Archive | May, 2013

Radio Times

27 May

Recently, I’ve been whining a little about sexism in South African radio advertising. Okay, a lot. Many people have spoken out in agreement, many have shrugged their shoulders, some have called me a tedious obsessed feminist, some have tried to “explain” to me how advertising works. In particular, numerous people said to me “you might not be the target audience for that particular advert”.

I will happily embrace this notion. But I am not complaining about a single advert. I am complaining about an across the board stance as to how women feature – or, more to the point, don’t feature – in our radio advertising. Which brings us to that other gorgeous argument that was raised against me “the advertising is only sexist because society is”.

Ah, what a poetic defence. We’re bigoted because you are, society. We would love to be changing things up, really we would, but our hands are tied.

I call bullshit.

And why do I care, you may ask? I care because advertising – along with all aspects of media – shapes our cultural perspectives on the world. I care because my children listen to these radio stations – not just my children, but children in general, the children who will one day be running this country. And goshdarnit if we’re not jamming their heads full of our sexist notions.

But don’t just take my word for it – I decided it was time to back up my whining with some facts. And so today I sacrificed myself for the greater good, and I have been listening to the radio since 9:30am. I listened to 5fm for two hours, to Metro fm for 2 hours, and to Kfm for two hours each. And every time an advert came on, I made notes. Now, as tempting as it was, I didn’t note whether adverts are sexist or not, because that was liable to lead to arguments about objectivity. No, I went for something much simpler. I noted how many male voices I heard and how many female voices I heard.


Yup. 71 male voices, 16 female voices. Or, if you prefer it, 82% male voices – this percentage stayed fairly constant throughout the day, and I’d venture to say it would have stuck in this vicinity had I had the willpower to continue.

And, because I couldn’t help myself, I also noted whether or not the gender of the “character” was referenced during the advert – ie mother, wife, girlfriend, husband, son. Any instance where the gender was not referenced was marked as “neutral”.


Of our 71 men, just 2 were in gender defined roles – in both instances they were part of a couple, in an advert where both male and female voices were in gendered roles. Of our 16 women, 7 were in gender defined roles. Leaving only 9 instances of women functioning in gender neutral roles.

I can hear it already. You’re busy saying “So what?”.

So we are being bombarded every single day with further examples of male dominance. When a new technological advance is being explained to us, chances are it’s a man doing the explaining (Unless that technological advance involves laundry). The proliferation of male voices reminds us, every single day, that women are not yet equal in this country.

Is our advertising sexist only because our society is sexist? I don’t know. But it’s sure as hell sexist because our advertising industry is. And, call me crazy, but if you want to differentiate yourself from the advertising morass out there on SA radio, maybe try casting a female voice to tell us why your product is awesome. Just, please, don’t call her sweetie.