Chapter 9. Sex discourses and the construction of gender identity in Sesotho

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In this chapter I examine how the linguistic realization of sex discourses in Southern Sotho draw upon cultural sociolinguistic resources of hlonipha (respect) to reproduce traditional gendered identities. Using a sample of interviews of female rape victims by male police officers, I show that women’s access to sex discourses is constrained by the hlonipha culture to which to they are expected to adhere. However, when they raped, and report to the authorities, they enter into a completely foreign discourse environment. This conflict between cultural expectations of women’s traditional discourse (which requires avoidance of explicit sexual terms), on the one hand, and that of the legal system (i.e. explicitness for the sake of clarity and precision of evidence) on the other, is a phenomenon which constitutes linguistic and socio-cultural constraints that contribute to Basotho women’s failure to help bring about the conviction of rapists.


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