The policing of women’s bodies needs to stop

Zodwa Wabantu
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

Freedom of expression is an essential human right for all; however it is clear that the Tanzanian government find it acceptable to dictate the terms upon which women should express themselves.

A few days ago, the country’s cyber-crime law was put into effect. The law prohibits the posting half-naked pictures and sexy dance videos online. The government concluded that such acts were immoral and should be censored from children. 

As a result, some Tanzanian celebrities, mostly female, have now been banned from performing and posting content online for several months.

We live in a society that perpetuates a culture that is constantly policing and objectifying women.

From a young age, women are told that it is “inappropriate” to wear clothing that exposes their bodies too much.  We propagate the idea that how women dress is a problem and we need to police them to avoid tempting the male species who presumably have no self-control. 

Policing women is normalised by both men and women and legitimised through state law and policy, educational institutions and in the workplace. Policing women is a form of repression that restrains freedom of expression.

In South Africa, there has been a recent war of words between actress and comedian Celeste Ntuli and entertainer and socialite Zodwa Wabantu. These two have sparked a heated debate about Zodwa’s gyrating antics.

Both entertainers have used their platforms to their fondness. Although Ntuli’s comment about Zodwa feeding into the stereotype that black women use their sexuality to be successful is true, it is unwarranted.

Zodwa is labeled as a ‘tavern stripper’ but she is also an unconventional body positivity activist.

She encourages women to be confident and comfortable with their sexuality regardless of their cellulite, stretch marks and saggy boobs.  She represents a demographic of women in South Africa and the rest of the world.

Celeste is a comedian and an actress in her own right. Some of the jokes she performs could be considered inappropriate, but nobody polices how she chooses to expresses herself or promote her brand. Zodwa’s approach is questionable to many because our reality is that we have not completely embraced the quintessence of freedom of expression. Our idea of freedom is policed and confined to fit a certain criteria and that is not real freedom.

Morality and social conduct is subjective, therefore, it is not equitable to take a holistic approach to individual or group morality. Every individual or group will have their own objections and justification as to why something should be considered acceptable or unacceptable.

Our automatic reaction and justification to morality is the impact and influence it will have on the youth. This is the reasoning Celeste used about Zodwa’s method of entertainment, that she is “sending the wrong message”.

Similarly, it is the same reasoning undertaken by the Tanzanian government. Moral policing stems from intolerance towards women changing social etiquettes and the status quo.

If most celebrities, including Celeste, primarily used their platforms to be role models before showcasing their skills and talents, popular culture would not exist. It is not the prime job of celebrities to be guardians to the youth; their main job is providing entertainment through their talents.  Parents should actively instill their own values upon their children; they should not rely on popular culture to co-parent.

Lerato Moloi is young black female from Soweto. She is a UCT graduate with a Bachelor of Social Sciences: majoring in Political Sciences, International Relations and Industrial Sociology, fashion blogger and the Founder of Silikamva Support Programme.

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