Sex and popular culture
Rereading “A Postcolonial Scene: on Girl’s sexuality”, an essay by Sanya Osha, the celebrated philosopher and scholar of African sexualities recently made me reflect once again on the many ways in which sexuality works as a powerful language in contemporary South Africa. Osha diagnoses that sexuality has become the dominant religion of the world, working as a powerful tool for communicating and categorising who matters and who does not. He also states that its influence over our world is now complete.
In the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the difficulties that surround access to proper and comprehensive treatment, it is not difficult to see how the projection of sexualities of certain kinds lead to treatment of some bodies and the people they belong to, as disposable.
Dominant responses to lesbians and gay men which contradict the rights-based and equitable society of the constitution also clarify how sexualised readings categorise people into those who exhibit ‘proper’ traits and those who need to be brought in line.
There is also the easily recognisable over-sexualisation of advertising where manufactured sexual desire is brought into the service of commodities such as cars, cosmetics and beverages.
However, it is to the use of sexuality and the sexualised young woman’s body that my thought flew on this re-reading of Osha. I refer now specifically to the dominant trends within musical popular culture. No doubt, this phenomenon is particularly striking to me because I am an occasional consumer of kwaito, hip-hop and house, even if my preferences lie at the gender-progressive end of the continuum. There is much fanfare about the abundance of scantily clad women in music videos, whether we mean some rap or kwaito or even house, we seem helpless in the face of this as a global phenomenon.
However, we seldom clarify why such imagery is troubling. Consequently, the likes of Kelly Khumalo easily defends herself against allegations that she is complicit in dangerous women’s objectification by claiming that Zulu maidens traditionally expose as much flesh as women in the contemporary music video. In other words, we have no language or basis to critique such imagery as exploitative because if we do so, we are European-defined.
But is it only the nudity that offends? Are feminist critiques on the same level as rightwing religious objections to the mere exposure of flesh as shameless?
Watching such videos, I am increasingly struck by the specific ways in which heterosexuality and patriarchal values are reinforced. It is true that while the male singer, rapper or DJ usually occupies centre-stage and exhibits lyrical prowess, the women function at the level of accessory. It is the way in which the women’s bodies are cast as well as their hypersexualisation that troubles this feminist.