Representations of gender and sexuality in The Voice newspaper's 'Conversations from a Combi' cartoon column and readers' Facebook comments

Phili, Chipo (2022) Representations of gender and sexuality in The Voice newspaper's 'Conversations from a Combi' cartoon column and readers' Facebook comments. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Despite the ubiquity of satirical cartoons in newspapers, little scholarly attention has been paid to this genre, especially in Botswana. A literature survey found just one recent study on political cartoons by Akpabio (2021), which comes almost a decade after another one interesting research (Akpabio 2008) on a particularly controversial political cartoon of a female politician in Mmegi newspaper of 28 May 2007. This cartoon attracted significant attention in the media and gender and women organisations but very little academic attention, as besides Akpabio (2008), only one other study Rapoo (2013) was found. By carrying out a relatively large-scale study of non-political cartoons, this study unmasks gender and sexuality ideologies articulated in The Voice cartoon column ‘Conversations from a combi’ and readers’ Facebook posts. Informed by critical discourse studies (Fairclough, 2010), feminist critical discourse analysis (Lazar, 2005) and feminist poststructural discourse analysis (Baxter, 2008), I firstly examine how gender and sexuality are represented in The Voice newspaper’s ‘Conversations from a combi’ cartoon column using a combination of the social actor representation framework (SAR) (van Leeuwen, 2008), systemic functional grammar (SFG) (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014) and social semiotics (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2006). Secondly, I explore how social actors are evaluated in the column by drawing on Martin and White’s appraisal framework (2005), Economou’s (2006, 2009) visual appraisal model and Kress and van Leeuwen’s (2006) social semiotics framework. The third objective is to analyse the readers’ comments on these cartoons using the social actor representation, systemic functional grammar and appraisal analytical methods. Lastly, I identify the ideologies referenced by the cartoon column and audience and explain them in relation to the larger social context of Botswana. The project covers cartoons published in the period 2013-2017. The analysis shows that the column not only represents the interests of men in general but specifically speaks for young, working-class Batswana men. Foreign evangelical men and middle-class men are cast as sexual predators, while young, working-class men are characterised as being lured into sex by immodestly dressed girls. Visual depictions of the abused women and girls also portray them as willing participants rather than victims. Female professionals are identified as women first before they are professionals, e.g. ‘female doctor’. Concerning how social actors are appraised in the column, women, foreign evangelical men and men with political influence mostly attract negative value judgements of propriety and veracity, while working-class men are evaluated for their lack of social and financial power. While men in general are evaluated as competent in their jobs, female professionals are represented as ineffectual. The results for how readers react to the cartoons show that the dominant subject position of the newspaper is adopted for 4 out of the 5 texts analysed for comments. Readers align with the encoded subject positions that denigrate professional women, foreign evangelical men and unskilled men. However, in the case of child sexual abuse, more readers reject the position of the newspaper that blame girls for being raped. The results reveal that the blamevictim frame is questioned and subverted by dehumanising male rapists as dogs. Notably though, in all the five texts, both comments that reject xenophobic and patriarchalheteronormative ideologies and those that affirm them converge in objectifying women and girls as food, animals and vehicles, which reproduces negative stereotypes and perpetuates their subordination. The findings suggest that representations in the cartoon column and the readers’ comments are underpinned by patriarchy and heteronormativity, which intersect with xenophobia, ageism and classism. Interestingly, racist colonial ideologies of black men’s sexuality are drawn on in classist representations of working-class men’s sexuality in readers’ comments. Although resistance is not entirely framed outside patriarchal-heteronormative ideologies, there is evidence that some female readers reject women’s marginalisation by referencing their own educational and professional achievements, suggesting education offers alternative world-views.

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Thesis (PhD)
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18 Nov 2022 09:50
Last Modified:
14 Oct 2023 23:58