I have always enjoyed listening to the radio, especially Amharic radio. I find the storytelling, discussions and overall delivery of information to be very interesting. I grew up listening to “ትረካ”, a book reading session on radio, possibly the beginning of what we know as audiobooks today. They used to read iconic Ethiopian novels for months on end.
While listening to ትረካ I always wondered why the voice reading is always a male voice. They would always make an effort to make female characters sound as such whenever they come up in the stories, but it has always left me wondering why I have never heard a female voice doing ትረካ.
I still listen to the radio religiously. In fact, I was listening to the radio while driving around and the topic of the show was a very interesting one. They were talking about the movie industry in Ethiopia and the female characters. If you have seen at least three Ethiopian films, you will find that the leading female character is someone who is selfish, loves money and is willing to do anything to get money or very weak willed and filled with emotional outburst, mainly crying. Why is that case?
There was a debate of whether this is a representation of how women in Ethiopia are or if it is bad writing. As the public was calling in to give their opinion on this topic, I was thinking about the impact television has on society. With a large number of private TV channels coming into the market, I keep wondering about how this will affect how our society evolves. After only being available since March, Kana TV channel has completely disrupted the market and made its mark on Ethiopians. Many people swear by it and the soap series on it.
I have been reading and hearing stories about the impact this channel has had on people, relationships and so much more. However, what I find interesting is that the shows that are on that channel also have female characters that very much resemble those on Ethiopian films. There is simplicity of the female characters; they are either very emotional and “weak” or strong and “mean”. This is clearly not something that is just happening in Ethiopian films.
So is this a case of art imitating life or art responding to the market? It is extremely difficult if not impossible to categorize the kind of women that exist in this world, and truth be told it would be very one-dimensional. Nonetheless, it is important to consider why this is the case. Could it perhaps be a reflection of how the society sees women?
I find it sad that there are no films or novels that I can think of that have a strong female character that is strong, emotional, has goals, ambitions and so much more. It is very difficult for me to understand that with all the women who have played such an important role in Ethiopia’s history and present, finding such characters in books or scripts is something that is hard to find. We are not only doing a disservice to them, but a disservice to the young women who are growing up watching these stories. I hope we will see a new generation of writers tell a more complex story.