Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Communication

Major Professor

Elizabeth Bell, Ph.D.

Keywords

Presidential coverage, Women politicians, News media, Politics, 2008 presidential election

Abstract

This study is a textual analysis of the mainstream media coverage of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, surveying more than 1,000 news stories featuring Clinton, Palin, Obama, Biden and McCain published between January 1, 2007 and November 11, 2008. The central findings of this study are twofold: first, mainstream news sources continue to use stereotypical and sexist news frames that describe women in ways that are at odds with the criteria we set for being a good president; and second, feminism is characterized in ways that divorce the ideas of the movement from the activism necessary to overcome existing injustices. Chapter 2 discusses how the news frames and double binds-in place for more than 100 years in media coverage and constructions of women-are still being used to describe women candidates today.

These frames highlight sexist concerns about how women candidates will balance their public and private lives and deflect the multiple, competing roles women are capable of enacting. Chapter 3 analyses news articles that relate the terms "feminism" and "feminist" to comments about Clinton and Palin to determine the ways in which the movement is being defined by mainstream media. The chapter argues that this coverage offered a limited vision of feminism that ignored race, class, and issues presented in the third wave. It also divorces the feminist movement from the activist work that has and will continue to make change possible in our country by equating feminism with postfeminist ideas. Chapter 4 highlights the associations made between the male candidates and the women's movement. The coverage of the male candidates in the campaign posits a vision of women's experiences that are defined through the media by male candidates.

These definitions highlight women as caregivers and separate the issues important to women from the feminist activism necessary to work toward changing the situation women in the United States face. Finally, the conclusion offers suggestions for how to intervene in the 135-year cycle that perpetuates limited and damaging views of women candidates and of the feminist movement. Through these types of interventions, feminist-minded men and women can continue to work toward more positive and fair representations of women candidates and that changes in representations of women candidates will lead to the election of the first woman president of the United States.

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