School of Applied Human Sciences

Masters study examines soap opera as a feminine genre

Ms Shannon-Leigh Landers graduated cum laude with her Master of Social Science in Media and Communication. Her dissertation examined soap opera as a feminine genre through the theoretical lens of semiotics, focussing on the role of myth, ideology, power and hegemony which are often used to inculcate skewed gendered stereotypes.
Ms Shannon-Leigh Landers
Ms Shannon-Leigh Landers

The study examined the representation of two lead female characters (MaNzuza and MaNgcobo) in the popular South African soap opera, Uzalo: Blood is Forever (Season Two).

Landers was motivated by the desire to understand the construction of femininity in a genre of television that is purportedly feminine. She believes that television captures the zeitgeist of contemporary society, which often serves an ideological function. ‘Analysing the myths attached to the female characters in a popular local soap opera provides a platform to interrogate the systemic rootedness of gender-based issues in present South Africa,’ she said.

The study found that language can be used as a discourse to perpetuate hegemonic patriarchal myths about femininity. ‘Although soap opera has been posited as a feminine genre, it operates within the constraints of male-centred discourses which are not only evident in Uzalo, but in soap operas around the world,’ explained Landers.  ‘Secondary to this finding is the notion of a universal femininity. This is problematic as white females have historically occupied a position of privilege contrary to the experience of women of colour.’

The study highlighted the fact that dominant ideologies gain impetus when they exist at a latent level. ‘Television plays a central role in promulgating myths that reside in structures of power,’ Landers said.

During her studies, she attended the South African Communications conference, gaining a wealth of knowledge and networking with experts in the field. She also attended weekly colloquia at UKZN’s Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS), to hone her academic skills.

Landers thanked her family, friends, colleagues at CCMS and her supervisor Professor Ruth Teer-Tomaselli.

She plans on pursuing a PhD, building on the theories she examined. ‘I am fascinated by how language (broadly) influences our values.’

Landers’s parents Cyril and Maureen said, ‘We are proud of Shannon’s achievement considering the immense pressure she faced assisting her gravely ill uncle at a crucial point of her degree. She worked diligently throughout this process and is deserving of this great result.’

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