Sexism and Gender Roles: A Case for Women’s Dignity

Mail & Guardian’s headline for Gerry Elsdon’s suspension reads: ‘The South African Red Cross's governing board has suspended former beauty queen and TV personality Gerry Elsdon with immediate effect’. Elsdon is not simply a pretty face but the chief executive officer of Cinnamon Communication as well as the tuberculosis goodwill Ambassador for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, among other things. However, the Mail & Guardian even though the article is about her suspension, fails to focus on her achievements and contributions. Why did the author choose to focus on her beauty instead of her reported suspension?
 
It is alarming that the media continues to enable pre-conceived notions of what the specific roles for men and women should be in society, whereas women have and are just as capable of occupying same positions as men.  
 
Similarly, an Indian advertising agency, JWT, published a Ford Figo advertisement on the Internet with the aim of portraying how spacious the car’s boot is. The agency utilised an image of three women dressed in skimpy clothing gagged and tied up with former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berluscon, in the driver seat. The advertisement appeared with the caption ‘Leave All Your Worries Behind with the Figo’s X-Large Boot’. This advertisement was viewed as being sexist and offensive by gender activists.
 
The advertisement undermines the attempts made by India to tackle the recent bursts of violence of women as well as the new country’s law against this form of violence, particularly following an incident in which a student was raped in bus in that country. Not only does the advertisement endorse the rape culture in a way it has portrayed the women, but it also makes women to be identified by their bodies, appearance and how they can be controlled through being tied up, gagged and shoved in a boot. 
 
My view is that discrimination and negative stereotypes against women will never end in South Africa for as long the media continues to be gender-blind. Sexist comments may be subliminal - especially when a journalist is gender illiterate – as is evident in the Elsdon’s article. As for the Ford advertisement the intention was to portray women in negative way in order to promote a brand.

  -  Mashadi Letwaba (intern@sangonet.org.za) is an intern at SANGONeT.

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