Woman dumps SA man — and then he wins R60m PowerBall: so what?

The role of Media in constructing Women

by Phindile Mokoena and Oyama Tshona

iStockphoto

On Monday the 8th of March 2021, the world celebrated the International Women’s Day. This Day is aimed at celebrating and honouring the achievements of women throughout history and all across the globe; it is also a focal point in the movement for gender parity and women’s rights. As we end the week, we reflect…

When you search for ‘Woman dumps SA man and he wins lottery’ you get about ‘10 200 results’ in 61 seconds. Why? Because different newspapers reported a story of a man who became ultra-rich from playing PowerBall. The news about a man who won millions is news, and we love to read about such news so that we believe that the charity gambling that we participate in does actually have winners. But the linking of the winner’s former lover in the story in a way that suggests that she has lost an opportunity came in bad taste. Here is why:

Even though the girlfriend’s name is not mentioned, the linking of a woman to the ‘loss’ sends a message to the society that women are in intimate relationships for monetary benefits. This is in a context where public health behavioural interventionists work overtime trying to delink sex for money in an effort to reduce transactional sex, promote more gender equitable relations and reduce the spread of HIV. You will know this because you may have seen the big billboards about sugar daddies or may have heard one or two things about the bad behaviour of Slay Queens and the disapproval of Taxi Queens. All these are part of a response to the problem of HIV incidence that is unmanageable in South Africa.

Artwork by Roy Lichtenstein

South Africa published the first ever policy document to prevent, reduce and respond to gender-based violence against women. Granted we are not told the reasons for the breakup for this couple but when mention is made that lady luck was on his side but clearly not so much for her, this gets confusing because it somehow gives off the notion that the woman would have stayed in the relationship just because of his fortunes regardless of the reasons that made her leave. It is clear the ex-girlfriend is brought in the story in these ways so as to reproduce the dangerous stereotype about women as sex objects; about women as entities that money can buy; about women as financially dependent, and reliant on men as financial providers; and about women as gold diggers. This already tells us that a stereotypical lens is being used to view the woman; it insinuates that the woman is a gold digger that would have only ever been satisfied with the relationship given the man’s financial status. This is highly problematic and unacceptable. This reverses the gains that are made in various sectors to empower women and promote bodily autonomy without viewing women as tokens of men with money.

“How dare she break up with him? Well here is her price!”

In a country with historical intersectional oppression of women and a dire need for resocialisation, the underlying ramifications of this story are malicious and counterproductive. In 2021, a woman leaving a man warrants retribution as this is perceived as a transgression: “How dare she break up with him? Well here is her price!” Viewing the man’s good fortune as the lady’s misfortune just because she had broken the relationship off before he won, is not only unnecessary and demeaning, it is a display of the society’s obsession with disciplining women. Just at the mention of the amount of his winnings, we are made to think that this woman is out there regretting her decision. This is demeaning in the sense that it adds to an already disturbing perpetuation of the ‘women are gold diggers’ stereotype. It does not help the current reality of women in the country or even internationally.

Illustration by Lightspring

In fact, the authors of these stories are birthing a new gold digger, considering the fact that the woman was with the man before his good fortune. The suggestion that she might want to rethink her decision or is regretting it, which is completely uninformed and dangerous, belongs to the author and not the ex-girlfriend or any other woman for that matter; it is completely arbitrary. It is very important that such bad stereotypes are not perpetuated because they breed generations and generations of ill-informed men and women; they are belittling to the one gender and empowering to the other. Not quite the desired progress for a country that is looking to achieve a gender-equal state now is it? And this is an indictment to the newsrooms and the roles of the editors who approve such stories when words can be and are weaponised. We condemn this poor, sexist and ill-informed journalism.

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