Gender and Language, Vol 14, No 1 (2020)

Projecting masculinities or breaking sociolinguistic norms? The role of women’s representation in students’ profane language use

Grace Diabah
Issued Date: 21 May 2020


This paper explores how students from University of Ghana’s Commonwealth Hall (the only all-male hall of residence) project diverse masculine identities through how they represent women in their use of profanity and other uncouth linguistic forms. Data were collected from recorded profane songs, observations from various case studies of the use of insults and profane expressions and interviews with users of these expressions. The data generally present a picture of sexual and verbal abuse as ‘ideal’ ways of showing male dominance and power over women. These abuses are valued by the students, even though they are not expected practices in Ghanaian society. The paper concludes that although some students claim they use this language ‘just for fun’, disguising it as harmless only makes it easy to explore obsessions without a sense of guilt. If not properly checked, such obsessions may find expression in how women are treated.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £18.00 )

DOI: 10.1558/genl.37943


Adinkrah, Mensah (2012) Better dead than dishonoured: masculinity and male suicidal behaviour in contemporary Ghana. Social Science and Medicine 74: 474–81. ttps://

Adomako Ampofo, Akosua and Boateng, John (2011) Multiple meanings of manhood among boys in Ghana. In Sylvia Tamale (ed.) African Sexualities: A Reader 38–62. Cape Town: Pambaz.

Adomako Ampofo, Akosua, Okyerefo, Michael P. K. and Pervarah, Michael (2009) Phallic competence: fatherhood and the making of men in Ghana. Culture, Society and Masculinities 1: 59–78.

Agyekum, Kofi (2010) Akan Verbal Taboos in the Context of Ethnography of Communication. Accra: Ghana Universities Press.

Asaah, Augustine H. (2006) To speak or not to speak with the whole mouth: textualization of taboo subjects in Europhone African literature. Journal of Black Studies 36(4): 497–514.

Bucholtz, Mary (2007) Variation in transcription. Discourse Studies 9: 784–808.

Chytkova, Zuzana and Kjeldgaard, Dannie (2011) The modern woman myth as a means of cosmopolitan cultural capital accumulation: a gendered acculturation perspective. Research in Consumer Behavior 13: 199–216.

Coates, Jennifer (2003) Men talk. Maldon, MA: Blackwell.

Connell, Raewyn W. (1995) Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Connell, Raewyn W. (2001) Studying men and masculinities. Hiver 29(1): 43–55.

Connell, Raewyn W. and Messerschmidt, James W. (2005) Hegemonic masculinity: rethinking the concept. Gender and Society 19(6): 829–59.

Diabah, Grace (2013) ‘I cannot be blamed for my own assault’: Ghanaian media discourses on the context of blame in Mzbel’s sexual assault. In Lilian Atanga, Sibonile Ellece, Lia Litosseliti and Jane Sunderland (eds) Gender and Language in Sub-Saharan Africa: Tradition, Struggle and Change 275–99. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Diabah, Grace and Amfo, Nana Aba Appiah (2015) Caring supporters or daring usurpers? The representation of women in Akan proverbs. Discourse and Society 26(1): 3–28.

Diabah, Grace and Amfo, Nana Aba Appiah (2018) To dance or not to dance: Masculinities in Akan proverbs and their implications for contemporary societies. Ghana Journal of Linguistics 7(2): 179–98.

Fiaveh, Daniel Y., Izugbara, Chimaraoke O., Okyerefo, Michael P. K., Reysoo, Fenneke and Fayorsey, Clara K. (2015) Constructions of masculinity and femininity and sexual risk negotiation practices among women in urban Ghana. Culture, Health and Sexuality 17: 650–62.

Fordjour, Emmanuel Antwi (2016) Foul language in the Ghanaian electronic media: a case study of some selected radio stations in Kumasi, Ghana. International Conference on Management, Communication and Technology IV(1): 26–32.

Gauthier, Michael and Guille, Adrien (2017) Gender and age differences in swearing: a corpus study of Twitter. In Kristy Beers Fägersten and Karyn Stapleton (eds) Advances in Swearing Research: New Languages and New Contexts 137–57. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Holmes, Janet (2005) Power and discourse at work: is gender relevant? In Michelle M. Lazar (ed.) Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis: Gender, Power and Ideology in Discourse 31-60. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Izugbara, Otutubikey C. (2005) Hypothesis on the origin of hegemonic masculinity. Sexuality in Africa Magazine 2(1): 13–14.

Jay, Timothy and Janschewitz, Kristin (2008) The pragmatics of swearing. Journal of Politeness Research 4(2): 267–88.

Kabaji, Egara (2008) Masculinity and ritual violence: a study of bullfighting among the Luhyia of western Kenya. In Uchendu Egodi (ed.) Masculinities in Contemporary Africa 34–53. Senegal: Imprimerie Saint-Paul.

Kimmel, Michael Scott (2006) Manhood in America: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lazar, Michelle M. (2005) Politicizing gender in discourse: feminist critical discourse analysis as political perspective and praxis. In Michelle M. Lazar (ed.) Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis: Gender, Power and Ideology in Discourse 1–28. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lazar, Michelle M. (2007) Feminist critical discourse analysis: articulating a feminist discourse praxis. Critical Discourse Studies 4: 141–64.

Litosseliti, Lia (2006) Gender and Language: Theory and Practice. London: Hodder Education.

Miescher, Stephan. F. (2005) Making Men in Ghana. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Mills, Sara (1995) Feminist Stylistics. London: Routledge.

Onyango, James Ogola (2009) The masculine discursive construction of rape in the Kenyan press. In Uchendu Egodi (ed.) Masculinities in Contemporary Africa 54–72. Senegal: Imprimerie Saint-Paul.

Owusu, Mary. A. S. and Bosiwah, Lawrence (2015) Constructions of masculinity among the Akan people of Ghana. Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities 1(2): 131–37.

Schippers, Mimi (2007) Recovering the feminine other: masculinity, femininity, and gender hegemony. Theory and Society 36: 85–102.

Spears, Arthur K. (1998) African-American language use: Ideology and so-called obscenity. In Salikoko S. Mufwene, Guy Bailey, John Baugh and John R. Rickford (ed.) African-American English 226–50. New York: Routledge.

Thelwall, Mike (2008) Fk yea I swear: cursing and gender in a corpus of MySpace pages. Corpora, 3(1): 83–107.

Venkatesan, M. and Losco, Jean (1975) Women in magazine ads 1957–71. Journal of Advertising Research 15: 49–54.

Vlach, John M. (1971) Father Bacchus and other Vandals: folklore at the University of Ghana. Western Folklore 30(1): 33–44.

Wasserman, Howard M. (2005) Cheers, profanity, and free speech. Retrieved from

West, Candace, Lazar, Michelle M. and Kramarae, Cheris (1997) Gender in discourse. In Teun A. van Dijk (ed.) Discourse as Social Interaction 119–43. London: Sage.

Whitehead, S. M. and Barrett, J. F. (eds). (2001) The Masculinities Reader. Cambridge: Polity Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy