The Great Boob Show, The TImes of Swaziland

Date: January 1, 1970
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The yearly traditional reed dance, ?Umhlanga? of Swaziland is viewed as an opportune time to admire the ?attractiveness? of the breasts of the women who participate in the ceremony.
The yearly traditional reed dance, ?Umhlanga? of Swaziland is viewed as an opportune time to admire the ?attractiveness? of the breasts of the women who participate in the ceremony.

This article may be used to:
  • Explores issues of gender and culture and tradition.
  • Provide key learning points on the portrayal of women, language and packaging.

Trainer’s notes

Women are generally portrayed in the media in a limited number of roles. The dominant objectification of women in the media takes the form of sexualized images where women are defined in terms of their physical appearance, rather than their abilities.

The total packaging – text, headline, captions and images – of this story portray women as sex objects. A traditional yearly ceremony is reduced to a piece which concentrates on the physical attributes of the reed dancers, focusing mainly on their breasts.

The news value of the story – that the 2002 ceremony was the largest ever with some 40,000 young women participating – is completely overshadowed in the story by the attention the writer gives to the traditional attire worn by the women which shows off their “breasts and legs” to the crowds attending the ceremony. The writer describes the ceremony as “an event where the girls show off their pride, their beautiful legs, their dancing skills and of course, the breasts”.

There are no sources in the story which is written from a male perspective which stereotypes the role of young girls and women in Swazi society: i.e. to be the physical objects of desire for the sexual pleasure of men. The writer infers that this is the only reason that some young women take part in the ceremony, which not only devalues and dehumanizes the young women, but also the ceremony itself.

 The piece not only stigmatizes the young women, but it also stereotypes culture as being “exotic” and as a source of entertainment for foreigners(there is a reference in the text to the reed dance attracting much attention even among whites, because of the bodies of the young girls being fully on display).

The story is rife with language that concentrates on the physical attributes of the young women. The language throughout the piece objectifies women and stereotypes the young women as having their breasts and their physical bodies as their only valuable assets.

The headline, ‘The Great Boob Show’ is sensational and is based on the false belief by the media that ‘sex sells’. Surrounding the article are two pages of colour photographs which further emphasise ‘sex’ rather than the cultural dimensions to the traditional ceremony. The pictures are of the young women , focusing primarily on their breasts with captions which have overt sexual overtones – eg ‘Feast for sore eyes’; ‘Lovely, lovely’, etc.

Women’s right to be treated with dignity and respect is often violated by the media when it portrays women as sex objects.  This approach also violates the principles of fair, balance and ethical coverage of issues which are principles of the profession.

This article, and its total packaging, clearly illustrates the deep-rooted gender biases and prejudices which journalists, editors and photographers carry into their work.

Training exercises

Exercise one: Read the case study and discuss the following:

  1. What news criteria has been used in this article for women to make news?

  2. Do men make news in the same way? Explain answer.

  3. Who is the target audience for this article?

  4. How are women defined in the text and photographs?

  5. What do the images and text say about the roles of women in society?

  6. What are the effects of images like this on the way women behave?

Exercise two: Go through the case study.
  1. Identify the adjectives and descriptive phrases of women.

  2. Are the adjectives and descriptive phrases used objective and relevant?

  3. Do they convey any biases or stereotypes?

  4. What messages does this language convey?

Exercise three: Study the images, headlines and captions of the case study. Discuss the following:
  1. Do all three convey the same message? Explain answer.

  2.  Is there a gender bias in how the event is portrayed?

  3. Does this story violate women’s dignity? Explain answer.


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