International Journal of Applied Linguistics

Vol. 21

No. 3

2011

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion: the discursive construction of the female body in public space
Busi Makoni Penn State University

This paper presents illustrative findings from analysis of taxi inscriptions as gendered discourse. Feminist Critical Discourse analysis is used to explore the ways the female body is discursively constructed in public space, gender as an ideological structure, and the complexity of gender and power relations. Of interest is how discourses on dress, especially the miniskirt, are used as discursive strategies for inscribing power over the female body. Using a corpus of 50 inscriptions, the findings suggest that the inscription writers draw on a local repository of lexical, phrasal, and sentential metaphors that invoke African culture, heritage, or tradition to discursively construct the female body as a subject of intervention or social control and clothing as a means of maintaining inequality and asserting male dominance. Keywords: gendered discourse, ideology, power, miniskirt, metaphor Ce document présente des résultats illustratifs d’analyse des inscriptions sur les taxis comme discours de genre. L’analyse critique du discours féministe est employée pour explorer la façon dont le corps féminin est décrit d’une manière décousue dans l’espace public, le genre comme structure idéologique, et la complexité des relations de genre et de pouvoir. D’intérêt, comment les discours sur l’habillement, particulièrement la mini-jupe, sont employés comme des stratégies décousues pour affirmer l’autorité sur le corps féminin. Utilisant un recueil de 50 inscriptions, les résultats suggèrent que les auteurs des inscriptions tirent sur une mine locale des métaphores lexicales, syntagmatiques, et des phrases qui invoquent la culture, l’héritage, ou la tradition africaine pour décrire d’une manière décousue le corps féminin comme un sujet d’intervention ou de contrôle social et l’habillement comme un moyen de maintien de l’inégalité et de l’affirmation de la domination masculine. Mots clés: discours sur le genre, idéologie, autorité, mini-jupe, métaphore

Introduction
This paper aims to draw on both applied linguistics and feminist theory in order to explore taxi inscriptions as gendered discourse. Specifically, through
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

341

analyzing taxi inscriptions, the study investigates how gendered miniskirt discourses are used in the discursive construction of the female body. By analyzing how unequal gender relations are sustained through language use, the study attempts to answer this question: how is the female body discursively constructed through discourses on female clothing, especially the miniskirt? The analysis of taxi inscriptions is conducted using Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis (FCDA; Lazar 2007; 2008), which is theoretically well placed for a study of gendered discourses. FCDA isolates gender as a central variable in any investigation of social phenomena (Wodak 2008), and enables us to link linguistic analysis to feminist studies. As Lazar (2007) points out, in contemporary society, gendered ideology and power asymmetries have become more subtle, such that a more nuanced analysis of gendered discourses is required. By viewing gender as an “omni-relevant category in most social practices” (Lazar 2005: 3), FCDA provides a more focused analysis of how power and ideology in discourse are used “in sustaining hierarchically gendered social orders” (Lazar 2007: 141). Minibus taxis and urban centers in Africa are perceived to be male spaces and potentially constitute a discursively gendered site. The paper argues that taxi inscriptions are gendered discourses that construct the female body through multiple discourses, the most salient of which is the discourse of dress. The miniskirt in particular is denotatively linked to progressiveness and freedom and is thus associated with “women with the wherewithal and desire to define themselves in excess of conventional female roles and as transgressive of national, imperial and racial boundaries” (Thomas 2008: 9). Through the miniskirt discourse, the female body is discursively constructed as a femininity that is belligerent, “provocative and unseemly in its intimacy with foreign aesthetic” (Thomas 2008: 9). Miniskirt discourses are predicated on a dichotomy between tradition/culture and modernity. Tradition is then invoked as a reason for the unacceptability of female bodies in miniskirts. The traditional/modern binary divide invoked in order to reconstruct a particular patriarchal order of the past is highly problematic. Arguments against the miniskirt which appeal to tradition imply that tradition and modernity are discrete categories with clear-cut boundaries. However, “tradition does not exist either prior to or in opposition to the modern” (Allman 2004a: 5). Tradition constitutes a projection into the past, beyond contemporary understandings of history. In other words, tradition is only meaningful when it is juxtaposed with the present. Tradition and modernity are, therefore, part of popular idioms, rhetorical tools deployed to justify social and linguistic practices.

Background: taxis in urban cities in Africa
The most commonly used form of public transport in urban centers in Africa is un-metered taxis,1 variously referred to as kombis in South Africa (see Figure 1), matatus in Kenya, or trotros in Ghana.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

342

Busi Makoni

Figure 1. Taxi inscriptions

Taxis are popular locations for inscriptions of public remarks or commentary about pertinent social and political issues (Wa Mungai 2007; Makoni and Makoni 2009). Taxi inscriptions are a subgenre of street remarks, described by Gardner (1984: 150) as any “comment in public taking place between the unacquainted.” In most cases, the remarks are gendered in that they position men and women differently. Typically, inscriptions appear as jokes containing women as objects of humor. The function of these jokes is to affirm society’s sexist views. Such jokes are ideologically based and form part of a wider discursive structure that discriminates against women (Mills 1995). Typically, taxi drivers speak a number of different languages, which enables them to interact with clients from different ethnic groups. Thus, inscriptions are multilingual. However, since the main thrust of this study is the qualitative understanding of specific discourses (Kramsch 2006), whether the inscriptions are in English, Tswana, Tsotsitaal, or Zulu is irrelevant.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

343

Policing the female body: the politics of dress
Interest in and controversy over what women wear is not new in postcolonial Africa. Women have been “jeered at, physically assaulted and stripped of their clothes in public by youth wingers and college students” (Wipper 1972: 330), for ‘unsuitable’ or ‘provocative’ clothing. Such attacks have been reported in countries such as Zimbabwe (Gaidzanwa 1993; Mashiri 2000), Ghana (Allman 2004b), Tanzania (Ivaska 2004), Malawi (Wipper 1972), Uganda (Obbo 1981), Nigeria (Bibi 2009), and Zambia (Hansen 2004). In these countries, using skin lightening creams and wearing of miniskirts, wigs, tight pants, and any other form of clothing that is perceived to be ‘too revealing’ or of ‘Western influence’ is viewed as unAfrican. In the Sudan, where women’s clothing has recently been a subject of intense controversy, wearing trousers can result in 30 lashes and a fine. The highly publicized case of professional journalist Lubna Al-Hussein is one such example. Lubna, a Muslim from northern Sudan, and a few girls from southern Sudan were arrested and charged with wearing indecent clothes. The southern girls pleaded guilty and were lashed, while Lubna defiantly argued that her clothes were decent. The campaign that followed the trial promoted trousers as a symbol of resistance (Lubna Al-Hussein 2010). Whether for religious or cultural reasons, certain types of clothing evoke intense emotional responses in Africa and objections to these types of clothing are articulated through a discourse of “foreign appearance” (Hansen 2004: 167). Women wearing tight pants, jeans, and miniskirts are described as slaves of “western cultural imperialism” (Vincent 2009: 11) and are seen as “trying to construct a new identity that does not conform to traditional definitions of femininity” (Sutton 1995: 290). In these discourses, terms such as ‘unsuitable’ or ‘provocative’ are used as proxies for miniskirts. Wearing miniskirts is associated with loose morals, prostitution, or lewd-self display. Uganda, for instance, banned miniskirts because they were viewed as “clothing injurious to public morale” (Obbo 1981: 11). In 2004, vigilantes in Mombasa, Kenya, stripped two women naked and lashed them for wearing hipster trousers, and in 2008, Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister wanted miniskirts banned because, according to him, women wearing miniskirts are a distraction to drivers who then cause traffic accidents (Njung’e 2008). In 2009, the Nigerian government tried to legislate against the wearing of miniskirts (Bibi 2009), because they lead to a high incidence of rape. In contemporary Africa, males have taken it upon themselves to police women’s dress. Women wearing miniskirts are subject to ridicule or punished through public beatings or, in extreme cases, rape. Public space, in this regard, is reconstructed as “familial” and “socio-political disputes are reinterpreted as filial” (Vincent 2009: 13). Men, who ‘punish’ or ‘discipline’ women, are viewed “as responsible citizens doing their duty in protecting African culture” (Vincent 2009: 13). In Tanzania in 1968, for instance, a mob stoned a barmaid because of the shortness and tight fit of her miniskirt. In the early
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

344

Busi Makoni

1990s, a female model visiting the University of Zimbabwe was violently attacked by male students for dressing ‘indecently’ and ‘inappropriately.’ The justification for the attacks was that there was a “need to correct unAfrican and immoral behavior” (Gaidzanwa 1993: 30). Female students who protested in retaliation were threatened with violence and called ‘prostitutes’ because they also wore miniskirts. In 2008, the same scene replayed itself in Johannesburg, South Africa, where a 20-year-old university student wearing a miniskirt was attacked by taxi drivers, stripped naked, and sexually assaulted.2 To express solidarity with the victim, women of different age groups protested by wearing shorts and miniskirts. Again, male taxi drivers retaliated and called the protesters ‘prostitutes.’ In the late 1990s, two female government ministers lost their jobs in Zambia for being ‘naked’ at work because they were wearing miniskirts.3 While the miniskirt reflects independence for females, it is emblematic “of moral degeneration” in the eyes of males (Vincent 2009: 12). Views about miniskirts are supported by a local repository of imagery/ metaphors that invoke African culture, heritage, or tradition. ‘Africanness’ is invoked for purposes of legitimacy and makes dress a battleground for building nationalism.

Re-signification of the miniskirt: historical perspectives
Surprisingly, the miniskirt has been part of the African and Euro-American female dress since ancient times (Derbyshire 2007). In both contexts, it has been characterized by paradoxes ranging from empowerment to vulnerability, covering yet also revealing liberation and exploitation (Reilly 2003). While the exact origins of the miniskirt as understood in modern times are highly debatable, it is incontrovertible that the modern miniskirt was named after a car, the Mini Cooper, which was the favorite car of British upstart designer Mary Quant. Quant designed a skirt with a hem line raised by two inches to reveal more of a woman’s legs. The miniskirt began to evoke powerful political and cultural sentiments in the 1960s when it became associated with feminism. During this period, significant legislation was passed in Europe that helped protect and empower women, thus ushering in a new sexual revolution (Cawthorne et al. 1999; Diamond and Diamond 2006). As a result, the miniskirt became symbolic of women’s emancipation. In Euro-American contexts, it was not until the 1960s that the miniskirt became fully sexualized through its accessorization and the rise of the ‘Lolita look’ in the fashion industry. The initial accessorization of the miniskirt included zip-up knee-high boots, tights, and pantyhose. Gandolfi (1989) suggests that the re-signification of the miniskirt as a symbol of women’s liberation might have emanated from the fact that tights and pantyhose worn with the miniskirt liberated women from garter belts and old-fashioned stockings. The full sexuality of the miniskirt was reinforced by the ‘Lolita look’ or ‘school girl image’ of the 1960s, reflected in the fashion industry by very
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

345

skinny, androgynous models showing “a great deal of long legs” (Cawthorne et al. 1999: 12). However, the popularity of miniskirts declined from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, coinciding with the rise of feminist movements that not only viewed the miniskirt as objectifying women but also as exploitative rather than liberating (Reilly 2003). The miniskirt was revived in the late 1970s and was associated with the punk movement. During this period, miniskirts were typically black leather and worn with ripped fishnet tights. The signification of the miniskirt during this period was ‘trashy’ and reflected a ‘whatever’ attitude (Cawthorne et al. 1999; Weaver and Blake 2003). The antiestablishment concept behind the punk movement was then transferred to women, as women wearing miniskirts were viewed as going against the established norms of female conduct. In the 1980s and 1990s, the miniskirt was incorporated into the business suit for women in Europe. During this period, the miniskirt was re-signified as a powerful statement of confidence and sophistication for career women. On the whole, the miniskirt has been characterized in Euro-American contexts by contradictions and reinventions which either provoke or challenge established norms. These contradictions and inventions are reflected in how the miniskirt is perceived in most African urban centers as well. For example, the miniskirt is variously referred to as the mini, micro-mini, two-centimeter, pelmet, kachimbikiza (‘small erotica’ in Shona), or isigcebhezana/isigcebhe (Nguni languages). All these terms are metaphors centering on the conceptual frame ‘small.’ The word pelmet, for instance, emphasizes the narrowness of the skirt, whereas two-centimeter refers to its length. Similarly, in isigcebhezana, the Nguni diminutive suffix –ana denotes smallness, and in kachimbikiza, the Shona diminutive prefix ka- denotes smallness but also connotes the sexualization of the miniskirt even though, in this case, the sexualization is unrelated to accessories. The use of the term isigcebhezana/isigcebhe is interesting because the same term was used in pre-colonial Africa to refer to the small skin used to cover female genitals. Its current use is, therefore, a form of ‘entextualization’ (Sarangi 2009). As Attwood (2007) points out, the re-deployment of words in contemporary society is associated with the sexual politics of the times. For instance, the term ‘slut’ was not originally derogatory to women, yet in its current use, it is (Attwood 2007). Similarly, the term isigcebhe in its current use has a pejorative meaning, as it is now associated with women of loose morals; however, in pre-colonial Africa, it carried no such overtones. Its current meaning signifies a move away from a dignified, traditional femininity to a conceptualization of women in miniskirts as undignified and unfeminine. The term isigcebhe has particular social class and racial significance as well. Educated Black women in the city view isigcebhe as a symbol of their independence. Like the re-signification of the miniskirt in the late 1980s and 1990s in Europe, isigcebhe is viewed as a symbol of sophistication for careeroriented women. For such women, isigcebhe is a modern idiom that represents a quest for social independence in a patriarchal society. On the other hand,
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

346

Busi Makoni

poorly educated, rural black women and men alike view the miniskirt in terms of the punk movement and associate it with women who are ‘trashy’ and sexually promiscuous. The miniskirt then symbolizes “prostitution outfits” (Fogteloo 2003) and signifies a “subversive relationship to social norms, to . . . marriage, and motherhood” (Thomas 2008: 9). Interestingly, the same poorly educated individuals would have a different view if the miniskirt were worn by White women. White women would not be described as prostitutes; rather, the miniskirt would be viewed as part of their culture. White women would also not be subjected to beatings as long as they kept within their own areas of abode. However, if they did venture into the densely populated areas while wearing miniskirts, they would be chased away and instructed to come back only when they were properly dressed. Thus, to lower class Blacks, the miniskirt is associated with a foreign moral value system which is reinterpreted depending on the race of the wearer. The rejection of the miniskirt is, therefore, not based on how much of the flesh is exposed but, rather, on the symbolic interpretation of clothing. This clothing debate is not unique to Africa.4 In the Netherlands, for instance, revealing clothing has been described as “prostitution outfits” (Fogteloo 2003: 49), a metaphoric expression used in reference to miniskirts. Recently, attempts were made in some parts of Italy to ban the wearing of miniskirts and low cut blouses. Notably, in these different contexts, it seems the term ‘prostitute’ has become synonymous with wearing of miniskirts. Miniskirts, low cut blouses, visible G-strings/thongs in the Netherlands and Italy, as in some parts of Africa, are blamed for the increase in the number of rapes. The assumption is that revealing clothing gives off unintended sexual signals. Implicit in the miniskirt/visible G-string/thong debate both in Africa, Italy, and the Netherlands are decency and feminist discourses. Decency in both contexts is assumed to be an axiomatic, homogenous concept. In the decency discourse, the assumption is that wearing revealing clothing amounts to being naked. However, in the feminist discourse, women wearing miniskirts or any other form of revealing clothing exude “strength, independence and a matter-of-course attitude to sexuality” (Duits and van Zoonen 2006: 107), all of which are antithetical to conservative male dominance.

Theoretical framework
The theoretical framework used in this study is FCDA, which is situated in the broad field of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA; Fairclough 1995; 2001; 2003). CDA is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of discourse analysis of various forms of social inequality and injustice and the ways these are reproduced through text and talk. However, in CDA, gender may be part but is not the focus of the analysis; that is, CDA focuses on social phenomena, but
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

347

the critical lens does not isolate gender as a significant variable central to the analysis. However, in FCDA, gender is a central variable to any analysis of social phenomena, as FCDA takes a distinctively feminist perspective by focusing on how social assumptions of gender and hegemonic power relations that are often taken for granted are discursively (re)produced, negotiated, and contested. Thus, FCDA focuses on the interaction between power, gender, and ideology in discourse and draws insight from feminist research and CDA. As a result, FCDA provides “a feminist critical lens” (Lazar 2008: 92), for analyzing taxi inscriptions and interpreting miniskirt discourses. FCDA draws from a wide range of analytic apparatus already established in CDA for analyzing language use in text and talk. In CDA, the speaker/ writer expresses ideological content in texts by carefully selecting specific linguistic forms. The discourses that emanate from these choices are reproductions of the ideological organization of a particular area of social life. A careful textual analysis reflects these ideological positions. Again, in FCDA, these ideologies are interpreted using feminist approaches. A textual analysis of taxi inscriptions focuses on both form and meaning by noting ideologically significant meaning relations such as oxymoron, synonyms, metaphors, and figures of speech. Choices of metaphors and word meanings are central to gendered discourses because they are used to structure the message in order to construct a specific world view. As Fairclough (1992: 195) states: When we signify through one metaphor rather than another, we are constructing our reality in one way rather than another. Metaphors structure the way we think and the way we act, and our systems of knowledge and belief, in a pervasive and fundamental way. Word meanings are about choices in lexis, which is central to topicalization and tone of text. In most cases, topical issues are more prominent in the text, and this saliency is reflected in repetition of specific lexical items or concepts. In addition, use of grammatical features or modality of high certitude reflects specific meanings (e.g. use of modals to indicate a high degree of certainty indicates authority). Doubt, for instance, is introduced by using words such as ‘may,’ ‘could,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘might,’ etc., whereas surety is introduced by words like ‘will,’ ‘can,’ or ‘must’ or phrases like ‘without a doubt.’ In this study, these grammatical features are analyzed in terms of gendered ideologies in order to establish how they are used to discursively construct the female body.

Data collection
The data were collected in Johannesburg, South Africa, from June to July 2007. Permission was granted before photographing the outside body of the taxis.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

348

Busi Makoni

However, permission was not always granted for photographing the taxi inscriptions that were located on the inside body of the taxis. Perhaps this refusal was due to the provocative and subversive nature of the discourses that might have led to taxi drivers facing hefty fines imposed by either the constitutional or equality courts. Taxi drivers were, however, willing to allow researchers to write down the inscriptions from the inside body of the vehicle. Taxis were randomly selected from the Noord street taxi rank in Johannesburg. The taxis used multiple routes to different townships in the outskirts of the city centre. Although the taxis did not necessarily belong to the drivers,5 each taxi driver had permission to custom-make the inscriptions on his taxi. In some cases, taxi drivers had added their own inscriptions to those from the previous driver in order to individualize the vehicle to reflect their own interests and social orientations. At the end of the research, 50 inscriptions had been collected, 22 of which focused on clothing.

The findings
The inscriptions reflect multiple gendered discourses on dress and gendered power relations (see Table 1), all of which revolve around an overarching discourse of gender difference. Words such as gqoka (‘wear’ in Zulu), and all its equivalents in the various languages used emphasize the concept of dress by giving it textual prominence. Dress is also foregrounded through naming several items of clothing, such as miniskirts, thongs, G-strings, trousers, etc. Almost half of the data corpus consists of inscriptions regarding the ways women dress and the extent to which ‘current’ dressing is a violation of cultural ‘norms’ of dress, suggesting that, through dressing, female bodies are transformed and made “appropriate and acceptable within specific contexts” (Entwistle 2000: 1). It is also through dressing that female bodies are unacceptable and inappropriate in public spaces. This idea is expressed

Table 1. Gendered Discourses

Discourse type Dressing Women’s behavior Body appearance Gender equality Disenchanted male Same sex unions Total

Number of inscriptions 22 10 8 5 3 2 50

Percentages 44 20 16 10 6 4 100

© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

349

through the use of similes that emphasize a particular point: A woman wearing certain types of clothing is unacceptable. Below are several of the taxi inscriptions recorded, and analysis of these inscriptions is contained in the paragraphs that follow. 1. Ilip stick indebe sengathi ngumsunu wemfene (Your lipstick makes your lips look like the private parts of a baboon). 2. Umfazi oqgoka ibhulugwe ufana neboervors (A woman wearing trousers looks like a sausage). 3. Ngumfazi bani oqgoka ibhulugwe. Amadoda aqgokeni pho? (What kind of a woman wears trousers? What should men wear then?) 4. Sebeqgok amabhulugwe amadoda bafazi (They now wear trousers, the men-women, i.e. hermaphrodites). The association through simile of female lips with the genitals of a baboon underscores female derogation and is an overt form of sexism. The similes used in 1 and 2 suggest semantic derogation of women and are based on an ideology of women as spectacles subject to the “controlling male gaze” (Mulvey 1975: 33). The gendered nature of the discourses is also underscored in 3 and 4 in which specific types of clothing are associated with a specific gender. Trousers are ‘male clothing,’ hence the rhetorical question in 3 wherein the inscriber asks what men are to wear if women have appropriated male forms of dress. That wearing of trousers by women is a new phenomenon is underscored by the use of the adverbial prefix se- (now) in 4. The implications of appropriating male clothing are reflected in 4 through the use of the oxymoron amadoda bafazi (men-women, i.e. hermaphrodites). By wearing trousers, women combine two very different gender identities, the result of which is that they belong to two different classifications at once. It seems that wearing miniskirts and trousers produces discursive identities that contradict culturally set roles. Wearing trousers is represented as a form of cross-dressing because “when one cross-dresses, his or her sexual identity and gender identity are in contrast to one another” (Tyner and Ogle 2009: 105). In 5 and 6, stated below, the contrast in sexual and gender identity is further reflected when women engage in activities which are perceived to be associated with males, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. 5. Ke mosadi wa mofuta mangy o o aparang marukgwe ebile a goga le segarete (What kind of woman wears trousers and smokes cigarettes?). 6. In the good old days, girls used to cook like their mothers, now they drink like their fathers. Wearing of tight pants is viewed as a construction of transgressive appearances in an attempt to reconfigure mainstream dress codes. These inscriptions indicate that women are expected to conform to socially acceptable behavior in order to maintain their dignity and command respect
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

350

Busi Makoni

Table 2. Type of dress

Type of dress Miniskirt Trousers Visible G-string/thong Lipstick Total

Number 17 3 1 1 22

Percentage 77.27 13.63 4.55 4.55 100

from males. A patriarchal ideology seems to set stereotypical criteria for female dress and social practices. The juxtaposition of tradition (‘the good old days’ in 6) and modernity (‘now’ in 6, ‘se-’ in 4) is emphasized, drawing yet again on an imagined dichotomy between tradition and modernity. The use of oxymoron to underscore contradictions is also evident in the discourse on female appearance. 7. Black is beautiful. Ifanta-cocacola nevara (Black is beautiful. White-black is never beautiful). 8. Abacremayo abafuna ukuba ngabelungu mnyama akusikho kwamlungu lana (Those who use skin lightening creams and want to be white black, this is not a place for Whites). 9. Abafazi abagcobisayo abelungu mnyama, umnyama umnyama waya waya (Women who use skin lightening creams the white-black, if you are black you are black all the way). This discourse centers around the use of cosmetics, especially skin lightening creams, which is derided for producing conflicting identities and reflected through the use of the oxymorons fanta-cocacola (‘fanta’ as a metaphor for White and ‘Coca-Cola’ as a metaphor for Black) and abelung mnyama (‘the white black’). Light skin is associated with a White standard of beauty or foreign appearance; therefore, the use of the oxymoron ‘white black’ (abelung mnyama) is derogatory and underscores a sense of an identity crisis. The reduplication of the adjective nyama (‘black’) in umnyama umnyama (‘you are black, you are black’) seems to be for rhetorical effect. A strong Black identity is emphasized, as is the fact that the ‘whiteness’ resulting from the use of skin lightening creams does not erase blackness. This point is further underscored by the repetition of waya (all the way) in waya waya. On the other hand, the preponderance of words such as isigcebhe and all its other synonyms (i.e. ‘2cm,’ ‘mini,’ etc.) suggests that the miniskirt dominates the discourse on dress (see Table 2). While the miniskirt seems to be the most salient discourse related to clothing, issues of tradition, nakedness, and sexuality are discursively constructed around the miniskirt (see Table 3). Tradition is the most common reason why women should not
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion Table 3. Reasons for objections

351

Type of discourse Tradition Sexuality Nudity/nakedness Total

Number 11 4 2 17

Percentage 64.71 23.43 11.56 100

wear miniskirts. For example, in the inscriptions below, wearing a miniskirt is tantamount to disrespecting cultural norms of female dress. 10. Hlonipha amasiko ethu ngokungaqgoki isgcebhe (Respect our culture by not wearing a miniskirt). 11. Wamen sebegqoka isgcebhe, aphelile amasiko ethu (Women now wear miniskirts, our cultures are finished/dead). 12. Amasiko ethu athi umfazi akahloniphe angagqoki isigcebhe (Our cultures say a woman must show respect by not wearing a miniskirt). 13. Respect my taxi, no sigcebhe asivunyelwe (Respect my taxi, no miniskirt is allowed). The tone of these inscriptions conveys a degree of certainty and authority. For instance, in 10, an imperative/directive hlonipha (‘respect’ in Zulu) is used, and in 13, the same explicit imperative is used and directed toward women. The explicit and unmodified imperative is a language of command and control that is authoritative and dictatorial, emphasizing the power differential. The unmodified imperatives are overt manifestations of authority, and this pattern of language use creates a hierarchical structure that casts one gender as dominant (e.g. authoritative and giving commands). In 10 and 13, the agentive ‘null subject’ is the female who is being instructed. This language of instruction constructs men as assertive and in charge, whereas women are constructed as passive. The female body is constructed as the agentive subject, and dominance is established through the use of language of ‘command.’ The hierarchical power structure reflected through the use of explicit directives is ideological. Imagined traditional norms of gender hierarchy and difference are reconstructed through the use of a tone of surety which is underscored in aphelile (‘they are finished’) and athi (‘they say’), both of which carry the meaning ‘without a doubt.’ This use of selective voice manipulates the reader as it conveys the message that the viewpoint expressed is legitimate and reliable. Gender ideology in this regard is hegemonic, as 11 and 12 do not appear as domination but, rather, as genuine and commonsensical concern from a community that seems to be losing its cultural integrity. This is an example of what Lazar (2007: 147) describes as a “tenuous relation of power,”
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

352

Busi Makoni

which is achieved through discursive means: The miniskirt is discursively constructed as producing rebellious appearances, indicating that taxi inscriptions are a form of discourse that reproduces patriarchal ideologies about the female body. The miniskirt discourse is linked to the decency discourse mentioned earlier, which revolves around norms and values prescribed for female bodies. Women who wear miniskirts are described using lexical metaphors such as bhushubhushu (‘nothing on’) and ze (‘nothing’), which are proxies for nakedness. Bhushubhushu is an onomatopoeic Zulu word used to describe movement of large quantities of uncovered flesh. The inherent contradictions between ‘clothed’ and ‘naked’ are also captured through the use of oxymoron. 14. Abagqoki sgcebhe, abahamba ze not allowed kule taxi (Those wearing miniskirts, those who walk naked are not allowed in this taxi). 15. Ababhushubhushu abagqok isgcebhe abavunyelwa kuletaxi (Those who are naked who are wearing miniskirts are not allowed in this taxi). 16. Abaze abaqgoke isgcebhe abavunyelwe (Those who are naked those wearing miniskirts are not allowed). For instance, in 14, the first clause, Abaqgoki sgcebhe (‘Those wearing miniskirts’), indicates that the subject (i.e. women) is clothed, but the second clause, abahamba ze (‘those walking around naked’), suggests that women are naked regardless of the clothes they are wearing. This structure is repeated in 15 and 16. A miniskirt, in this regard, is not considered clothing, or if it is, it leaves the wearer ‘naked’ in a metaphorical sense. The contrast of being clothed and yet naked reflects the inherent contradictions that characterize the miniskirt as covering and yet too revealing. The sexualization of the miniskirt is underscored in the following ‘equations’: 17. Isgcebhe + amathanga akho = umdlalo wegalufu emathangeni ami (A miniskirt + your thighs = a game of golf on my thighs). 18. Isgcebhe + amathanga = sengiyachama (A miniskirt + thighs = I am urinating). In these inscriptions, sengiyachama (‘I am urinating’) and ukuchama are Zulu metaphors for ejaculation; umdlalo we galufu (‘a game of golf’) is also a Zulu metaphor for erection, all of which highlight the metaphorical sexualization of the miniskirt and, ipso facto, of the female body. Not only is the miniskirt discursively sexualized, but it is also turned into an object of seduction. In this case, visible thighs constitute nakedness, and ‘naked’ women give off sexual signals. Implicit in the use of such metaphors is that the female body is subjected to visual evaluation. Women are ‘spectacles’ and objects subject to patriarchal control.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

353

Nowhere in the inscriptions is the male body subjected to the same degree of visual evaluation as the female body, which reflects gender as an ideological structure. Even when the male body is being referenced in the inscriptions, especially in the discourse of the disenchanted male, it is constructed as the ‘new’ subordinate group. The emasculation of males as encapsulated in the disenchanted male discourse is more akin to what Sunderland (2004: 102) describes as the “poor boys” discourse. In this discourse, men are projected as objects of pity, as all aspects of masculinity have been undermined. The contemporary male body is constructed as a subclass, emasculated, and left ‘impotent’ by the modern woman who has usurped all the power from the male species. For instance, in 19 below, the sex-toy and computer are lexical metaphors of modernity. 19. Isextoy ingithathele umfazi. Ikoputer ithethe umsebenzi (The sex toy took my wife. The computer took my job). 20. Wonke amadoda asesithi ladys fest (All men now say ladies first). While the sex toy in 19 is symbolic of the emasculation of the male gender, it is also symbolic of the emancipation of women. The computer as a symbol of modernity indicates that technological advancement has prevented males from being the bread winners they are expected to be. In other words, the computer and sex toy, both symbols of modernity, have relegated the male gender to a subclass. The relegation of masculinity to the margins is emphasized in 20. The use of the noun wonke (‘all’) constructs an alliance on the basis of an unsubstantiated assumption of common male experience. Taxi inscriptions further provide insight into ideological representations of rape. In the inscriptions, women are exhorted to avoid wearing miniskirts since doing so is risk-taking behavior. A modality of high certitude is used to underscore the authoritative nature of the voice: 21. A women in a mini is for every man to have you. 22. Wearing isgcebhe is punishable by sex. 23. Faka isgcebhe mina ngizohamba nawe (Wear a miniskirt and I will take you home). 24. Gqok’ isgcebhe uzongiph’ ikuku (Wear the miniskirt you will give me the cake/vagina). 25. Abesgcebhezana not allowed kuletaxi kodwa ke udriver unakho ukubavumela uma ezakudla (Those in miniskirts are not allowed in this taxi although the driver will allow them if he will eat, i.e. have sex with him). These inscriptions indicate that female bodies are responsible for the sexual violence to which they are subjected. In other words, if these women dressed ‘decently’ and ‘appropriately,’ they would not be raped. The threat of rape is used to control women and to make them fearful of making certain clothing
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

354

Busi Makoni

choices. As a result, the criminality of rape is rhetorically and grammatically erased, and sexual violence against women is used as a reiterative, punitive measure to sustain patriarchal control. For women, the threat of rape leads to self-regulation, which indicates an ideological construction of the female body as an object in a male-defined value system that expects women as a social group to conduct their lives in specific ways. In sum, taxi inscriptions are gendered discourses and encapsulate multiple discourses, all predicated on “specific forms of [female] body discipline and surveillance” (Tyner and Ogle 2009: 107), that reflect gendered power relations. Such discourses emanate from dominant patriarchal ideologies that privilege men as a social group.

Discussion
This study shows that taxi inscriptions are instances of socio-cultural practice, and an analysis of taxi inscriptions is an analysis of discursive events in that the ideologies and power relations involved in the production of the relevant discourses are also examined. This textual analysis of taxi inscriptions reflects the use of a wide range of lexical, phrasal, and sentential metaphors to underscore “hegemonic masculinity and exaggerated femininity” (Kimmel 2004: 15). Gender is discursively constructed through metaphors and lexical choices that suggest enforcement of norms that reduce women to docile objects. Well-crafted multilingual inscriptions are all predicated on hegemonic ideologies expressed through carefully constructed inscriptions that indicate the production and preservation of specific social behaviors, beliefs, values, and practices that are ‘natural’ and indicative of ‘true’ femininity. A gendered ideological structure that divides “people into two classes all based on sexual difference” (Lazar 2008: 89) is evident in the inscriptions, suggesting that taxi inscriptions reflect ideologies that confirm “the existence of fundamental differences between women and men” (Cameron 2003: 461). Female bodies are, therefore, discursively constructed in ways that reinforce social dichotomies with regard to work, clothing, and traits appropriate for women and men. Thus, gender, as a category constitutes an important area in which power is enacted. The central concern of FCDA is evaluating discourses that uphold a patriarchal social order that maintains relations of power that benefit men and disadvantage women as social groups (Lazar 2005). By using FCDA, this study has analyzed taxi inscriptions as gendered discourses that subject position men and women differently. Specifically, the male gender has power to define appropriate and inappropriate clothing. These dress codes apply to women only and act as a means of maintaining inequality and asserting male dominance. Failure to adhere to these public ‘dress codes’ leads to women being subjected to sexual violence as punishment (Forbes 1996). Specifically, the miniskirt is presented as an object of sexual fantasy that arouses undue
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

355

sexual attention. The association of miniskirts with rape suggests that female bodies in revealing clothing give off undue sexual signals. Hence, women who wear miniskirts must be willing to provide sexual favors or pleasure to any male who desires to have her. Miniskirt discourses indicate that rape or sexual violence is “a sexually endorsed punitive project for maintaining patriarchal order” (Moffett 2006: 129). The threat of sexual violence is intended to break the resistance of the female body, making it available for male enjoyment and suggesting that it is a tangible object meant for male possession. Banning miniskirts in public space is a mechanism used to protect males from their violent and uncontrollable sexual desires (Hansen 2004; Duits and van Zoonen 2006). Through discourses of dress, women as a social group are disempowered, and through miniskirt discourses, the female body is discursively constructed as an object of social control. Female bodies are, therefore, subjected “to the meta-narratives of the dominant discourse” (Duits and van Zoonen 2006: 103). ‘Re-signifying’ everyday female practices as inappropriate, denies women the power to define themselves. Dressing, in this regard, acts as a form of social processing of the female body. Thus, the socially processed female body either conforms to a particular essentialist view of culture, or it does not. For instance, bodies dressed in miniskirts, trousers, and low-cut blouses are perceived as violating ‘tradition.’ Yet male clothing does not attract such social and cultural controversy, and neither is it subjected to public regulation, suggesting a fundamental ideological difference in the construction of male and female bodies. When the male body is mentioned, it is to solicit pity. This differentiation indicates that the male body is “autonomous and enclosed,” whereas the female body is “dependent and subject to intervention” (Duits and van Zoonen 2006: 114). A patriarchal ideology, therefore, unites miniskirt discourses and constructs female bodies as “docile bodies” (Duits and van Zoonen 2006: 114) where male power is inscribed.

Conclusion
This study set out to establish how taxi inscriptions as gendered discourses discursively construct the female body, focusing primarily on language use and gender representation. The hypothesis was that urban centers and minibus taxis are male spaces and that the presence of women in these spaces is construed as a transgression of traditional norms. As such, minibus taxis are regarded as a potentially gendered epistemological site. The findings indicate that taxi inscriptions are gendered discourses predicated on an overarching discourse of gender difference. The miniskirt, in particular, is discursively constructed as reflecting a clash of value systems. The miniskirt discourse reflects a conservative “re-articulation of deeply embedded discourses on [imagined] African tradition” (Robins 2008: 415). African tradition is, in this case, imagined because, as Gaidzanwa (1993: 31) points out, “pre-colonial
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

356

Busi Makoni

dress for women included micro miniskirts and women walked bare breasted.” Consequently, the issue is not tradition but, rather, what the miniskirt symbolizes to males: independence of females from male authority. The cultural authenticity argument acts as a proxy for submission to male authority and reflects a patriarchal ideology based on presumed views of women as a subordinate social group. Power and ideology are, therefore, enacted in taxi inscriptions.

Notes
1. Two types of taxis are used in most urban centers in Africa: metered taxis, which are slightly expensive and used by more affluent urban dwellers, and un-metered taxis, which cater to less affluent individuals who, in most cases, live in densely populated urban areas. Buses and trains are considered unreliable and inaccessible, especially to those who live in the densely populated outskirts of the cities. 2. Notably, she was the first woman to take the matter to court. 3. As in the Sudanese case, South African women have a yearly event to promote the miniskirt as a symbol of resistance to patriarchal control. 4. Although controversies over the miniskirt are found in many different contexts, they differ in terms of the source of the controversy and the degree and extent of their anti-feminism (Hansen 2004). 5. Taxi drivers are employed by taxi owners. Each taxi owner may have multiple vehicles driven by different individuals on the same route or on different routes.

References
Allman, J. (ed.) (2004a) Fashioning Africa: power and the politics of dress. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. — (2004b) “Let your fashion be in line with our Ghanaian costume”: nation, gender and the politics of clothing in Nkrumah’s Ghana. In J. Allman (ed.), Fashioning Africa: power and the politics of dress. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 144-65. Attwood, F. (2007) Sluts and riot grrrls: female identity and sexual agency. Journal of Gender Studies 16.3: 233-47. Bibi, B. (2009) Nudity and morality: legislating women’s bodies and dress in Nigeria. Retrieved 7 June, 2010 from http:/ /www.scribd.com/doc/18441364/Nudity-andMorality-in-Nigeria-by-Bibi-BakareYusuf. Cameron, D. (2003) Gender and language ideologies. In J. Holmes and M. Meyerhoff (eds.), Handbook of gender and language research. Oxford: Blackwell. 447-67. Cawthorne, N., E. Evans, M. Kitchen-Smith, K. Mulvey, and M. Richards (eds.) (1999) Key moments in fashion: the evolution of style. Heron Quays: Octopus Publishing. Derbyshire, D. (2007) Stone age mini-skirts and prehistoric women with a passion for fashion. Retrieved 11 November, 2010 from www.Dailymail.co.uk. Diamond, J., and E. Diamond (2006) The world of fashion. 3rd edn. New York: Fairchild.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

357

Duits, L., and L. van Zoonen (2006) Headscarves and porno-chic: disciplining girls’ bodies in European multicultural society. European Journal of Women’s Studies 14.2: 143-59. Entwistle, J. (2000) Fashion and the fleshy body: dress as embodied practice. Fashion Theory 4.3: 323-48. Fairclough, N. (1992) Discourse and social change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. — (1995) Critical discourse analysis: the critical study of language. London: Longman. — (2001) Language and power. New York: Longman. — (2003) Analysing discourse: textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge. Forbes, J. S. (1996) Disciplining women in contemporary discourses of sexuality. Journal of Gender Studies 5.2: 177-89. Fogteloo, M. (2003) Bilspleetdecolletes: de nieuwste trend in modeland. De groene Amsterdammer 127.19: 49. Gaidzanwa, R. (1993) The politics of the body and the politics of control: an analysis of class, gender and cultural issues in student politics at the University of Zimbabwe. Zambezia 20.1: 15-34. Gandolfi, F. (1989) Skirts and more skirts. Modena: Zanfi Editori srl. Gardner, C. B. (1984) Passing by: street remarks, address rights and the urban female. In J. Baugh and S. Sherzer (eds.), Language in use: readings in sociolinguistics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 148-64. Hansen, K. T. (2004) Dressing dangerously: miniskirts, gender relations and sexuality in Zambia. In J. Allman (ed.), Fashioning Africa: power and the politics of dress. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 166-86. Ivaska, A. M. (2004) “Anti-mini militants meet modern misses”: urban style, gender and politics of “national culture” in 1960s Dar es Saalam, Tanzania. In J. Allman (ed.), Fashioning Africa: power and the politics of dress. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 104-43. Kimmel, M. (2004) The gendered society. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kramsch, C. (2006) The traffic in meaning: a response to Mary Louise Pratt. Asia Pacific Journal of Education 26.1: 81-6. Lazar, M. M. (2005) Feminist CDA as political perspective and praxis. In M. M. Lazar (ed.), Feminist critical discourse analysis: gender, power and ideology in discourse. Basingtoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 1-28. — (2007) Feminist discourse analysis: articulating a feminist discourse praxis. Critical Discourse Analysis 4.2: 141-64. — (2008) Language, communication and the public sphere: a perspective from feminist critical discourse analysis. In R. Wodak and V. Koller (eds.), Handbook of communication in the public sphere. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 89-110. Lubna Al-Hussein (2010). Wikipedia. Retrieved 18 June, 2010 from http:/ /en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Lubna_al-Hussein. Makoni, B., and S. Makoni (2009) Multilingual discourses on wheels: a case for vague linguistique. In J. Maybin and J. Swann (eds.), The Routledge companion to English language studies. London: Routledge. 25-38. Mashiri, P. (2000) Street remarks, address rights and the urban female: socio-linguistics politics of gender in Harare. Zambezia 27.1: 55-70. Mills, S. (1995) Feminist stylistics. London: Routledge.

© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

358

Busi Makoni

Moffett, H. (2006) “These women, they force us to rape them”: rape as narrative of social control in post-apartheid South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies 32.1: 129-44. Mulvey, L. (1975) Visual and other pleasures. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Njung’e, C. (2008). Minis are here to stay, better get used to them, say women. Daily Nation.com. Retrieved 11 November, 2010 from http:/ /www.nation.co.ke/ News/-/1056/475010/-/view/printVersion/-/t5d05fz/-/index.html. Obbo, C. (1981) African women: the struggle for independence. London: Zed Press. Reilly, E. J. (2003). The 1960s. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood. Robins, S. (2008) Sexual politics and the Zuma rape trial. Journal of Southern African Studies 34.2: 411-27. Sarangi, S. (2009) Editorial: entextualizing the institutional. Text and Talk – An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse and Communication Studies 29.5: 481-4. Sunderland, J. (2004) Gendered discourses. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Sutton, L. (1995) Bitches and skanky hobags: the place of women in contemporary slang. In K. Hall and M. Bucholtz (eds.), Gender articulated: language and the socially constructed self. London: Routledge. 279-96. Thomas, L. (2008) Introduction. In A. E. Weinbaum, L. M. Thomas, P. Ramamurthy, U. G. Poiger, M. Y. Dong, and T. E. Barlow (eds.), The modern girl around the world: consumption, modernity, and globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 1-24. Tyner, K. E., and J. P. Ogle (2009) Feminist theory of the dressed female body: a comparative analysis and applications for textiles and clothing scholarship. Clothing and Textile Research Journal 27.2: 98-121. Vincent, L. (2009) Women’s rights get a dressing down: mini skirt attacks in South Africa. International Journal of the Humanities 6.6: 11-18. Wa Mungai, M. (2007) “Kaa Masaa, grapple with spiders”: the myriad threads of Nairobi Matatu discourse. In J. Ogude and J. Nyairo (eds.), Urban legends, colonial myths: popular culture and literature in East Africa. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. 25-58. Weaver, J., and F. Blake (2003). From head to toe: bound feet, bathing suits, and other bizarre and beautiful things. Toronto: Tundra Books. Wipper, A. (1972) African women, fashion and scapegoating. Canadian Journal of African Studies 6.2: 329-49. Wodak, R. (2008). Controversial issues in feminist critical discourse analysis. In K. Harrington, L. Litosseliti, H. Sauntson, and J. Sunderland (eds.), Gender and language research methodologies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 193-210. sud17@psu.edu [Received 1 February 2011]

Appendix 1: inscriptions on clothing 1. Ke mosadi wa mofuta mangy o o aparang marukgwe ebile a goga le segarete. (What kind of woman wears trousers and smokes cigarettes.) 2. Mo ntlong ya me, ke nna monna, ke apara marukgwe! (In my house, I am the man, I wear pants.)
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Multilingual miniskirt discourses in motion

359

3. I lip stick indebe sengathi ngumsunu wemfene (Your lipstick makes you lips look like the private parts of a baboon). 4. Faka isgcebhe mina ngizohamba nawe. (Wear a mini only if you will go with me) 5. Hlonipha amasiko ethu ngokungaqgoki isgcebhe. (Respect our culture by not wearing a miniskirt). 6. Wamuhle G-String kodwa uyasidunusela.(Nice G-string but do not bend and show me the crack in your bottom) 7. Yini udonsa donsa isgcebhe, yi 2cm musi. (Why are you stretching the miniskirt, it is a mini after all). 8. Wamen sebegqoka isgcebhe, aphelile amasiko ethu. (Women now wear miniskirts, our cultures are finished/dead) 9. Amasiko ethu athi umfazi akahloniphe angagqoki isgcebhe. (Our culture detects that women should respect and not wear miniskirts) 10. Gqok’ isgcebhe uma uzongiph’ ikuku. (Wear the miniskirt only if you will give me the cake) 11. A women in a mini is for every man to have you. 12. I two centimeter ayivunyelwa kule taxi (A 2cm [nickname for a miniskirt] is forbidden in this taxi. 13. Isgcebhe + amathanga akho = umdlalo we golf emathangeni ami. 14. Isgcebhe + amathanga = sengiyachama 15. Abagqoki sgcebhe, abahamba ze not allowed kule taxi. 16. Wearing isgcebhe is punishable by sex. 17. Anyone wearing isgcebhe, nontanjana, nederi phandle is not allowed in this taxi. (Anyone wearing a miniskirt, thong and breasts that are showing outside is not allowed in this taxi) 18. Respect my taxi, no sgcebhe asivunyelwe. 19. Umfazi oqgoka ibhulugwe umfana neboervors (A woman wearing trousers looks like a sausage). 20. Ababhushubhushu abagqok isgcebhe abavunyelwa kuletaxi. 21. Abesgcebhezana not allowed kuletaxi kodwa ke udriver unakho ukubavumela uma ezakudla.(Those in miniskirts are not allowed in this taxi although the driver can allow them if they will give him i.e. have sex with him). 22. Ngizoshayela njani uma ugqok isgcebhe mina ngichama (How can I drive when you are wearing a miniskirt and I am ejaculating.)

© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful