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Exploring gender identities of females from township in Durban as represented and negotiated through stereotypes by South African soap operas: Generations: The Legacy and Isidingo: The Need.

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This study explores gender identities and media culture of black African women through digital storytelling using two of South Africa’s popular soap operas, Generations: The Legacy and Isidingo: The Need, as its case studies. The interpretive paradigm was employed to ascertain a deeper understanding of soap operas and the historical, social and cultural context of individual viewers and perspectives of those involved in the production. Data in this qualitative research were gathered not only from the perspectives of viewers from townships around Durban where the study was carried out, but also incorporated the views on gender stereotypes of the soap opera production team. Reception analysis theory was used as the main theory for the study with social identity theory and the social representation theory subsumed under it. The data analysis suggested that viewers’ awareness of gender stereotypes contained in South African soap operas did not only take place in their immediate encounter with soap opera text but was heightened when they discussed such text with other viewers. In other words, soap operas have a mixture of both active and passive viewers. Active viewers question and address gender inequality and stereotypes in television soap operas, whereas passive viewers’ unawareness of gender inequality and stereotypes makes them susceptible to media influence. Stereotypes in soap opera storylines were seen to determine viewers’ social practices and what was seen as acceptable behaviour within their social group(s). The results suggested that stereotypes portrayed in soap operas contribute to the suppression of black women, especially those who reside in townships. The results also suggest that soap operas are not a true reflection of society but are tainted with the subjective lived histories of the production team. In conclusion, it is essential that soap operas are not only entertaining but should also be informative and educational. If used correctly, this genre has the potential to educate societies about socio-economic, socio-political and other developmental issues. It is hoped that this research will add to the body of knowledge in the field of media representation of gender stereotypes and contribute to the empowerment of women in South Africa in realising that the roles they adopt in real life are not limited to the options presented in soapies.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.