Role of the Media in the Struggle for Gender Inequality in Public Office


The struggle for women’s equality in the society is far from being over. There are many areas in the society that have not been able to achieve the desired equality being always elusive. The unequal acquisition of resources has helped widen the gender gap. Gender inequality issue is prevalent in many areas where there ought to be equal opportunity. Politics and public administration is an example area where gender parity still exists. American political system has been continuously removing female leadership. The American woman’s political equality has remained a mirage because of the aggressiveness of men and the perception of the wider society. The American woman has been subjected to marginalization especially when it comes to public and family affairs. In the past, the American woman was denied participation in elections. Furthermore, they could not own property unless under the umbrella of the husband. Thus, they would not rent a house of get a job without their husbands appending signatures (“The Fight”).

What role has media played in the gender parity within the American political system? The media should act as a free voice to help agitate for gender equity. However, it has failed in its duty. The media cannot be excluded from the role they should play to take away the burden that the women of our society have carried for far too long. The American media has helped promote stereotypes and cultural norms that work against women leadership. The stereotypes projected in the media act as a reflection of the view of the society while serving as propagators of the status quo at the same time. As a result of the media portrayal of male power as being beyond women’s abilities, many people are thinking that the woman cannot be as good leader as the man. The media has created a weaker position of women seeking public offices, therefore further promoting gender inequality in politics.

How the Media Has Contributed to Gender Parity in Elective Positions

The media coverage makes the women appear less efficient in holding powerful political offices. There is no other area where the media has played greater role in gender parity than in the American elections. The mainstream media and the opinion shapers have always collaborated to weaken the potential political influence of women seeking very high political offices. The role of media in weakening female candidates is illustrated by the Sarah Palin’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns of 2008. The media portrayal of these two women was that they were not equal to their male competitors. Despite the fact that Hillary and Sarah had worked over the years as career politicians and curved their own political image, the media campaign seemed to indicate that they still had not developed the political muscles for the offices they were pursuing. The effect of this media coverage was the emergence of voter apathy among the supporters of these candidates. Most of the supporters of Hillary began thinking differently towards her candidature, hence leading to her loss to Barack Obama. The democrats nominated Obama despite the fact that Hillary has acquired more skills and knowledge in public administration having served for the government in various capacities.

The media would paint the women as less popular and, therefore, less likely to win. When Elizabeth Dole declared interest in the Grand Old party nominations, she was treated as relatively less competitive in comparison to the male competitors. The coverage given to her by the media did not commensurate with her ratings in the polls. She was a victim of the biased media that put her candidature in a bad light. In 1999, October 20th, Elizabeth Dole had to drop out of the Republican presidential nominations.  Her withdrawal came barely before the first presidential primary and only six months after she had declared her interest in the race for the ticket. In spite of the fact that the bid was short-lived, it was still among the longest and most serious bids in a major political party’s presidential nomination in the past two decades before her announcement. Her short-lived bid also provided a ground for a study on how many media houses cover women candidates who run for the Oval Office.

Study shows that many women who run for political office are subjected to numerous prejudice and stereotype thoughts. Such women have reported that the press focuses too much on their appearances and personalities. They cover the sort of clothes they wear to political rallies and the fashion designs clothes they have bought. There is much attention paid by the media to their makeup and hairstyles.Their objectives are not aired and are completely ignored by the media reports. The women have also reported their plans to put forward great policy changes and proposals, but the media does not inform the voting population of this. The media coverage of women seeking political offices is done in such as to make their candidatures appear less serious. In her paper of analyzing the races of the 1980s, Kim Kahn’s found that the press had devoted much of their analyzing to the personalities of women running for governor.

The main stream makes the women appear less serious in their bid to win the top seats. The press would focus more on the irrelevant personal issues of female candidates rather than on the policies they would present. The American presidential election attracts keen media attention and intense coverage. Unfortunately, the Oval Office has been painted as a “masculine” office that only the males have a right to occupy. The presidency has been a glass ceiling for many women candidates who have tried to vie for the office. The media coverage has always created the perception that the man is better suited to be president than the woman.  Erika Falks argues that the media has in throughout the years trivialized the female candidates by using negative stereotypes against them.

The negative analysis of women by the media has contributed to many of them being unwilling to declare interest in the top political offices. According to the study done by Melody Rose and Regina Lawrence, the media coverage of Hilary Clinton in 2008 was focused more on her negative aspects. Stories carried by the main stream press were that Clinton would quit the race and let Obama proceed to compete with the Republican nominee. This is a negative coverage that kills the morale of the candidate and casts a bad light on the possibilities of her winning the race.

The media has given more coverage to the men in power to air their view concerning different issues than it has to the women in power. Furthermore, the women who want to run for positions of power are trivialized in the newsrooms and many television shows. Men have dominated almost all the spheres, and the media has played a major role as a result. Next, media has continuously given men in political offices more time on air to discuss the problems. The women in power are trivialized and left out of such discussions.

Many women are afraid to join politics because of the phobia that has been created in them. Media has played a very significant role in this position taken by the women. Early studies have shown that women are given much less coverage compared with their male counterparts. It is the low coverage that has plagued female candidates’ success. The study that was conducted by Kim Kahn revealed that many women who ran for the United States of America Senate seats received minimal media coverage as compared with their male competitors. The media contributed to their failure by further fueling less coverage with negative reports.

The media exhibited this unequal coverage of women running for gubernatorial and senate positions as well. Kahn observed that using these media coverage patterns, the media succeeded in sabotaging the candidature of many women who had wished to run for the office in order to present better government to the people. The coverage patterns had significant impacts on candidate’s evaluation by the voters. The same was replicated in the presidential campaign. In her quest for the ticket of the presidential candidate from the Republican Party, Elizabeth Dole was consistently running second after George W. Bush in the polls. However, the polls showed she had high favorability ratings. The polls also showed that she could beat Al Gore in a hypothetical head-to-head general election. Based on these facts, Elizabeth Dole could have been expected to receive more press coverage than the other candidates except for George W. Bush. However, this was not the reality. George W. Bush received the most coverage followed closely by John McCain. Elizabeth Dole, despite her strong poll ratings, did not receive her due in the coverage by the press. This was a direct sabotage by the media. They did not take her candidature seriously and regard it as mere novelty.

The stories in which a candidate is mentioned are very important in swaying the public votes. The media did cast George W. Bush in more serious stories that affected the people of the United States. They covered most of the issues he spoke about that had the direct impact on the voters. The other articles also mentioned him in horse race coverage. The same favor could not be called for his competitor Elizabeth Dole, who appeared mostly in stories covering traits and background. The media can regard a candidate as a serious by mentioning him/her in stories that cover issues affecting people such as unemployment and taxation. The media did perceive the male candidate as serious candidates while ignoring or trivializing the candidature of Dole.

In many countries, the media has employed gendered news frames that have harmed female candidates across the world. In her study of the way women candidates are covered in new publications, Norris found that the frame “the first woman” was used by many reporters to imply the path-breaking nature of the women’s involvement in politics. This is a frame used commonly, and it can be found in many publications and newspapers whenever a woman candidate running for the Oval Office is involved. The use of frames in news reporting is the other area that the media seems to continue its glorification of the male power. The employment of gender-related frames such as “first woman ever” can have negative consequences on the women who seek to win the voter confidence. This happens because such new frames show women as anomalies, and the public is likely to regard them as benchwarmers instead of an integral part of the government.

Gender of the journalist may affect the way the issues are reported. It has been implied that life experiences of women and men are different, and this contributes to the way the reporter may tell the story of a female candidate. When it comes to bringing out personal aspects of candidates in a news report, the female journalist is most likely to be more objective in her reporting. On the contrary, the male journalist will provide different treatment to both the male and female candidates. He would focus more on the private and intimate information about the woman while bringing out the external attributes of the man. Kahn and Fridkin have found that women reporters paid more attention than their male counterparts to stereotypical female issues such as health care and education. The study conducted by these two researchers also revealed that female journalists revealed more stereotypical traits of women such as compassion and honesty when they are making story coverage of female candidates who are running for the political office. The male journalists, on the contrary, continued to promote the gender stereotypes when covering women stories. They focus on the personal aspects rather than on the issues upon which the candidature should be evaluated.

Way Forward

The fight for women equality in the political arena should not be confused with one’s support for a particular female candidate. It is about the women who have appeared to show their interest in governing the people with better leadership qualities that make positive changes in the society. The media should use their capacities as the eye of the society to properly bring to the viewers’ attention the true picture of what women leadership should portray. It is the media that has an impactful influence on its viewers and listeners concerning the matters regarding women in the society and their struggle for power. The media should ensure that gender equality is embraced in all sectors. It should avoid engaging in practices that instill disparities in the women’s struggle for power and equality since such actions will just lower the efforts that women are trying to apply in ensuring that they attain the highest ladder of leadership like their male counterparts.

Campaigns on all the media networks should be emphasized to ensure that all the citizens acquire the significant awareness of the best efforts and capacity that the female gender can present to them in terms of leadership. The media should pay more attention to the coverage of such women and not to their clothes or hairstyles. Next, the media can easily influence the mental thinking and perception that the society had concerning the women in power and all the efforts that they undertake to fight for the equality in different spheres.


The media has greatly contributed to the gender parity in political positions because of the unfair coverage and poor representation of women seeking political positions. The media has bullied and caused many female candidates to lose popularity in their biased coverage. It has prevented many women from rising in terms of the challenge of taking the bad governance bull by the horns. For many years, the media has been the part of the forces that has bullied the efforts put in by many to achieve gender equality in power. The case of Elizabeth Dole is a clear indication on how media can be used as a tool to deny the women their rightful position in the society. Thus, the media should act as the voice of equity and truth. Due to the fact that media is a tool for shaping opinions; it should head the efforts to promote gender equality in the society. Women too can hold powerful public positions. The media should encourage healthy competition between them and their male counterparts.

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