South Africa: are women free to wear what they want?

Date: October 18, 2012
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Name of the article : Women should feel free to wear what they want

Name of publication : The Star

Name of journalist : Yvonne Silaule

Date : 31 July, 2012

Country : South Africa

Theme : gender violence, culture and tradition, feminism

Skills : Perspective, sources (secondary)

Genre : Opinion

GEM classification : Gender aware

South Africa’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression which includes the way an individual expresses oneself through dressing. Without setting parameters, the law allows women and men to dress what they feel comfortable in. But despite this legal provision, the country has reported a number of incidents in which women have been sexually harassed for wearing short attire such as miniskirts and short dresses. This media highlight analyses an opinion article in which the writer establishes the reasons why some men sexually harass women who wear miniskirts and short dresses.

The headline is relevant to the article. Considering that the piece is an opinion, the title reflects and expresses the opinion of the writer well.

The article is told from a writer’s point of view. Although the writer does not use other sources, a historical perspective, personal experience and first-hand information regarding the issue substantiate her argument that dressing has nothing to do with street sexual harassment but men’s “power” and “low self-esteem”.
Nevertheless, the writer could have used other secondary sources who share her line of thinking. Doing so would have shown that many people condemn these unruly acts and that women must be allowed to enjoy freedom of dressing just like their male counterparts.

The article uses gender sensitive language except calling sex work prostitution. Prostitution is an offensive and derogatory term. The writer would have used sex work instead.

Story angle/perspective
The article defies a “societal” tendency of accusing women of leading rapists or street sexual harassers on by wearing short attire. The writer uses a red and yellow cards analogy to put to bring to light societal biasness. She argues that women are condemned for getting involved in things that their male counterparts only get a “cautionary yellow card”.
The writer presents two scenarios to prove that women abuse is beyond dressing but power relations and low self-esteem. The writer says that in Zulu culture, women were not being condemned or harassed for wearing ibeshu – attire similar to modern day miniskirts. Similarly, the author writes that some men in Islamist countries continue to rape women and yet women are not allowed to expose their bodies except their faces.

Further, the author faults justice systems in the country for not taking punitive action on street harassers despite having evidence that implicates them. The writer argues that Nwabisa Ngcukana – harassed in 2008 – has not yet gotten the justice she deserves despite the availability of video footage that implicates the perpetrators.

A personal experience that the writer went through also validates her argument that men seem to have the power of defining a dress code for women. She writes that she was once harassed for wearing a miniskirt 13 years ago and that that was the last time she wore one. However, this somehow discourages women to stand firm for their rights.

Placement and positioning
The article is prominent considering the contents of the page on which it is placed. The article is placed alongside the paper’s editorial comment and another commentary piece on top of it. The article, with a headline that almost cuts through the page is visible enough.

Training exercise
– List some of the offensive terms that the media uses when referring to women.
– Explain why journalists should use sex work as opposed to prostitution.

Other training resources
– South Africa: the constitutional right to freedom of expression


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