The theory of symbolic annihilation describes that the absence of representation or underrepresentation of some groups of people usually on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and gender is used to maintain social inequality.
Representation is the way in which people organise the world and reality. So essentially, representation is a way of standing for, or in the place of something else.
In the converse, lack of representation is essentially a removal of visible minorities in popular media, with erasure. One might say it is a subtle brainwash. A way of convincing the excluded population of their insignificance.
Ideally, the media advises a functioning democratic process and keeps us actively involved in society and politics. It is near impossible to speak of representation without tying it back to media. Most agree that the media’s roles are to teach us, to surveille on our behalf, to service the economic system, to hold society together, to entertain, to create discourse, to establish the agenda, and finally to service the political system. The media is essentially, a contemplation of its consumers.
Freedom of expression is a Constitutional provision from which media freedom and freedom of speech derive. The really precious element about this specific freedom, without particularly saying there is a hierarchy of fundamental rights, is that there would be no democracy in any society, without this right. It guarantees everyone’s right to speak and write openly without interference. This freedom is also the basis on which opinions can be voiced in common, by both the majority and the minority, each granted the opportunity to become the majority.
We often express concern in any democracy where the media is too closely policed or where freedom of speech is patrolled particularly. This, predominantly because government’s role is to effectively protect and preserve fundamental freedoms and liberties, one of which is that of expression.
The challenge with this is that we often do not appreciate the difference between freedom and licence. The construct of “freedom” grants rights on the one hand and insists, on the other that there are duties which correlate with such rights. Licence for purposes of this writing is that, one can do whatever they want and the only way another can stop them is by doing what they want first. This takes us back to the law of the sword and the way of the stronger. It also results in missed representations of “othered” persons, in this context.
The problem with male domination otherwise referred to as patriarchy, particularly in a heteronormative society which has ideas
In the week of May 21 – 25, 2018, in about five local news publications, for every five articles about men in politics, economics and finance related topics, reports, stories and profiles, there were two about women. For every 18 photographs of men appended to these stories, profiles, and reports, there were six of women. The stories about women, were primarily depicting women as angry failures who only really belong in the news if they have done something extremely out of the ordinary, embarrassing, or pathetic. Beyond this, we only see women in the adverts and lifestyle sections of newspapers, perpetuating a narrative that women are nurturing homemakers and objects of leisure more concerned about the gossip of the city and their outfits.
It makes it difficult to construct women outside of how they relate with men. Because in the fictional space of representation where we see what matters and what is important, we do not see women. This begs the question, if we are to overcome patriarchy, as it were, how do we do so in a society who’s culture is to ensure that women cannot even see themselves in positions of power and authority, and men don’t even have to do much to be showered with praises?
Besides just women, there is little to no representation, of any other forms of diversity in what we consume. Pluralism is key to diversity, when we speak to preservation of cultures and the encouragement of acceptance that in a given society, there are more of us than just men.
The point is that the problem with patriarchy is, it prioritises heternormative male domination at the exclusion of all others. It makes male humans rivals for status, prestige, sexual satisfatction, money, land and power, conditioning men to play out their aggressions with everyone else being caught in the crossfire.
The case of the state of the media makes it clear that the world we live in, is a man’s world. We would need to dismantle the whole thing in order to smash the patriarchy that exists even in our exercises of the freedom of expression. Without that, we will continue to be invisible.
Lesego Nswahu Nchunga ©