Gender and humour; Complexities of women's image politics in Shona humourous narratives

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Humour represents an ideal site for understanding how everyday social dynamics influence ideology and the social structure (Sue & Golash-Boza, 2013:4). This research is an examination of how gender is expressed in Shona humour. Particular emphasis is paid to how women are presented in Shona humorous narratives. Though 'what a person does in a jest is usually not accorded the same weight of responsibility as what he does seriously, humour provides a means to test the openness, accessibility, and riskiness of sensitive issues' (Lang & Lee, 2010:47). This study examines how women in particular, are reflected in Shona humour. Humour provides a 'safe' climate for expressing 'system-justifying' beliefs, (Ford et al. 2013), and this study is an exploration of the Shona beliefs about women and the reinforcement of gender norms as expressed in Shona humour. The study derives impetus from the fact that while images of women have been studied in literary and lexicographic works in Shona in particular, aspects of humour and how it presents women remain largely under-studied, as humour studies as a discipline, despite its long history the world over, is still at its infancy in Zimbabwe. From a corpus of jokes that were circulated on the social media, particularly Facebook and WhatsApp, the study examines how women are presented in Shona humour. The research made use of the Superiority Theory of humour, Incongruity and Feminism to argue that Shona humour expresses oppressive and unjust gender relations. While the humorous Shona narratives demonstrate a complex portrayal of women, generally, Shona humour expresses, ratifies and reinforces repressive norms and restrictive stereotypes about women. Women are presented as immoral, malicious and intellectually, socially and emotionally inferior to men. The study therefore argues that humour facilitates the process of promoting gender stereotypes as well as fostering gender discrimination in Shona.