Miniskirts banned, The Chronicle

Date: January 1, 1970
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The Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture issues a circular which bans female teachers from wearing mini-skirts and mandates that male teachers should wear ties in winter
The Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture issues a circular which bans female teachers from wearing mini-skirts and mandates that male teachers should wear ties in winter

This article may be used to:
  • Highlight gender and religious stereotypes of women and men in the media.
  • Explores the missing issues in the story

Trainer’s Notes

Gender stereotypes/portrayal

This story, which is told through the voice of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture(a man) and a circular from the ministry, perpetuates the stereotype of women as ‘temptress of men’, and in this case, their young pupils.

The circular also indicates that women, unlike men, do not have the right to dress as they please, because not only is it tempting to men, “ … women were expected to wear decent clothing which did not offend communities they worked in”.

The ministry’s circular says women should not wear any “…dressing that conflicts with cultural norms and values…”

The dress code serves as a tool to keep women within the stereotype that a woman must be ‘pure and chaste’, and she must be ‘clothed in a pure and chaste’ manner. Note the permanent secretary’s comment that “women should be proud of their bodies and cover them”. The central message given in this story is that women do not have control over their own bodies, not only in terms of reproductive choices, but in what they decide to wear.

While the circular does issue a dress code for men, it is heavily tilted towards women.

Men, and male pupils, are stereotyped in the article as ‘unable to control their sexual urges’. The circular gives the impression that men and male students only have one thing on their minds: sex.

The story de-values women’s professional role as teachers and reduces them to mere sex objects.

Depth of coverage – missing issues

The journalist does not challenge through other voices—the voices of female teachers, male teachers, parents, students, teachers organizations, civil society etc – the discrimination against women, and Rastafarians inherent in the article.

The human rights perspective is not explored, nor does the story question the value of the ministry focusing on the issue of dress as opposed to professional standards and whether students are being taught well.

There also is no background or context to why the circular was issue- have teachers been attacked in schools because of their attire?; Have there been complaints from parents?, etc. And, the story fails to highlight the fact that a number of women in cities in Zimbabwe have been attacked by men and undressed in public for wearing miniskirts or clothing deemed ‘inappropriate’. Is there a link between these incidences and the ministry’s circular?

Training exercises: 
Exercise one: Gender stereotypes
Refer to the article do the following exercise:
  1. List all the stereotypes found which pertain to women.

  2. List all the stereotypes that pertain to men.

  3. Share your findings with the rest of the group.

  4. Looking at the stereotypes found, what gender biases are inherent in the story?

  5. What religious biases come through?

  6. Who is the source of the story?

  7. What sources are missing?

Exercise two: Portrayal

  1. What is the image of female teachers in the story? Use examples of the language used in the circular to illustrate the image of female teachers that emerges in the story.

  2. What is the image of male teachers?

  3. The dress code announced is directed more at whom? Males or females? Why?

  4. What social and cultural norms influence the dress code directive?

  5. What messages are conveyed in this story about female teachers?

Exercise three: Depth of coverage – missing issues
  1. What background is missing in this story to explain why the ministry has issued a dress code for women and men?

  2. What are the human rights dimensions to this story?

  3. Are there undertones of gender violence? Explain.

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