Local FM stations dumbing down, sexing up the national conversation

Socialite Vera Sidika. "Women fought the battle for equality because they did not want to be reduced to their genitals and mammary glands. However, today, it is women like Vera Sidika and Kim Kardashian who encourage women to self-mutilate," Rasna Warah. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • In Kenya, some female news anchors and TV hosts act as if they are on a catwalk, with each competing with the other to show off their cleavages and legs.
  • Women who object to the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies are described as prudish and out of sync with the demands of a modern individualistic society.
  • The practice of female circumcision is similarly carried out by women in many African societies, notably in Somalia and Egypt, where more 90 per cent of women have undergone the procedure, often under unhygienic conditions without any anaesthetic.

When the airwaves were liberalised in the mid-1990s, I feared that the plethora of vernacular radio stations could lead to increasing ethnic chauvinism in Kenyan society.

I felt that Kenya was too fragmented ethnically and that irresponsible radio journalism combined with ethnocentrism could ignite ethnic conflicts and reinforce stereotypes.

My fears were confirmed a decade later, when some vernacular radio stations were accused of inciting ethnic-based violence before the 2007 elections
However, now I believe that it is not the ethnocentricism of local vernacular radio stations that we should be worried about, but the blatant sexism and dumbing down of content in the English-language stations.

Let me explain. The other day when I was stuck in Nairobi’s legendary traffic, the driver of the taxi I was using tuned into one of the more popular local English-language FM stations.

I liked his choice – it is one of the stations I tune into myself when I am driving.

SEX TALK

However, the conversation between the hosts of the station at 7.30 in the morning was truly alarming. There was talk of extra-marital affairs, mpango wa kandos, seduction tips, and the like.

At one stage, the conversation got so graphic that the taxi driver switched the dial to another station out of sheer embarrassment.

Unfortunately, the station he tuned into was equally lewd and so he spent the better part of our ride just switching from one FM station to another.

I thought of all the parents who have to endure such conversations while driving their children to school – conversations that are best left for after 9 pm.

That morning, this newspaper had reported that several children in Busia had become paralysed due to maladministration of injections.

There was also a ground-breaking story of images of the planet Pluto being seen for the first time. But one would not know any of this by listening to local FM stations. The talk was all about sex.

But then maybe this is the reality of a post-feminist, neoliberal world. The commodification of sex and women has gained a new impetus in this new money-worshipping society. Anyone is game.

SOFT-PORN SHOWS

In Kenya, some female news anchors and TV hosts act as if they are on a catwalk, with each competing with the other to show off their cleavages and legs.

This sexing up of presenters and dumbing down of news have turned some news bulletins into soft-porn shows.

Women’s breasts, buttocks and legs are on sale to the highest bidder, with the bidding being done by none other than the women themselves. Women who object to the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies are described as prudish and out of sync with the demands of a modern individualistic society.

This “oppression of the self” is by no means a new phenomenon. In ancient upper-class Chinese society, mothers would bind their daughters’ feet for years in order to achieve an ideal of female beauty that included stunted feet that looked like hooks. Girls with bound feet were considered more marriageable, presumably because they would not be able to “run around” (i.e. be unfaithful to their husbands).

SELF-MUTILATION OF WOMEN

The practice of female circumcision is similarly carried out by women in many African societies, notably in Somalia and Egypt, where more 90 per cent of women have undergone the procedure, often under unhygienic conditions without any anaesthetic.

Women fought the battle for equality because they did not want to be reduced to their genitals and mammary glands. However, today, it is women like Vera Sidika and Kim Kardashian who encourage women to self-mutilate. All these women are in the service of patriarchy – they are essential cogs in the wheels of institutionalised sexism. They reinforce every stereotype of women, and ensure that women remain the agents of their own oppression.

At any other time in our history, “celebrities” like Kim and Vera would have been the objects of pity. They would have elicited the same sympathy one feels for a poor woman who is forced to sell her body or women who are coerced by pornographers to perform sex acts with strangers. Today, girls all over the world want to be just like Kim and Vera – porn stars, but without the label.

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