- Staff Writer. 2016. Triggs’ integrity questioned by Coalition MPs. [online] Available at: http://www.news.com.au/national/coalition-grills-human-rights-chief-julian-triggs-over-misleading-senate-committee-evidence/news-story/fa3d0d00d588c3572b8b0738629bb835 [Accessed 22 Oct. 2016].
- Le Messurier, D. 2016. PM contradicts Abbott over gun law. [online] Available at: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/current-affairs/leigh-sales-grills-tony-abbott-his-tweet-about-gun-laws/news-story/bbcd902299b7ed29cfd86f3aa25063ba [Accessed 22 Oct. 2016].
- Dunlevy, S. 2016. Govt pushes on with Medicare payment overhaul. [online] Available at: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/turnbull-government-presses-on-with-medicare-payment
There has been a plethora of literature written on the subject of gender difference in media. This field is so well-studied that it has become almost saturated; it contains a body of knowledge so significant that it is easy to become lost. However, there are areas of concern within this particular field of study that pertain directly to the media, and these are fascinating glances into the long-held societal beliefs and archetypes of any community. The purpose of this discussion is to develop an understanding of the differences in characterizations of female and male politicians in the media; while Australia will be the central focus of the discussion, expansion into other realms will also be considered.
A number of recent news articles will be discussed and analyzed for textual and linguistic differences. These articles will then be compared based on diction and structure—and the differences between the characterizations of male and female politicians will be discussed in the context of the current-day academic literature on the subject. Most literature seems to suggest that female politicians face numerous struggles, particularly on the campaign trail (Baird 2004).
Female politicians are more likely to be criticized based on appearance, and female politicians are also more likely to be personally attacked for their political views than their male counterparts, according to the current research (Brooks 2011; Badaheur 2013; Herrnson, Lay and Stokes 2003). This discussion will investigate how insidious these differences are in everyday news media, and what their general effect has been on the evolution of women’s role in politics.
Women in the Media: Characterizations of Political Women in Modern Media
Around the world, politics has long been a game that has focused on men and the interaction of men who share positions of power (Baird 2004). Women who are in powerful positions must be very careful in the way they present themselves and the power that they exude; these women must be simultaneously powerful enough to command presence and attention, but also feminine enough to not draw the ire of the media (Baird 2004). As can be seen in the discussion of a number of recent articles from the Associated Press and other Australian news sources, the characterization of male and female politicians is subtly but clearly very different.
A Staff Writer from the AAP wrote an article on the Human Rights Commission president Gillian, a woman who is not even a career politician (Staff Writer 2016). This writer reports on the words Professor Triggs used during her hearing, and then reports that Triggs “…believed that she had been quoted inaccurately in an interview…” (Staff Writer 2016). The response to Professor Triggs’ statements was harsh: politicians were calling for her to be recalled, and some even claimed that these kinds of misstatements were proof of her character (Staff Writer 2016). In this document, a diction and textual analysis will be used and compared with words used to describe male politically-active figures. The purpose of this analysis is to examine the current media presentation of men and women in positions of authority, and examine the ways that these characterizations are different.
Le Messurier (2016) also writes a brief article about a political incident that occurred recently, which focused on Tony Abbott—Abbott is, of course, a male politician, which is what makes the issues associated with his personification very interesting indeed. LeMessurier (2016) is also claiming that he was misquoted or misrepresented in some way; this was one of the primary reasons for choosing this pair of articles for the initial comparison and textual analysis—both individuals are experiencing similar factual treatment for the press (claims of misquoting and truth-twisting), but their words and their personalities have been treated in very different ways (Le Messurier 2016).
Le Messurier (2016) examines the issue with Mr. Abbott in great detail, but one of the most interesting and the treatment of Professor Triggs is very quickly apparent. Le Messurier (2016) writes “Tony Abbott has claimed he was ‘misrepresented’…” (Le Messurier 2016). In this case, Le Messurier (2016) uses extensive quotation of Mr. Abbott throughout the piece; the Staff Writer who crafted the other piece, however, integrated very few direct quotes from Professor Triggs (Staff Writer 2016).
Interestingly, Professor Triggs is being attacked in the media because she dared to claim that many of Australia’s male leaders do not have an excellent grasp of many of the political issues that they deal with on a daily basis (Staff Writer 2016). While she is not an elected official, she acts in a political capacity, and it is natural that the press would run her words. However, many within the government and outside of it are calling for her to be recalled or even fired as a result of her statements—many of which she has since qualified and attempted to better explain (Staff Writer 2016).
Alternatively, in the Dunlevy (2016) article, much can be learned about the way that both male and female politicians are treated in the text. It is important to note that none of these authors are openly disparaging towards female politicians as a whole; however, despite the tacit support for female politicians and political activity, there are still very clear differences in the way that male and female politicians are treated within the text (Dunlevy 2016). There are even differences in the ways that the photos of female politicians are used in the text; these differences are very interesting, and they go beyond this small collection of articles. It is the contention of this discussion that there is an undercurrent of difference in expectation for male and female politicians in Australia and the world as a whole; in fact, gender differences that are very pronounced in society at large can be characterized as even more pronounced in the political world (Brooks 2011; Badaheur 2013; Herrnson, Lay and Stokes 2003).
Generally, in each of the articles that were discussed, an interesting trend emerged. Female politicians’ statements were quoted—that is, whole sentences and larger pieces of information from their writing and from interviews were included in the text (Staff Writer 2016; Dunlevy 2016; Le Messurier 2016). Male politicians had quotes that were integrated into the text; the authors of the news articles seemed to feel more comfortable integrating male politicians into the very fabric of the text. In addition, female politicians and politically active women who made mistakes and misstatements to the press and to other politicians were lambasted as having questionable character. However, when male politicians—like PM Tony Abbott, for instance—made ostensibly grievous misstatements to the press, no character questions were asked regarding his personality and his efficiency for office (Staff Writer 2016; Dunlevy 2016; Le Messurier 2016).
One of the most interesting trends suggested by the literature is that the way that women are portrayed in the media—particularly female politicians—and the way that they are compared to their male counterparts is actively changing (Braden 2015). While female politicians used to be heavily lambasted for failing to “look the part,” today there is more of a focus on appearance in general—that is, both male and female politicians must conform more strictly to particular appearance guidelines, but these guidelines do not change based on gender (Esser 2013; Kittilson and Fridkin 2008; Braden 2015).
This document has presented a limited analysis of the ways that female candidates are treated in contrast to the ways that male candidates and politicians are treated, but the research seems to suggest that there are still very distinct differences between female and male political candidates—particularly insofar as a conceptualization of their character and personality traits are concerned (Street 2004; Esser 2013; Kittilson and Fridkin 2008; Braden 2015).
Western society as a whole is moving away from traditional gender roles for men and women, but it is still more acceptable for women to take up the mantle of male gender roles than vice versa (Street 2004; Esser 2013; Kittilson and Fridkin 2008; Braden 2015). Thus, it is sometimes easier for a female politician to be seen as strong and masculine within the context of an event or within the context of her campaign than it is for a male politician to be seen as sensitive (Braden 2015). Gender roles might be relaxing in today’s society, but they have not been abandoned completely. Female politicians still face questions if they are too focused on their career and not focused enough on their family or their appearance (Brooks 2011; Badaheur 2013; Herrnson, Lay and Stokes 2003).
Female politicians who are married with families often find the need to publically play the role of wife and mother, regardless of the actual structure and makeup of their family unit (Brooks 2011; Badaheur 2013; Herrnson, Lay and Stokes 2003). If, for instance, a female politician has a husband who is the primary caregiver for their child or children, that politician will still need to present the appearance of being a significant influence in her children’s’ lives, or face potential backlash within the press (Adcock 2010). In the articles discussed here, it is easy to see how quickly the press moves to question the character of women active in the political world: potential misstatements to the press are enough to call Professor Triggs’ entire testimony before the government into question, for instance (Staff Writer 2016).
Celebrity and Politics
The growth of the media in all different forms in modern life has had an interesting effect on politicians as a whole. To a certain extent, politicians have always led public lives; however, now politicians live much more publically than ever before. In many ways, politicians have become celebrities, existing for the entertainment of the masses, and the masses thrive on drama and excitement (Badaheur 2013; Herrnson, Lay and Stokes 2003). In generations past, if a politician were to make a political gaffe in a statement to the press, it was likely to get some press, and it is even possible that the politician might face significant repercussions. However, today, the Internet never forgets: every mistake is tossed to the people, where they are analyzed and re-analyzed over and over again. The media might hint at differences between male and female politicians, but people with more extreme viewpoints might take to Twitter or Facebook or another social media platform and begin to spread memes, images, and articles that attack female politicians for their politics (Braden 2015).
The article associated with Professor Triggs is an excellent example of the new-media machine. The article was written by an anonymous member of the press corps, who then turned it loose to the Internet; the Twitter account of Senator Abetz is even quoted in the article (Staff Writer 2016). By clicking through to Twitter, it is easy to see—using the search parameters “#triggs”—that Professor Triggs is being lambasted and even having her character attacked as a result of this article and the subsequent articles written. Some examples are below.
The Role of Masculinity as Standard in Politics
Interestingly, one of the side-effects of integrating female politicians into the mainstream seems to be that there are now similar expectations for male and female candidates—but female politicians are also largely held to the standards of their male counterparts, rather than vice versa (Caldas-Coulthard 2003). Rather than being able to be both feminine and powerful, female politicians often must take up the mantle and the appearance of masculine power—this is the kind of power and prestige that allows a female candidate to be elected into office (Brooks 2011; Braden 2015).
Female politicians must appear powerful in moderately masculine ways:
- strong posture,
- strong diction,
- and an appearance of aloof behavior are all important for the success of female politicians (Braden 2015).
Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically, female politicians are also expected to be “softer” than their male counterparts in some ways (Brooks 2011). When something traumatic happens to a community, female politicians must exude a sense of power—but not too much power, or these individuals risk being ostracized by the press and by the community as a whole for being unfeeling and too removed from the suffering of the people (Brooks 2011). In terms of the presentation and perception of power, it is clear that female politicians are required to walk a very fine line between commanding power and being seen as feminine individuals (Street 2004; Esser 2013; Kittilson and Fridkin 2008; Braden 2015).
If female politicians stray too far from the line, they can easily be ousted from their position by the media, which is immensely powerful in colouring the public’s perception of politicians (Brooks 2011; Badaheur 2013; Herrnson, Lay and Stokes 2003). In the article regarding Tony Abbott, Mr. Abbott was quoted extensively, and some of the diction he used was quite aggressive—towards other politicians, the press, and even towards the government in general (Le Messurier 2016). However, PM Abbott’s character was never attacked during the course of the article; although he claims that he was misquoted by the press, he and Professor Triggs do not share the same consideration by the press or the people as a whole. He seems to be given the benefit of the doubt, while she is lambasted for the misunderstanding and is accused of lacking personal integrity (Staff Writer 2016; Le Messurier 2016).
Discussion and Conclusions
The subtlety of the differences between the treatment of male and female politicians seems to suggest that these differences are the result of ingrained bias on the part of society as a whole (Adcock 2010). While there are still many people who believe that men and women are not and should not be equal, the vast majority of people have moved beyond this kind of thought; however, western society is still only two to three generations removed from a time when women could not vote, let alone hold office (Adcock 2010). It makes sense, then, that female politicians would be sometimes unfairly affected by the lingering bias of society as a whole. Interestingly, there seems to be a general trend for both male and female politicians that put more weight on issues like appearance than ever before (Campbell and Wolbrecht 2006).
Female politicians face a difficult battle with the media, but research seems to suggest that the battle is ever-evolving. In today’s world, bias and inequality between the sexes is nearly so cut and dried as it might have been in the past. Women are no longer barred from holding office or voting, for instance; there are no legal restrictions that bind women and keep them from pursuing their own dreams and goals. However, this does not mean that bias and gender differences have been completely bled out of society as a whole (Gauntlett 2008). In the (admittedly limited) sample of news articles taken from modern-day news sources, differences between the treatment of male and female politicians can be seen quite easily.
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