Gendered election coverage: the representation of women in British newspapers, 1918-2010
thesisposted on 2013-05-16, 15:26 authored by Emily Harmer
This thesis analysed the representation of women as voters, politicians and relatives of politicians in the newspaper coverage of every elections from 1918 until 2010; in order to offer historical context to the existing literature about women, media and politics. Content analysis and feminist critical discourse analysis were employed to track the changes and continuities in their mediated representations across the twenty five elections studied. The study shows that across time, the representation of voters changed the least. Voters tended to be constructed as mothers and thrifty housewives whose political views stemmed from their familial roles and domestic responsibilities. The extent to which they were depicted as politically engaged and were quoted did increase over time however they continued to be predominantly written about rather than allowed to speak for themselves. Contrary to the results of previous studies, politicians were not associated with stereotypically feminine policy areas, but were instead gendered through their construction as important representatives for women voters and their campaign styles. Over time the proportion of items offering negative evaluations increased. The proportion which made personalised references to their appearance or age, and included their voices peaked during the 1960s and 1970s and then declined so that contemporary politicians are as likely to experience both as their interwar forebears. The results from 2010 however suggested that personalisation may once again be increasing. The role of relatives in electoral coverage changed the most of the three groups. During the interwar years they were depicted as active political campaigners whose contribution was largely welcomed, after war their role became more focused on their personal lives. The coverage also became increasingly focused on the wives of party leaders. By the late 1980s, leaders wives were once again constructed taking an active role in the campaign but these interventions were portrayed as illegitimate and threatening to democracy. The coverage of relatives became increasingly personalised over time focusing on their appearance and its appeal to the electorate. The newspaper coverage of women in electoral campaigns has always been, and continues to be gendered in specific ways. Women have consistently had their level of political activity trivialised and their voices marginalised. They were domesticated through the construction of their political priorities and campaign styles and they received personalised coverage which was undeniably gendered. In effect women were routinely linked to the private sphere, rendering their political participation in the public domain problematic.
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