Houston | News coverage of female politicians such as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton typically follow gendered lines that often disregards women’s competence in political affairs, a new study has found.
The findings suggest that though news media coverage shows some improvement in how Clinton was covered compared with previous research regarding representations of female politicians, the conversations still employ stereotypical feminine frames, including questioning Clinton’s proficiency as a leader, researchers said.
Because of gender stereotypes, women are expected to act in particular ways that often place them in a double bind. The double bind is an either/or situation where a person has one or the other option but where both options penalise the person, said Dustin Harp from University of Texas in the US. One of these binds, femininity/competency is particularly tough for women politicians because to be feminine is seen as less powerful, which is clearly not good for a leader.
At the same time to be a competent woman is problematic for many people who see that as unfeminine. So in this case the woman is criticised either way, said Harp. On January 23, 2013, Clinton testified at the congressional committee hearings regarding the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Four Americans died in the attack. Both of the committees before which Clinton testified were made up primarily of men. News coverage hinted at a new double bind pitting competence against authenticity, whereas Clinton’s emotional displays during the hearing were regarded as either a lack of control that undermined her capability or an insincere show of emotion to escape blame for the situation, researchers said.
Not only was this an event in which a female politician participated in a heavily male-dominated setting, but also Clinton’s performance was at the core of the political event. The juxtaposition of gender and politics, televised for all to see, is especially noteworthy, said Harp.
For the study, researchers examined 93 articles and commentary from the eight most heavily visited US news websites from January 22 to February 4, 2013. The news sites included CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, the Huffington Post, Fox News, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.
The study found that Clinton, 68, often is presented as a competent political figure, but also that her emotions are referenced in gendered ways. A Los Angeles Times story, for example, explained that at one point Clinton’s voice broke, researchers said. USA Today highlighted both that she was near tears as she talked and that she erupted in anger.
A Washington Post commentary described Clinton as blowing her lid, they said. We found that when Clinton did show her humanity with an emotional display, either her capability was compromised by a show of weakness or her display was considered part of a calculated ploy, said Harp.