Recently I commented about how the Times Sunday denigrated women and encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace.
A reader has pointed out that this kind of attitude to women is nothing new in the Swazi press. Each week there are ‘pin up’ photographs of women wearing next to no clothes (The Weekend Observer and Swazi News are the main offenders here).
Then there are the items in the Times Sunday ‘Style’ section which report on dance clubs and such like which make young women look like empty heads who have nothing on their minds but sex.
There was a particularly nasty example of this a few months ago. The Times Sunday (31 December 2006) had a front page picture of two young women with their arms around each others neck and appearing to kiss one another with the headline ‘It’s not in our constitution, but … Sisters do it on their own’. There was then a ‘taster’ headline directing readers to a further four pictures on page 3, which included the two women on a crowded dance floor of a nightclub in Pigg’s Peak.
The four pictures were similar to one another and they show the women engaged in what the newspaper terms ‘French kissing’.
One picture caption sums up the paper’s mood, ‘They just could not resist each other and revellers did not bother them while at it.’
Not only were the pictures unethical because they treated the women as sex objects to titillate men, but they also invaded the privacy of two totally innocent young women who were in a public place enjoying themselves. The newspapers, against the Swaziland National Association of Journalists’ own Code of Ethics, violated their privacy. Article five states quite clearly that journalists should respect the right of the individual’s privacy and human dignity.
A report that accompanies the pictures further intrudes into the women’s privacy. We are told the women were seemingly together with a couple of boyfriends whom they were regularly seen dancing with and even had a meal together. The report then recounts that the two women got on the dance floor and started and continued kissing ‘with French kissing that could easily make it into the Guinness World Book of Records as the longest same sex kiss inside a packed club.’
Revellers went on to enjoy the show while the two remained stuck on each others’ lips.
No attempt was made by the photographer to talk to the women and there is no obvious reason why this is a news story worthy of the front page except that it is titillating to male readers.
This is nothing new in the media where women's bodies are used to attract the attention of men and to sell products. The pictures and accompanying story in the Times Sunday show two women being offered to the reader as objects to be leered over.
The problem is that we have become so used to seeing women treated in this way that it is considered ‘normal’. How can we be surprised by this in a kingdom in which the Miss Swaziland beauty contest is seen as an important cultural event?
Generally, the media use women’s bodies to try to make profit. The assumption is that having pictures of sexually attractive women sells newspapers. Advertisers also use images of ‘attractive’ women to sell their products.
They may be on the wrong track, however. The Gender and Media Audience Study, published by Gender Links, which surveyed people in Swaziland about what they liked in the news, found that the vast majority of both men and women interviewed said they find sexual images of women in the news either ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘insulting’. Only a tiny proportion of women and men said they are encouraged to buy the newspaper or watch the news as a result of such images.
As the study states, ‘The gap between media decision makers and consumers should be pause for thought.’