Soap Operas and Human Rights in Africa: African Feminist and Human Rights Perspective on the Representation of Black Women in the Media

  • Reshoketswe Mapokgole
Part of the Arts, Research, Innovation and Society book series (ARIS)


Negative depictions of women in television shows contribute to the widespread cultural stereotyping of women. This chapter questions how black women are represented in SABC television shows—Skeem Saam on SABC 1, Muvhango SABC 2 and Isidingo on SABC 3. The chapter uses content analysis and the Bechdel test, along with African feminist theory as tools to examine black women’s representations. This chapter argues that how black women are showcased fails to meet the obligations set out in the Convention on the Elimination of Discriminataion Against Women (CEDAW) and Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Women’s Protocol). Additionally as African feminist theory illustrates, the raceless and often a historical depiction of black women on these shows renders them invisible. The goal of this chapter is to add to the growing epistemology of African feminism and representations of black women in the media.


African feminist theory Bechdel test Intersectionality Black women Television shows Soap Operas 


  1. Armstrong S (1994) Rape in South Africa: an invisible part of apartheid’s legacy. Focus Gend 2(2):35–39Google Scholar
  2. Baiada C (2008) On women, bodies, and nation: feminist critique and revision in Zoe Wicomb’s David story. Afr Stud 67(1):33–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bechdel A (1986) Dykes to watch out for. Firebrand Books, Ithaca, NYGoogle Scholar
  4. Bennett A (2018) How the bold type finally started to address Kat’s blackness, one step at a time. Buzzfeed.News. Accessed 12 June 2018
  5. Booysen LA, Nkomo SM (2010) Gender stereotypes and requisite management characteristic. The case of South Africa. Gender Manag Int J 25:285–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boswell B (2010) Black South African women writers, narrating the self, narrating the nation. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Maryland, College ParkGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown K (2018) Where’s the happily ever after for black women. Bazaar. Accessed 9 Mar 2018
  8. Butler J (2000) In: Butler J, Laclau E, Zizek S (eds) Contingency, hegemony, universality - contemporary dialogues on the left. Verso, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. CEDAW Committee (2009) United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women ‘Concluding observation of the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women. Germany’ 43rd session (19 January – 6 February 2009), CEDAW/C/DEU/C0/6, para 27 – para 28Google Scholar
  10. CEDAW Committee (2011) United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women ‘Concluding observation of the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women. South Africa’ 48th session (17 January – 4 February 2011) CEDAW/C/ZAF/C0/4, para 20Google Scholar
  11. Chiloane M (2016) Gender stereotyping in SA deepening- Study EWN. Accessed 10 October 2018
  12. Collins PH (2000) Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Crenshaw K (1989) Demarginalising the intersection of race and sex. A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. Univ Chicago Legal Forum 140:139–167Google Scholar
  14. Davis SN (2013) Gender differences in the influence of television on gender ideology. TV hours and attitudes towards mothers. Int Rev Modern Sociol 39:205–223Google Scholar
  15. Ellis S (2016) Why the Bechdel test doesn’t always work. The Guardian. Accessed 20 Aug 2016
  16. Eze C (2006) African feminism. Resistance and resentment. Quest Afr J Philos 20:97–117Google Scholar
  17. Gqola P (2001) Blackwomen, feminisms and postcoloniality in Africa. Agenda 16(50):11–22Google Scholar
  18. Griffiths K (2017) The bold type won’t talk about Kat’s race and that’s unacceptable. Bustle. Accessed 22 Aug 2017
  19. Guibourg C (2018) Oscars 2018: Female led Oscar films more profitable. BBC. Accessed 1 Mar 2018
  20. hooks b (2004) Understanding patriarchy. Imagine no boarders 2Google Scholar
  21. hooks b (2009) Reel to real: race, sex and class at the movies. Routledge Classics, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. hooks b (2012) Outlaw culture: resisting representation. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Ibinga SS (2007) The representations of women in the works of three South African novelist of the transition. Unpublished PhDGoogle Scholar
  24. Ives S (2008) Visual methodologies through a feminist lens - South Africa’s soap operas and the post apartheid nation. GeoJ 74:245–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ives SF (2009) Visual methodologies through a feminist lens: South African soap operas and the post-apartheid nation. GeoJournal 74(3):245–255Google Scholar
  26. Jhally S, Lewis JM (1992) Enlightened racism: the Cosby show, audiences and the myth of the American dream. Westview Press, Boulder, COGoogle Scholar
  27. Lorde A (1984) Sister outsider: essays and speeches. Crown Publishing, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Lugones M (2008) The coloniality of gender. Worlds Knowledges Otherwise 2:1–17Google Scholar
  29. Mail & Guardian (2014) Blackface students suspended from residences. Accessed 9 Aug 2018
  30. McKane J (2018) The most-watched TV shows in South Africa. My Broadband. Accessed 19 May 2018
  31. Mdoda, A Real talk with Anele (2015) Pull her down syndrome SABC 3 25 April 2015 Accessed 13 October 2018
  32. Mekgwe P (2006) The colonial question. In: Osha S (ed) The African Philosophy Journal: Special Issue on African Feminisms 16 Vol 20Google Scholar
  33. Moloswanke S (1996) Black women’s participation in politics in South Africa: a study of perceptions of a group of decision makers in the government of the North West province. Unpublished PhD thesis, Brandeis University, p 66Google Scholar
  34. Motsemme N (2004) The meanings in silence. Rhodes Journalism Rev 24:4–5Google Scholar
  35. Ndebele N (1986) Rediscovery of the ordinary: some new writings in Southern Africa. J South Afr Stud 12:143–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nolde J (1991) South African women under apartheid: Employment rights with particular focus on domestic service and forms of resistance to promote change. Third World Legal Stud 10:208Google Scholar
  37. O’Meara J (2016) What “The Bechdel Test” doesn’t tell us: examining women’s verbal and vocal (dis)empowerment in cinema. Fem. Media Stud. 16(6):1120–1123Google Scholar
  38. Petermon JD (2014) Hyper(in)visibility: reading race and representation in the neoliberal era. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  39. Petersen KH (1999) First things first. Problems of a feminist approach to African literature. In: Ashcroft B et al (eds) The post-colonial reader. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. Pozner JL (2010) Reality bites back. Seal Press, Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  41. Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2005) Adopted by the 2nd ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union, Maputo, CAB/LEG/66.6Google Scholar
  42. Selisker S (2015) The Bechdel Test and the Social Form of Character Networks. New Literary History 46(3):505–523Google Scholar
  43. Tshabalala-Msimang and Another v Makhanya and Others (2008) 6 SA 102 (W) para 35Google Scholar
  44. Vourlias C (2018) For black women in South African film biz, equality is still a struggle. Variety. Accessed 21 July 2018
  45. Wilkinson D, Birmingham P (2003) Using research instruments. A guide for researchers. Routledge Falmer, LondonGoogle Scholar
  46. Woolf V (1929) A room of one’s own. Hogarth PressGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reshoketswe Mapokgole
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Law, Centre for Human RightsUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations