Friday, February 19, 2010

Gender Bias in Media Persists for Female Candidates

At a panel discussion Feb. 18, 2010 at The Aspen Institute in Washington sponsored by Madeleine K. Albright Women's Voices, Erika Falk of Johns Hopkins University showed us the dispiriting results of her research on press coverage of women presidential candidates, beginning with 1872 with Victoria Woodhull. (Yes, that's right; women began running for president before the vote was available to women in every state.) In spite of social progress, women's advances in the economy, in education, and in non-traditional occupations, "There has been almost no change in the pattern of disproportionate coverage," Falk said.
Falk did not compare male winners with female losers. She compared what she called "equivalent candidates" vying for nomination, and these were the results:
Item 1: Men received more coverage. If you aggregate the eight races Falk looked at, male candidates received twice as much coverage. And the articles about them were longer.
Item 2: Men received more substantive coverage. Twenty-seven percent of paragraphs in articles about men described their policy positions -- only 16% for women.
Item 3: Women's status was diminished when their official or professional titles were dropped on subsequent references, as when Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm would be referred to as "Mrs. Chisholm" in subsequent references. This happened 32% of the time for women, but only 11% for men.
Item 4: Physical descriptions of candidates occurred four times for a female candidate to every one time for a male candidate.
There is obviously no upside to this for voters or for female candidates or for the nation, for that matter. The worst of it, says Falk, is that "media bias may not make women lose, but it may discourage them from running."

1 comment:

  1. That is disgusting that the media would actually try and use physical references to candidates as a way in which to judge their merit. This is a topic I have interested in for a while, especially since this past 2008 Democratic run for candidacy. I was in full support of Hillary Clinton as the nominee for President, but every time there were debates or press releases, and especially in articles, she was vilified. In debates if she expressed any ounce of passion or assertiveness on a topic of discussion, she was deemed aggressive, manic, and bitchy, but if Obama or McCain were passionate it was viewed as strong and eloquent.

    I would like to recommend and interview series of professional women in online journalism.
    It was conducted by the University of Iowa Gender and Mass Media Class this past fall and offers wonderful insight into the future of online journalism.