Negative portrayal of women in the media: “Sugar mama strips naked, strolls in yard”

Date: February 29, 2012
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Title of the story: Sugar mama strips naked, strolls in yard

Name of Journalist: Starsky Mkhonta

Name of publication:
Swazi Observer

Date: 4 January 2012


Culture and tradition, gender violence

Skill: sources, perspective, portrayal

Genre: news

GEM classification:
gender blind

Globally, it is “acceptable” for a man to get married to a woman who is younger his age. However, it is perceived as a taboo by many cultures when a woman gets married to or is in relationship with a younger man. They are called various derogatory names a thing which rarely happens to their male counterparts. This media highlight critiques an article published in the Swazi Observer about a woman who wanted to get married to a younger man and she was called a “curse” for not bowing down to cultural demands that were against her wish. But how do the media report on issues of this nature?

The headline ‘Sugar mama strips naked, strolls in yard’ could be misleading and defamatory to the woman. The headline could suggest that the woman went “crazy” and stripped boldly in front of 20 women. Yet, according to the story, the woman was reacting angrily to a traditional marriage arrangement and in the process she stripped off. Critiquing the article wholesomely, it could be argued that the headline was sensationalised deliberately to attract readership.


Firstly, the article is largely reported unattributed. This affects the article’s credibility. Secondly, the reporter only interviewed the father and the son leaving out the woman, Khosi Mbhamali, another core prime source of the issue. Since the issue directly affects Mbhamali, it was important for the journalist to include her voice in the article. Further, the boy’s family accuses Mbhamali of having loose morals and that she preys on younger men. Journalistically, the reporter was supposed to sort Mbhamali’s reactions to these accusations. Failure to include the voice of Mbhamali leaves this story with a lot of unanswered questions ultimately making it less credible and gender blind. And from a human rights perspective, the journalist could have sorted views of an activist to comment on the issue of forced marriages and how it impacts on women’s rights.

From the headline, the article describes Mbhamali as a sugar-mama a term which is completely out of context in as afar as this issue is concerned. A sugar-mama is mostly an elderly woman who entices young men/boys with money and extravagant gifts for sexual favours. However the article has not reported any case in which Sibusiso Simelane, the boyfriend got enticed with gifts or money from Mbhamali for sex. The woman might be older that the boy but linguistically and ethically, it is wrong to call her a sugar-mama. Overall, the language is implicitly prejudiced to demean the woman.

Story angle and perspective
Men’s voices dominate in the article. The voice of the woman, though at the hub of the story is missing throughout the story. This does not only make the story gender imbalance but it makes the article shallow and raises a lot of questions as to why the reporter made no attempt to interview her. The way the story is crafted promotes stereotypical thinking that women, unlike men, are irrational and hysterical beings while men are rational, intelligent and superior – men can ably comment on issues. Furthermore, the story reinforces notions that it is abnormal for old women to be in love with young men yet it is “acceptable” when old men get married to young women.

Though not well written, the article was accorded high prominence and was placed on second page. This placement however raises questions as to whether the article was put on this page because it was of “national interest” or the editor wanted to increase sales with this scandalous story.

Training exercise
– If you were asked to pursue this story, list the sources you could have interviewed and explain the reason for your choice
– Explain why it was necessary to include the voice of Mbhamali in the article?
– Why is it important to always include the views of women in a story particularly on issues that directly affect them?










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