Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Exploring Alternative Views on the Western Miniskirt and Isigcebhezana in the Patriarchal Zulu Culture of South Africa

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Exploring Alternative Views on the Western Miniskirt and Isigcebhezana in the Patriarchal Zulu Culture of South Africa

Article excerpt


There is a huge problem associated with the shift and changing meanings, and also with perceptions of women wearing miniskirts. In this study, the researchers are seeking to explore why women wearing a traditional miniskirt (isigcebhezana) are more respected and appreciated among the patriarchal Zulu nation in South Africa than women wearing a Western miniskirt. Isigcebhezana were used in pre-colonial Africa to refer to the small piece of skin used to cover female genitals. This form of mini-dress was, and still is, a form of traditional dress that has long existed in African cultures before the invention of the Western miniskirt in 1960 (Makoni, 2011: 344).

Makoni further explains that in the African pre-colonial period, particularly in the Zulu culture, these miniskirts were made up of hide and beads; furthermore, they were associated with femininity (p. 345). Vincent (2009: 3) posits that culture is static, unchanging and homogeneous in its assumptions. Mkhwanazi (2008) writes that culture is not static, neither is it homogeneous. In other words, she means that what is defined as Zulu culture is actually constantly changing. There are multiple understandings of what constitutes Zulu culture, which are themselves contested.

Generally, the Zulus are people originally from the KwaZulu-Natal region; and they see themselves as belonging to the Zulu tribe.

A Western miniskirt is a skirt with a hemline well above the knees, generally halfway up the thighs (Chikodza & Zimuto, 2013: 26). Makoni (2011: 345) states that during the African pre-colonial period, in particular among the Zulus' traditional culture, miniskirts were associated with femininity; and those women who wore them had dignity and were seen as respectable human beings.

There is paucity in the literature on the beautification of women wearing miniskirts in the African continent. This gap in the literature has motivated the researchers to raise social awareness about the importance of the miniskirt, and its changing meanings from a Southern African perspective, using the Zulu women of Vanderbijlpark, South Africa as informants for the study. We believe that the study may contribute to African literature - and also the black feminist movement in South Africa.

Background to the study

In South Africa, the miniskirt has existed since pre-colonial times. In the African cultures, such as the Basotho, the Batswana, the Bapedi, the Amaswati and the AmaZulu, women wore traditional miniskirts as cultural attire. Gaidzanwa (1993: 31) writes that many forms of pre-colonial women's dress included very short skirts and bare breasts. In the Zulu culture, the traditional short skirt isigcebhezana is worn only with ubuhlali (a beaded necklace).

Zulu culture is a patriarchal culture that appreciates and respects woman who wear an isigcebhezana (traditional miniskirt); whilst at the same time it disrespects and denigrates women who wear a Western miniskirt in public places. With regard to the Western miniskirt, this short skirt has a different meaning; and it is perceived to suggest sexual connotations. African cultures perceive the Western miniskirt differently from the traditional short skirt. Mubita (2013) writes that the perceptions of women wearing miniskirts are controversial due to dramatic political and cultural changes.

On the other hand, the Western miniskirt represents femininity, empowerment, as well as independence; but in contemporary situations, it is often associated with sexuality. In the patriarchal Zulu cultures, the Western miniskirt is often perceived differently from the traditional miniskirt - even though they look similar. The sexualisation of the Western miniskirt leads to situations where African women who wear miniskirts are harassed by cultural men in public places.

The Western miniskirt was invented and made popular in the 1960s (Random History, 2009). In Europe, the miniskirt symbolises empowerment, independence and the desire to please. …

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