2019, like previous years, doesn’t seem to be starting on a kind note for Ugandan feminists.
First, there was the proposal on February 6 by Godfrey Kiwanda, the State Minister for Tourism, to have “curvy womyn” as a tourist attraction. As though that was not enough, MTN Uganda, arguably the largest telecom company in the country, launched its “Mr google sir” advert, which depicted a pot-bellied man directing unwanted attention towards a womyn waiting on a bus bench. (Let’s not even get into the fact that the advert goes further to assign Google a gender and no shocker, it is a ‘he’/‘sir’.)
This image, for many womyn, was nothing new. if anything, it was a recreation of the daily harassment that many Ugandan womyn experience at the hands of men, just walking down the street. The usual “Sister you look like my size,” to the full-on aggression of some random man grabbing your hand (or buttocks!) as you go about minding your own business.
The sad thing is that this isn’t shocking; women’s bodies have long been treated as objects. Ugandan media has, for the longest time, portrayed women’s bodies as spectacles for men to consume.
Media does package sexism to make it appear as a compliment. Like the idea that men finding you attractive and invading your personal space should be a compliment to you and you should, therefore, pat yourself on the shoulder when that happens, because it means you are a worthy thing to be consumed.
It is clear that whatever ad agency pitched the idea to the MTN marketing department went through all the necessary channels for the particular ad to be approved, including getting the green light from senior management officials. This is evidence of just how sexist all these power structures are.
There is a conscious manipulation of representations and it serves no more purpose than to get a “rise” out of the audience.
My point is that the need to recreate sexist advert after sexist advert isn’t based on only ignorance, but rather the conscious decision to normalise abuse of womyn to the extent that it is consumed as the norm and no questions arise when this kind of harassment happens to womyn.
Like the social learning theory points out, not only are we socialised by the media we consume, but we also receive most of the data that informs how we think and behave, in regards to several aspects of life, not least of which is gender relations.
The advertising industry in Uganda can do better. Like all creative industries, they could hire more feminist womyn and start/or continue to work on simply educating themselves on what constitutes sexist ads.