We Want Sex, Times of Swaziland


Date: January 1, 1970
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Male refugees detained at a correctional institution protest against the separate quarters and demand to be with their spouses.
Male refugees detained at a correctional institution protest against the separate quarters and demand to be with their spouses.

This article may be used to:
  • Illustrate male gender stereotyping in the media.

Trainer’s notes

This story illustrates two important points on gender in the media:

  • It is not only women who are portrayed in a limited number of roles and stereotyped in the media. Gender stereotyping is as problematic for men as it is for women.
     

  • The gender biases of the media are often conveyed in the packaging of a story. Misleading headlines, captions and images often reflect strong gender prejudices and reinforce stereotypes. In many of these cases, the packaging also is incongruent to the main focus of the story.
The case study ‘We Want Sex’ portrays male refugees as individuals who are unable to control their sexual needs. This reinforces the gender stereotype that the ‘sex drive’ is a crucial part of the male identity, and that men are not men if they do not have sex a lot.

It also is important to note is that the story depicts a vulnerable group, refugees, in a negative light. The male refugees’ demands to be with their wives is sensationalized through the language used in a way that reflects their request as being ‘out of the ordinary’, or as ‘deviant behaviour’.  They are described, for example, as “violent and sexually starved”; “men who constantly scream and bang doors” demanding to be with their wives; and “sexually starving refugees”.

Key point: People who are not in positions of power or formal authority are often propelled onto the media’s agenda by using negative news criteria to highlight their lives. This tendency reflects not only the media’s gender biases, but also class biases inherent in the media.

The packaging of this story raises some ethical issues and concerns. Before reading the article, the headline, caption and image convey that the story is about women who want sex, or that the story is about sex workers. Stories on sex workers are often veiled in a tone of sarcasm, jest and humour with no regard for the dignity of the person.

By imaging the face of the story as that of a woman, the media sets up a prevailing characterization of women (as sex workers) to draw the reader to a story, which in this case, is about men. This illustrates how the media does not treat women and men subjects equally. While the men are portrayed negatively in the story, the headline, caption and imagine convey a strong message that the media believes that stories about sex always have to involve or be about women.

The story also lacks context, and has only one named source ( the Commissioner for Refugees who is a woman). Information also is incomplete and not well developed, leaving gaps in the reporting. For example, it is not clear if the demand to be with their wives is the only reason for the strike action by the male refugees. The reader also is not told why the refugees are held at correctional institutions.

The sourcing in this story also is unprofessional. The reporter tells the story through the voices of the warders. But none are named; they are sourced in the plural(warders said) as if they all gave the same view which is not substantiated in any way in the story; and no other officials within the correctional services, as well as the women refugees, are interviewed.

This story illustrates how the media is a powerful conduit of gender and class biases, and of how it can perpetuate stigma against certain groups within a society.

Training exercises

Exercise one: Read the case study, ‘We Want Sex’. Discuss the following:

  1. Who is being written about in this story, men or women?
     

  2. Why is the image accompanying the story misleading? What message is conveyed by the headline and image only?
     

  3. Is the use of this image with the story ethical? Explain your answer.
     

  4. Does the headline convey the story or a stereotype?
     

  5. How are men portrayed in the story?
     

  6. What gender stereotypes are reinforced?
     

  7. In addition to gender, what other bias is reflected in this story?
     

  8. Is there news value in this story? Explain your answer.
     

Exercise two: Underline the language within the story which is sensational and which perpetuates stereotypes. Discuss the following:
  1. How is the language used degrading and dehumanising to the subjects of the story?
     

  2. Do you think the language paints a realistic picture of the situation? Explain answer.
     

  3. What is dignity and fair play sacrificed for by the language used?


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