Newspapers and the news media have always been an important part of American life, and have become increasingly more central to our ways of knowing and of communicating with one another since the early days of the newspaper in this country. The media exert a profound influence on the ways that we receive, interpret, and evaluate news, both through text and through visual images, and despite significant gains of women in the social and political spheres, newspapers lag behind in their coverage of women’s true concerns, especially when it comes to business and professional-related matters. Even as they call for more inclusive coverage and strive to be more attentive to incorporating women into reporting as journalists, as sources, as subjects, and as new recipients, newspapers continue to stereotype women, creating dangerous falsehoods and the oversimplification of beliefs about this particular social group.
The stereotypes of women in newspapers are predictable and straightforward. Men continue to be represented as strong and competent leaders, with characteristics of aggression, strength, risk-taking, autonomy, competitiveness, ambition, and dominance emphasized (Basow, 1992; Durkin, 1985; Herrett-Skjellum & Allen, 1996). Women, on the other hand, are portrayed as being nurturing, affectionate, gentle, sympathetic, dependent, emotional, submissive, passive, illogical, and preoccupied with physical appearance (Basow, 1992; Durkin, 1985; Herrett-Skjellum & Allen, 1996). Both sets of stereotypes obscure the more complex realities of contemporary society.
Certainly, it is not unreasonable to expect the mass media – particularly the news sector – to present women’s issues in a fair light and without marginalizing them. True women’s issues are not just about women or important only to them, but also affect their families, their employers, and society in general. The media play a major role in framing public opinion and debate, both through text and image. Treating women and their concerns seriously in the media would go a long way to getting society to take them seriously and to improve opportunities for social and political parity. The greatest hope for creating a more “female friendly" media is to put more women in decision-making positions. In order to achieve a more female-friendly media, “monitoring and advocacy of gender representation are needed" (Tirohl, 2002, p. 196).
Thus far, it has demonstrated a gap in the field of study regarding the portrayal of women in the newspaper media, especially with regard to the portrayal of professional women. By expanding the existing body of knowledge about portrayals of women in the media, “we perform the political act of changing the power relations that rule our lives" (Enriquez, 2000, p. 81). Such interventions can have critical implications for reshaping perceptions of women, thereby avoiding stereotypical portrayals and expanding opportunities for women in society (Ahmed, 2000). It is also important can have important implications for children and preparing the next generation for new possibilities (Bunker & Stiliani, 1996). In the next chapter, the writer offers the research design and methodology that has its theoretical grounding in the material reviewed in this chapter.
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