Portrayal of women in Zambian memes: a thematic analysis of social media platforms.

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Munalula, Imbuwa
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The University of Zambia
In the period of time that the internet has existed, it has become a major player in the production and distribution of humour in general, and humour about gender, in particular. Access to the internet has also increased the ease with which other internet content is located and distributed. Additionally, consumers produce their own forms of content on social media platforms and are capable of distributing and consuming information bits and bytes, no matter where one is, as long as internet access is provided. Among internet content produced by internet users are memes. Not only will this study demonstrate the need for the people who share memes to analyse them before sharing but also encourage those who create memes to be wary of the danger of perpetuating stereotypes through memes. Specifically, the study sought to analyse the ways in which women are portrayed in Zambian memes on social media platforms particularly Facebook and WhatsApp. In addition, it examined the significance of these portrayals and the role language plays in the memes. This study explored a uniquely technologically bound type of humour by adopting a disparagement or superiority theory, feminist and social constructionist approach to examine the content of popular internet memes. Therefore, the knowledge gap that this study is concerned with is: How are women portrayed in Zambian memes shared on social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Whatsapp? Data was drawn from online sources through general scanning of Facebook and WhatsApp. One hundred Zambian memes with an element of women portrayals were sampled. Using thematic analysis on the sample of one hundred memes, two broad themes were identified. These were gender stereotypes and patriarchal messages. The representations of women in the Zambian memes sampled exhibited negative constructions of women and womanhood. The findings showed that women are portrayed as lovers of money, dependent on men, cheats, prostitutes, gossips, liars, sex objects, dangerous, problematic, and talkative. The other findings showed that men are portrayed as providers and victims of women’s negative behaviour. In addition, the language used in memes marginalises, demeans, ridicules and promotes misogyny, as it is sarcastic and offensive. In some cases, online sexism and harassment are reframed as humour that is expected to be ‘acceptable’ to readers. Although the content of the message is the same that women are not equal to men, the humorous nature of a sexist message decreases confrontation. Women are associated more with negative images than men.
Thesis of Master of Arts in Literature