Upclose and Personal with Gloria Bosman, Sowetan Sunday World

Date: January 1, 1970
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South African vocalist Gloria Bosman tells how she has gained confidence in her professional and personal life.
South African vocalist Gloria Bosman tells how she has gained confidence in her professional and personal life.

This article may be used to:
  • To explore gender stereotypes and gender biased language.
  • To look at how the packaging (total design) of article contributes to gender insensitive/sensitive reporting.
Trainer’s notes

Gender stereotypes

The gender biases and prejudices inherent in journalists, editors, photographers often find their way into editorial content and packaging. These biases and prejudices lead to different portrayals of women and men in the media. When women do appear, they often are depicted in roles such as ‘the good mother’, ‘evil temptress or adulteress,’  ‘victim’, ‘sex object’, as ‘an honorary man’ if she is successful, and so forth.

When women step outside of the traditional gender roles, the media tends to sensationalise their behaviour as deviant or going against the social norm (e.g. in media articles about children dying accidentally in a fire in a hut while the mother is out at a pub, the message conveyed is that there are dire consequences for a mother who steps outside socially defined boundaries)

Pointers on portrayal

Journalists and editors must be trained to write stories and take images which do the following: (these pointers can be written on flip chart or board and each one discussed by asking trainees to cite examples from the media.

  • Portray women in roles, such as leadership positions, that challenge existing stereotypes.

  • Include in articles the voices of women who are usually invisible in the media such as rural women, women with disabilities and women from marginalised ethnic and social groups.

  • Describe women as individuals in their own right, not as, for example, “wife of the minister”, or “mother of three” (unless the woman herself uses these phrases to describe herself).

  • Show women and men co-operating to build a just society, rather than constantly portraying gender relations as a conflict between men and women.

  • Question why women are excluded from certain roles.

The words media practitioners choose can give a value judgment about a situation or a person. Journalists have to be exceptionally careful that ‘unannounced comment’ does not enter into news, news analysis or feature stories through language. Language is not neutral. It can promote stigma, stereotypes and discrimination against individuals or a group. The media often uses different language for women and for men in editorial content due to the gender biases and prejudices journalists, sub-editors, editors hold.

Journalists, editors, sub-editors must be trained to be aware of the power of language and the subtle and blatant messages that are conveyed to readers by the words. The Bosman article will make the trainees aware of :

  • Sexist language

  • Judgmental language

  • Language that stereotypes women and men according to traditional gender roles

  • Inappropriate language that  trivalises serious issues.
Packaging the article

It is not enough to get the text gender sensitive and then couple this with a sexist headline, misleading photographs and inappropriate captions which re-enforce gender inequalities or stereotypes. The entire package coveys a message to the readers. The visual images in the media communicate in the same way that words do. Using what is ‘sexy’ and ‘looks good’ to sell newspapers, often goes against the ethical grain of what the media purports to do.

Training exercises

Exercise one: Discuss the following questions:

  1. Women speaking. Are they represented in a way that allows them to speak with dignity and authority?

  2. Gender roles: Are traditional gender roles reinforced – for example in relation to portrayal of family life or occupation outside the home – or avoided?

  3. Superwoman stereotype. Are active, independent women represented as if they are ‘superwomen’?

  4. Natural woman stereotype. Does media content reinforce the stereotype of women as innately docile, emotional, non-analytical, technically, inept, etc?

  5. Sex-object stereotype. Are women represented primarily as objects of male desire in the media?

  6. The beauty myth. What physical attributes apply to males and females in the media – for example in relation to age, body weight, skin tone, clothes?
Exercise two: Read the case study and discuss:
  1. Whether the profile (article and pictures) place Bosman in any of the six stereotypes discussed earlier?

  2. List the stereotypes identified in the Bosman profile.  

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