Conference investigates how some masculinities are “vilified” and others “idealised”
A two-day conference focusing on how masculinity is represented and constructed in the South African media will kick off at Stellenbosch University (SU) tomorrow (13 September). The conference, titled Work/Force: South African masculinities in the media, will draw on experts from the Visual Arts, Media Studies, Literature, Sociology, Theology and Gender Studies who will discuss and analyse the manner in which diverse South African masculinities are constructed in the post-apartheid media.
According to conference organiser and senior lecturer in the Visual Arts Department at SU, Dr Stella Viljoen, a wide-ranging political shift, such as the move to democracy in South Africa in the mid-nineties, can bring with it changes in the way a society thinks about itself and ‘images’ itself in the media.
“Almost two decades after the end of apartheid academics and social commentators are coming together to appraise the ways in which certain South African masculinities are vilified whilst others are idealised,” says Viljoen.
She believes it is important to critically engage with the question of how gender is constructed by media entities such as newspapers, film, advertising, art and magazines because they tell us something about how we feel about ourselves as a nation.
“To the extent that the media, in all its diverse manifestations, is a portrait of our collective sense of self, it offers clues as to the areas where we might need to exert a little more effort and the areas where we can pat ourselves on the back. The media often stereotypes and simplifies the very complex nature of gender identity but in doing so sometimes indicates specific problem areas that need critical attention. The scholars coming together for this conference are all interested in how culture, race and class impact on the dominant (and subversive) perceptions portrayed in the media about South African men,” she says.
Central themes within the conference programme include queer culture, masculine femininities and feminine masculinities, religion and masculinity, the question of SA masculinity as pathological or in crisis and the critique of masculinity offered by the Arts. Keynote addresses include a dialogue between Mark Behr (author of the award-winning novel, The Smell of Apples) and Radio 702 DJ and social analyst Eusebius McKaiser (also a leading contributor to the New York Times) on the feminisation of Caster Semenya in the media. The celebrated gender theorist and activist, Kopano Ratele (UNISA), will look at whether feminism is really good for black men while the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Robert Morrell will present a talk on his ground-breaking research on fatherhood and parental love in South Africa.
A number of speakers are addressing The Spear, a damning portrait by Brett Murray of President Jacob Zuma.
“Although there was a lot of fear, threats, loathing and polarisation from The Spear event, the space opened up by the row around Zuma’s exposed genitals actually have had an upside,” explains Ratele.
“Among others, this is evident in that a number of speakers at this conference will be talking about that infamous painting, and that the more recent picture of Zuma’s genitalia have not generated even a fraction of what The Spear brought out. The central role of the media in shaping our discussions and interactions was also clear in what followed the publication of the painting in the press. For me, one of the many questions that I hope to hear answered at the conference is whether it is possible to do and be for art and media that is provocative and challenging, at the same time that you are for culture and new traditions that are against subtle or deliberate racist micro-aggression (and much more often-times misogynistic violence). This is the position I find myself occupying, and one many other South Africa find themselves in.”
Other interesting topics to be discussed include the visualisation of the apartheid military in the media; the media furore around ‘The Gay Kiss’ at SU; Men’s Health magazine; the representation of Afrikaner men in the film, Skoonheid; the role of negative media-driven perceptions of the black men as a contributing factor to high instances of crimes against lesbians (such as ‘corrective rape’); and child support and fatherhood in the South African media.
The conference is hosted by the Visual Arts Department at SU along with the African Cinema Unit and Centre for Film and Media Studies at UCT. It will be held at the Wallenberg Centre at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).
For more information and the full programme, visit www.sun.ac.za/workforce or contact Dr Viljoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 808 9087. Alternatively you can also contact the Marketing Officer of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Ms Lynne Rippenaar-Moses at email@example.com or 021 808 2017.