Thursday, November 8, 2012

Potential Effects of Gender in Media Representation

The media is one of the biggest influences in our lives today, especially when it comes to forming opinions about political candidates. While we may make some initial conclusions about a candidate based on their political party, the other information we receive about these candidates is up to the media networks. This information can be extremely detrimental or beneficial to a candidates political race, dependent upon how it is presented to the community. We are sure that in the case of some networks, the candidates political party makes a difference in how they are presented, but could this also be affected by the candidates gender? Our society has many long standing stereotypes of males and females especially when it comes to the political realm, these stereotypes might effect media representation of both sexes. We can study this by looking at two similar candidate's, one male and one female, media representation will help us to see if there is a gender-based bias present in media portrayal of political candidates.

The two candidates chosen are Michele Bachmann from Minnesota and Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, they are both incumbent Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. In trying to limit the amount of variables, aside from gender, that may influence the media's representation, these two were chosen for their similarities to each other. Although no two political figures have the same exact credentials or stances on issues, these two are both from the same area of the country and have many similar interests and views, especially on social issues. These two political figures were chosen because they have also had their share in the media recently, specifically in relation to the recent presidential election. Bachmann and Ryan have also both experienced media coverage based on their physical appearances and clothing choices, and this will perhaps show that stereotypes are not as present as previously supposed. However, although these candidates do have similarities they also have differences, therefore the variables concerning differing media coverage might be affected by these other characteristics.

Michelle Bachmann's history with the media has been rocky through her years as a Representative in the House, especially in the past year as she began a presidential nomination race, which she lost, and then in her efforts to gain back her voters after this attempt. However, this is not about what she said but how she is presented in general in the media, in two articles following election day her slim victory was addressed similarly. In an article, by the Associated Press, posted on the Oregonian's website and in a New York Times article concerning the election state by state, Bachmann was associated with such issues as same-sex marriage and abortion. The authors of these articles also discussed the fact that she spent so much money on her campaign and barely came out on top. In a third article on the Los Angeles Times website, Bachmann was linked with ideas that she was “distracted by her own celebrity,” and again the large amount of money she spent on her campaign was brought up. Also discussed were the charges against her that she was “a polarizing and divisive member of Congress.” These are just a few examples of the top search result articles that can be read by searching for information on Michele Bachmann.

Due to his selection as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 Presidential election, Paul Ryan has become extremely popular in the media and their speculations about his future. In one recent article, posted on the New York Times, Ryan's future in the Republican party is discussed, including his House budget plan and his more conservative views and what that could mean for a future Presidential bid. In a second article, from ABC News, Ryan's future was discussed in relation to the three previous Vice Presidential candidates on the losing side, and their lack of future political endeavors. While no conclusions were drawn, the article did also mention Ryan's budget plan for the House. A third article, from the Huffington Post, talked about Ryan's war on poverty, and his ideas on how helping the less fortunate would help the country as a whole. These three articles are just a few of the top search result articles for Paul Ryan that were found following the election from a simple web search.

What is interesting to see in the differences of coverage for these two candidates is the topics chosen by the authors to associate with the individual that was being discussed. For Michele Bachmann they seemed to focus on the social issues that she supports rather than her stances on military or financial policy. And then for Paul Ryan they focus supremely on the financial aspect of his political stances even though he is also a staunch conservative on many of the social issues. However, these differences might be due to the fact that female politicians are expected, by society, to be more focused on social issues while male politicians are supposed to be focused more on financial and military issues. Therefore, this difference might be due to the stereotypes held by the society or the ones held by the media themselves. But other differences such as the focus of how much money Bachmann spent on her campaign or the claims Ryan “putting on a face” of caring about poverty stricken individuals seems to be more of a media bias that extends into the political parties of the individuals rather than their gender.

Media plays a large role in our perception of the world around us, especially when it comes to political candidates and their stances on most political issues. Both Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan have had large doses of recent political media coverage that has varied in subtle ways when discussing political issues they support. These slight differences are potentially based in gender bias stereotypes, of the media, for what issues should matter for certain candidates based on their gender or sex. More research concerning the media representation of political candidates, based on their gender, would be a beneficial study aiding individuals to address what is truly important politically. In conclusion, while it is interesting and telling to study media and gender, we must always keep in mind that the political party matters just as much.


Ryan Articles:

Bachmann Articles:

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