Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Mass Communications

Major Professor

Kim Golombisky, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Randy Miller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roxanne Watson, Ph.D.

Keywords

Women in the Press, Women in Mass Media, United States - - Armed Forces - - Women

Abstract

This paper examines newspaper portrayals produced by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times of women in the military from Sept. 11, 2001, to Sept. 11, 2009. The purpose was to identify how the three nationally recognized U.S. newspapers depict women’s expanding combat roles on contemporary battlefields that lack definitive front lines. Because the news media are the primary vehicle to update the general public on military matters, how the news media portray military women can play a role in shaping audience perceptions of military women. In turn, this relationship can influence the public debate on issues pertaining to women in the military. For my research method, I employed a longitudinal, qualitative content analysis of news articles that revealed three distinctively themed portrayals of U.S. servicewomen. The thematic findings include: "Tip of the Spear," a largely laudatory category portraying the "new" or "first" generation of servicewomen filling historically uncommon (particularly direct ground combat) roles for women; the "Combat Debate," with coverage listing arguments for and against military women’s expansion into "direct ground combat;" and the "Sexual Assault" category that exposed women as continued victims of sexual assault across the U.S. Armed Forces. The portrayals of women in the "Tip of the Spear," and to a lesser extent in the "Combat Debate," reveal how these three particular newspapers are applying a new formula to represent military women. Rather than portraying military women in stereotypical support roles—or castigating them for transgressing gender norms—the stories from these papers cast the servicewomen performing traditional

masculine military activities in a positive light. However, following objective reporting protocol, the reports in the "Combat Debate" category also covered conventional patriarchal concerns to include protecting women from harm, particularly military mothers. Overall, these two categories comprised the greater part of the coverage of military women among the reports in this study, with only a handful of reports covering women as victims. I propose that the many positive portrayals that describe women fulfilling nontraditional masculine roles and activities demonstrate a revised blueprint in how the news media report on military women. Furthermore, while these research results cannot be applied universally outside this study’s sample, I contend that these types of images representing today’s servicewomen on contemporary battlefields increase public acceptance of women in the military and their expanding military assignments.

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