Eve Ensler was in SA promoting her play ‘I am an emotional creature’, which draws its inspiration from the book of the same name she penned as a plea for women and men to get connected with their ‘girl-selves’.
At an event at the Market Theatre, Ensler spoke emphatically about the poor state of the world: sexual violence, bigotry and war. If true ‘girl’ qualities are treasured, which she notes are intuition, sensitivity, relational capacity, connection, empathy, inclusivity, the capacity to hold doubt and the ability to embrace mystery, less horror and trauma would permeate our human experience.
This brought me to question how much ‘girl’ is considered in our media, especially the portrayal of women across media platforms. Of course, this has been a hotly-contested topic with many journalists and editors actively working towards inclusivity, promoting the ‘real woman’, replete with flaws and traumatic experiences in a country where this is unavoidable.
The truth is, like feminism, while there have been advances, there is much work to be done, with perceptions and so-called desires in need of change.
Award-winning photographer Jodi Bieber had an exhibition entitled ‘Real Beauty’, for which she snapped portraits of South African women of all ages, races and sizes. She said of this: “Even within a complexed society such as South Africa, across all communities, women hold unnecessary perceptions of self-doubt around themselves and their beauty from an early age. (My) work deals with reality and no photoshop has been used to remove blemishes, scars, cellulite and any other form of imperfection.” In the photos Bieber took, the women expressed their fantasies and raw sexuality.
On the murky other side of true female expression and beauty, there lies the fact that one in every three women in SA has experienced some kind of physical or sexual abuse. According toRape Statistics (www.rape.co.za) a girl has a greater chance of being raped than learning to read. The sad reality is that the number of women raped has gone up in the last five years.
Are adverts with a woman’s (perky) breasts and (tight) buttocks being sensitive to this issue? Thanks to this, a girl can’t sashay down the road in a short skirt and lacy top for fear of looking like a slag in need of a good rodgering.
Creative expression becomes restricted purely because of the association between these clothes and sex. The free, confident and strong girl-self slowly dies because she becomes fetishised, commoditised and idealised. She is no longer varied or appreciated for all her flaws, sorrows and imperfections. She must bow to Hollywood narcissism. She believes that only if her stomach was flat then she will be admired, important and loved.
On the 28th of this month, the 1st for Women Insurance Brokers’ Women in the Media Awards take place, with finalists Phylicia Oppelt (The Times), Bieber, Devi Sankaree Govender (Carte Blanche), Michelle van Breda (SARIE) and Michelle Meyjes (MEC Global) vying for the top prize. The need to award and acknowledge powerful women in media, even 17 years into democracy with the substantial drive for ‘women empowerment’ in all facets of life, is still important. Although there is pressure on these women to publish or broadcast “what sells” (as the adage goes – sex sells), most of them are shaking up the establishment, and creating awareness about the really uncomfortable gender issues that SA may be tired of hearing about. Recently, The Times has published details of SA’s first ‘slut walk’ in August, which while raising a few conservative eyebrows, sends a powerful message about abuse and sexuality. In a country where a women fears even reporting a sexual assault case to the police, the role of powerful women editors and journalists continues to be urgent.
Ensler passionately states: “Tell the image makers and magazine sellers and the plastic surgeons that you are not afraid. That what you fear the most is the death of imagination and originality and metaphor and passion. That what you fear is the loss of the freedom of the girl-self.”
PHOTO: Brenda by Jodi Bieber
Beth Shirley currently writes for The Media magazine, themediaonline and MarketingWeb.