face of crises? This article uses Virginia Phiri’s novel Highway queen, which is set in one of Zimbabwe’s economically tumultuous eras, to demonstrate how cultural texts grapple with the discourse of female sex work in contemporary Zimbabwe. The gist of my argument is that dominant prostitute identity constructs shaped by Zimbabwe’s patriarchal social and economic system are unstable. I find that the novel Highway queen manipulates such instability not only to re-inscribe sex work as a product of patriarchal impairment of female agency but, perhaps more importantly, to reflect on how women who are forced by circumstances to become sex workers can rise above their passive victimhood to achieve personal goals despite the social odds charted by patriarchy. Zooming in on the representation of the daily experiences of the female sex worker and protagonist, Sophie, the article explores the various ways in which the novel deconstructs stereotypical perceptions of female sex work and sex workers. The analysis ends with the argument that, whilst Sophie’s situation is fundamentally tragic, it affectively appeals to our sense of morality in a way which destabilises dominant (patriarchal) constructs of sex work.

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