It is important to recognize how gender is utilized in stories. In two stories, “Slipper Satin” by Alex la Guma and “The Last Bordello” by Manual Rui, women are portrayed as whores. However, this does not necessarily mean that they are helpless. In the story by Rui, one last bordello has survived the war in Luanda, Angola. The war has been exceedingly difficult for the women in the bordello. As prostitutes, they are not given any respect by others in the community. They also depended upon the soldiers to bring them food and supplies. The madam of the house only tolerated the soldiers. She had originally accepted the new clients; however, as stories of their brutality emerged, this changed. She “now tolerated them with a mixture of fear, hatred and resignation” (Rui).
However, this changes. She eventually refuses to serve the soldiers who have brutalized her neighbors. Her “girls” also refuse to serve them. This act of defiance indicates that while the women are not respected, they still choose to be in charge of themselves. Their defiance, however, is done with meekness. They repeatedly state that they cannot offer music and alcohol, nor sex. However, they do it while keeping their eyes diverted. It appears that they are scared; however, by saying no, they show strength. Mana Domingos merely crochets. This is a traditional feminine act through which she shows her strength and power. The meekness does not last though. The women finally tell the men why they are not welcome. They yell at the soldiers that they will not go to bed with murderers. This angers the soldiers, who quickly turn on them. The bordello is destroyed and many of the girls are killed. However, the women did choose to express their rights as women and humans in the story. This is the important message in the story. At the end, Mana Domingos joins the resistance. In this way, she is also working to control her own destiny.
The story “Slipper Satin” also shows a woman who wanted to control her own destiny. She is not allowed to have a relationship with a white man. Her mother insists that she should have loved a “coloured boy.” Myra insists that she could not choose who she fell in love with. However, when she and Tommy were caught together, he immediately killed himself. This was despite his claims that he loved her and wanted to marry her. Myra was sentenced to four months in jail for immorality. Her mother and the entire neighborhood believe that she is nothing more than a whore. She has brought shame and disgrace to her home and her community. They do not hide this from her.
Myra, however, shows strength of character. She refused to follow laws that were the actual source of immorality. She recognized that love was a human trait and it did not matter who she loved. She was obviously not the first one in her family to love a white person. She has “blue eyes that she inherited from the intermarriage of her ancestors generations past” (la Guma). She also holds her head up as she returns to her community. She is not ashamed of what she did. Her sister is also a strong female character. Her sister, Adie, is getting married. Myra does not plan on attending the wedding. Her sister informs her that the fiancé, Joseph, has been taught to listen to Adie, not his family. In this manner, her sister also shows that she does not care what others think.
Myra also shows respect for her sister. While her mother claims that Myra is disrespectful, Myra plans on buying her sister the dress she wants. In this way, Myra is honoring her sister’s marriage and her sister’s independence.