Tackling stereotypes in the media

Tackling stereotypes in the media

Date: October 14, 2010
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News media in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have come under scrutiny from gender activists attending the fourth Gender and Media Summit and Awards in Johannesburg about how women are portrayed in local news in the region.

Trained volunteers from women’s rights organisations, media professional associations, and universities monitored the representation of women and men in local news in the 2010 Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS).

The findings noted that women are still more valued for their looks than their intelligence. Older women are almost completely missing from news stories and the only occupational categories where women are interviewed more than men are sex work, homemakers and beauty contestant/fashion model.

Loga Virahsawmy, a gender activist from Mauritius and the chair of Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA), gave a Summit keynote address calling on participants to take up complaints when they see women portrayed in stereotypical or sexist ways.

“It’s about time to stop using women as objects and commodities as if women are to be sold as goods in markets,” she said.

Virahsawmy told how she has successfully had several sexist advertisements removed from the streets of Mauritius after she complained to authorities and media organisations. However, she noted that stereotypical, sexist portrayals of women and men are still problematic throughout the region.

Mariagoreth Charles, a 3rd year student at School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Univerisity of Dar Es Salaam, said “With youth and beauty, the working woman is visible, but insecure, made to feel her qualities are not unique. But, without them, she is invisible; she falls literally out of the picture.”

She said not only women, but all people are constantly pigeonholed into categories within the media; however women bear the blunt of prejudice and discrimination.

“The idea of categorising people has been conditioned into the public mind so that ideas such as ‘all blondes are ditzy’ or ‘all red heads are not only angry but a whole different species’ exist,” she emphasised.

Arthur Okwemba, a freelance journalist and gender activist from Kenya said divisions are everywhere and it is these divisions that are used by corporations to sell their products through the media.

“Every individual female has been categorised into a select few genres within modern media,” he said.

He said there is the ‘superwoman…mother, wife and career driven’, the ‘femme fatale…sex kitten’, the ‘nasty corporate climber’.

He said all of these things dictate how a woman behaves or how a woman is supposed to behave according to the media’s standard.

According to Okwemba, the media places emphasis on age and beauty, and anything portraying women’s bodies.

“This puts across the idea that women are meat or objects to be looked at, not individual people,” he said.

For her part, Shau Mudekunye, an intern with Gender Links in Johannesburg said females in television are supposed to be young and pretty to be allowed on screen, when compared with males the standard is different.

She said older male presenters are praised for their maturity; however this is not the case with older women.

Females in television are expected to be either young or still look as if they are young; age, which is a part of life, is portrayed as a demon.

“It’s time we changed these stereotypes!” she said.



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