File photo courtesy of USU Extension, St. George News
ST. GEORGE – Research over the past decades indicates that female politicians continue to be disadvantaged in the way they are covered by the media, and that women are often discouraged from entering politics due to sexist media reporting.
To determine how female political candidates were represented in the Utah media, researchers at the Utah State University Utah Women and Leadership Project assessed media coverage from 1995 to 2020. News articles were collected from The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, Weber’s Standard-Examiner. County and The Daily Herald in Utah County. For analysis, 383 articles were reviewed.
According to Susan Madsen, founding director of the Leadership Project and one of the study’s five authors, the research did not include a benchmarking of media focused on Utah’s men running for office, but each section of the study provides a comparison with other studies. which focused on men.
“Our research may help Utah residents and the media become more aware of gendered language that could negatively impact female applicants, as most people still view ‘leadership’ as a male trait or activity.” , she said.
The study’s research was divided into 12 areas, in order of frequency of mention: candidate background, viability, general tone, mention of gender, leadership traits, male versus female issues, family life, male versus female traits. , physical appearance, personality traits, sexist comments and level of government. Highlights of the research follow.
More than men, women benefited from coverage focused on their background, family life and personality. The media tended to emphasize the lack of viability of the candidates, focusing more on “horse racing” or the predictive aspects of the results of their campaigns.
One politician said: “When a woman is in a leadership position, we expect her to be tough. However, if she is too harsh, she looks “witchy.” But it cannot be too soft, because then it is labeled as “not strong enough for the job.” This is consistent with research indicating that the perceived characteristics of women conflict with the demands of political leadership.
Published research suggests that male candidates are much less likely than women to be referenced by their gender, as men are accepted as the norm in politics, while women are viewed as historical figures at best – or at worst. as abnormal. Repeatedly emphasizing gender underscores the perceived scarcity of female politicians in Utah.
“Compassion issues” are called female issues which focus on people-related topics such as poverty, education, health care, child care, environment, social issues (including LGBTQ) and issues related to women’s experiences (e.g. abortion, violence against women / domestic violence, gender quotas).
Conversely, men’s issues focus on “hard issues”, such as foreign policy, foreign affairs, natural resources, armed forces / military, budget and finance, taxes and the economy. In addition, the media more frequently reported the candidates’ personal information, including marital and parental coverage. In contrast, male applicants are more likely to be described based on their occupation, experience or achievement.
When a candidate got emotional, the Utah media called him out, often in a way that suggested women need to bottle their emotions and bury themselves in their jobs to be tough enough. One candidate was described as “disastrously tearful” and “involuntary”.
Physical appearance was identified in 52 articles, with women’s clothing, age and race being mentioned most frequently. There were also references to her shoes, hair, makeup, height, weight, fitness, beauty or physical attractiveness, and appearance of tired, stressed, or energized. Focusing on a candidate’s personal style and attributes, but not providing comparable ratings for men, diminishes the way women are viewed, ignoring their substance and leadership abilities.
Media coverage has shown subtle forms of sexist language, including things like ambitious, fiery, or compassionate, which only reinforce gender stereotypes. Women tend to be seen as ice queens, grandmothers, mothers or “steel in a velvet glove”. Such comments reduce a candidate’s credibility, respectability and sympathy.
Sheryl Allen, former Davis County state lawmaker, said women have a different perspective and if we are to have good government we need a diversity of opinions and expertise.
Madsen said it was in Utah’s best interests to prepare and support more women in political leadership positions and to provide them with more equitable and representative media coverage.
“The research clearly shows that by doing this, we can uplift our residents and strengthen our businesses, communities and the state as a whole,” she said.
Written by JULENE REESE, USU Extension.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.