Paper presented at the 1st Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "A spanner in the works of the factory of truth"
20 October 1995, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa


Discourses, videos and talk about sexual violence: A video presentation
Amanda Kottler
Over the past few years a number of initiatives against sexual harassment and violence have been launched by South African universities with mixed results. As an active member of one of the first projects of this kind, my attention was drawn to how severely hampered policy making, education and prevention were by definitional problems and varied gendered and cultural constructions. With a view to addressing some of these issues an educational campaign was proposed, part of which involved an attempt at an innovative multi-methodological approach free from the trappings of one particular discipline. Drawing on research looking at talk about sexual harassment a postgraduate drama producer (Peter Hayes) conducted workshop discussions on sexual harassment with men and women from a wide range of contexts (which were audio or video taped), with a view to producing a dramatic piece of forum theatre entitled ONE MAN'S MEAT IS A WOMAN'S POISON. It was performed by two women and two men, one white and one black at a number of university venues, on occasion to extremely large audiences (1000 at the University of the Western Cape). Requests for additional performances came from a number of unexpected places, e.g. Rape Crisis used it as part of their counselling training course in 1994. A 28 minute video of a performance, incorporating audience participation in rescripting and replaying the scenarios was produced by an educational film maker (Lindy Wilson). A number of copies of this video have already been sold to other universities and NGOs. The video will be shown and can be accompanied by a paper which describes the process which led up to its production.

This paper describes a multi-methodological project which drew on discourse analytic theory and methods to produce an educational video for the University of Cape Town. Entitled "One man's meat ..... is a woman's poison", this video has been effectively used in a range of workshops designed to grapple with the issue of sexual harassment and policy making decisions about countering this in institutional settings. The video records the final version of a dramatic production of the same title, both of which form part of a larger, presently unfinished, research project. This paper therefore represents a first phase of work still in progress and should be seen only as a draft in which, given time constraints I describe the impetus behind the research idea and the process leading up to the making of the video.

There is a large body of research which demonstrates that conversations about "sexual harassment" are not sites of sharing (e.g. Kottler, 1990; Kottler and Swartz (in press); Long and Kottler, submitted). There are definitional problems involved and varied gendered and cultural constructions. How then can any institution or corporation successfully implement a policy which allows for sexually harassing behaviour to be positively challenged and which puts together internal mechanisms for processing complaints?

As an active member of one of the first university initiatives in South Africa which is attempting to do something about sexual violence, this lack of shared perceptions was apparent at all our meetings. Frustrated arguments about how best to launch an educational programme at the university in particular drew my attention to the multiple and contradictory discourses evident in these conversations and equally importantly, people's differing investments in each, all of which seriously confused and hampered decision making.

Some members of the educational sub-group supported the publishing of a booklet which would inform the reader of the university's policy, its definition of sexual harassment and both the formal and the informal remedies available at the university. In discussion, it became clear that such a publication was premised on an idea that according to some literature certain truths exist and, having been proven correct, should be shared with others in what was perceived as an "educational process".

From our discussions it was clear that this kind of publication would not include or tolerate contradictions or different positioning in multiple discourses, hence different views on the subject of sexual harassment. Because of this some of us in the group opposed the idea of an "informational" booklet. Given the obvious lack of clarity on this topic evidenced in research and our meetings, we felt that a booklet of this kind would be of little educational use. Certainly, it would add to the growing pile of booklets being produced by various institutions re-producing definitions of sexual harassment and policies. And, perhaps it would achieve a sense of satisfaction for those of like mind. But, instead of drawing in as allies others who feel that the idea of sexual harassment is a trivial one, we believed that this form of "education" would further antagonise