“The press was as kind as it knew how to be. It meant well and did all for us it knew how to do. We couldn't ask it to do more than it knew how.” [Laughter] — Susan B. Anthony, 1893
Susan B. Anthony was familiar with the press’ ways. Journalists relentlessly ridiculed the women’s suffrage movement. Fast forward to more than a century later, women in public life still face biased, sexist, and discriminatory media treatment. Research over the past few decades reveals that women in politics continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to media coverage.
When reporters cover women in politics, they often use terms that emphasize women's traditional roles and focus on their appearance. They perpetuate stereotypes of women politicians as weak, indecisive, and emotional. They sometimes even hold women politicians accountable for their children’s or husbands’ actions, though they rarely hold men politicians to the same standards.
A study by the Inter-parliamentary Union on violence against women parliamentarians reports that the media can perpetuate rumors and misogynistic behavior. The study’s survey revealed that 27.3% of the participating women MPs said that traditional media had shared highly contemptuous or sexually charged images or comments about them. The percentage rose to 41.8% when they were asked about photos or comments disseminated through social media.
Globally, women in politics, particularly women of color, experience overwhelming levels of abuse and gendered disinformation campaigns, which traditional and social media often fuel and perpetuate. With the purpose of discrediting, delegitimizing, and silencing women in politics, studies have shown that women are often discouraged and dissuaded from getting involved in politics because of gendered media reporting.
Indeed, sexist media coverage contributes to the under-representation of women in politics. A worldwide study found that while women’s position has generally progressed, it is slower in media representation and politics. Further, it concluded that the more there is sexism in the media, the less women candidates there are. The media has a powerful influence on voters and gender differences in media coverage can have real electoral consequences. Not only can it dissuade women from engaging in politics, but it also discourages political parties and political elites from selecting women as candidates.
This e-Discussion seeks to raise awareness and collect experiences and knowledge on gender differences in political media coverage, its impact on women’s political participation and representation, as well as gather good practices and recommendations on ways to counter the negative impact of media portrayals of women in politics with fair and unbiased coverage.
Journalists, producers and editors, media monitoring institutions, electoral management bodies, women and men in politics, political party leaders and members, civil society and women’s rights activists, practitioners, and researchers are invited to join this e-Discussion from 07 to 30 September 2022 by answering the below questions. The submissions will contribute to a report that will augment the knowledge base available on the topic.
- Are women politicians less visible or covered differently than men in political news coverage in your country? Please share data, if available.
- What can lawmakers, governments, and civil society do to ensure media outlets/journalists deliver fair and balanced media coverage of women and men in public life?
- With sexist traditional media coverage disseminated on social media, women in politics are exposed to vicious online attacks and abuse by often anonymous perpetrators. What can social media companies, media outlets, governments, lawmakers, and other decision-makers do to put an end to the crisis of online violence against women in politics?
- Use the comments section below; or
- Send your contribution to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can post below on your behalf.
 Maria Braden, Women Politicians and the Media. (University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 1.
 Loes Aaldering and Daphne Joanna Van Der Pas, Political leadership in the media: Gender bias in leader stereotypes during campaign and routine times. British Journal of Political Science 50: 911–31. 2018.
 Amanda Haraldsson and Lena Wängnerud, The effect of media sexism on women’s political ambition: Evidence from a worldwide study. Feminist Media Studies 19: 525–41. 2019.
 Daphne Joanna Van der Pas and Loes Aaldering, “Gender Differences in Political Media Coverage: A Meta-Analysis” Journal of Communication, Volume 70, Issue 1 (February 2020): 114-143. doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqz046