Branded WomenOne of my daily indulgences is to go through the news every evening before I sleep. I like the sense of ease that I have at the end of it all (work, assignments, meetings, engagements, phone calls) to take some time for myself and delve into the day’s news scourging for any delectable news that I had missed in my morning media rummage. Today my indulgence was disrupted by a piece that evoked such emotions in me that I have come back to my blog which I had sworn off indefinitely.

 

Going through taday’s (Sunday 31st of March 2014) NewsDay I came across a piece by Ropafadzo Mapimhidze titled ‘Don’t force prostitutes into repentance’. In it, the she bemoans the practice in ‘churches’ (in quotes as non are named and so any and all religious gatherings are suspect here) of taking in former sex workers as this (in her opinion) can have disastrous consequences. I have no issues with her advice to church leaders as that is a matter of her convictions but I would like to raise a fuss about the manner in which her subject matter is depicted throughout the piece.

 Firstly, the level of ‘othering’ in the piece is appalling!

The terms ‘these women’, ‘them’, ‘these people’ appear so many times that it leaves one with the feeling that sex workers are some sort of contagion that needs to be dealt with at arm’s length hence the need for the author’s incessant need to demarcate a ‘them’ and her. The lack of empathy in this piece plays into the idea that sex workers are deviants from the social norm that deserve to be social outcasts.

The piece also makes a reductive assumption about the reasons that lead people (not just women) into sex work. What really got me flustered was the statement that people choose sex work because they are too lazy to do anything else or that they can be ‘industrious’ once they have left the trade…..oh my word, what a load bull! This idea begs the question whether this opinion piece is written in Zimbabwe, a country that has undergone over 12 years of economic downturn. A country which has millions of citizens splashed across the globe, many with no official documentation for work in those places. Is this written in a country were only about 3 out of every 10 people are formally employed? While there are many reasons why people get into sex work, laziness is certainly an insignificant if not non-existent cause. It sounds to me like a very unsympathetic, bourgeois, white-collar thing to say. I get that it’s an opinion piece but a little balance would have gone a long way.

I left business school a long, long time ago but what little of market theory I managed to absorb was that the market is kept alive by the interactions of supply and demand. This for me is  a gaping oversight of the opinion piece. It brandishes women in all sorts of derogatory terms, warning church leaders to beware and yet negating  reference to the clientèle they serve some of which are seasoned church members. Once again we are led to believe that sex workers are the deviant ‘out-there’ while their clients lead socially acceptable lives and are no cause for religious caveat. This depiction plays into the very gendered net that many feminist journalists have dedicated careers to changing.

The branding of female sex workers as wild, problematic, dishonest, rude persons who need to be tamed and made socially acceptable by religious institutions leaves one wondering if the women referred to in this piece engage in sex transfers by themselves.

The piece then gives advice to church leaders to be ‘cautious’ when dealing with sex workers, as they have no to reputation to protect and so are prone to lying! Gosh! This for me is just loaded. It assumes that honesty is a vain tool used to protect one’s sense of identity and social standing. What happened to being honest for honesty’s sake. I don’t know which world the author lives in but in this world the tendency to lie is a vice common to all humanity whether there is a reputation to protect or not.

I really don’t know who was meant to benefit from this opinion column; I am not sure that it was deliberately written as a shame piece but its result is a demotion of the status of women as they are depicted in the media. It makes a salient assumption that sex workers are social deviants and unworthy of protection in the media. I wonder what sought of conversations will be sparked by this opinion piece: will it be conversations on the need for reflexivity in the way that churches receive sex workers; will it be the problems of a society that is failing to provide opportunities for safe and gainful employment or will it be condemnation for the lying, rude, un-industrious women.

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