Gender, Politics And News: A Game Of Three Sides by Karen Ross

The Blurb On The Back:

From Margaret Thatcher and Benazir Bhutto to Hillary Clinton, women have made great strides in the political arena in recent decades.  Yet studies have shown that media coverage can have a dramatic effect on the public perception of women in politics.  Gender, Politics, News: A Game Of Three Sides explores the origins and evolution of the role of gender in the broader processes of political communication.  Focusing primarily on power, patriarchy, and culture, author Karen Ross reveals the incredibly complex relationships that exist between politics, gender, and media in the modern era.  She probes deeply into the myriad ways in which these issues play out both in the high-octane context of national elections and during the deadline-driven pressures of everyday political reportage.  Topics covered include feminist theories of politics and political communication, gendered journalism, the ways in which women political candidates are framed in news discourse during elections, gender considerations in the role of the political spouse, the differential treatment of women and men politicians by the media and the public in the face of scandal, and many more.  Ross offers a global perspective on issues of gender, politics, and news media with a range of case studies from the US, UK, New Zealand, South American, and more.  Timely and thought-provoking, Gender, Politics, News: A Game Of Three Sides is an important and unique addition to the growing scholarship on gendered political communication, which argues that despite some encouraging moments, politics and news are still primarily jobs for the boys. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Karen Ross (Professor of Gender and Media at Newcastle University) analyses the relationship between gender, politics and the media but the book is a victim of timing (although published in January 2017, it was written before the result of the 2016 US presidential election was known) and it’s very western focused (although Benazir Bhutto is namechecked on the back cover description, there’s no mention of her in the text and no analysis of the issues facing her while Sri Lanka, India, and Liberia are little more than passing references).  Putting those points aside, however, Ross’s work is a detailed examination of the issues that face women seeking to enter the political arena and while there are things here that won’t come as a surprise to any woman who has sought to put herself forward, the comprehensive gathering of supporting studies and the way Ross breaks down the arguments and makes her points is authoritative and convincing.

Split into 8 chapters, the book examines the following:

– the historical experiences of women seeking politics and how the role of politics as an apparent men’s club is a global phenomenon;

– feminist theories of politics and political communication and the contradictory expectations placed on women who enter the political sphere and how that impacts on the way women are expected to behave in front of the media and what they’re expected to do when they assume political roles;

– gendered journalism and the segregation that women experience when they try to pursue careers in the media, particularly when it comes to taking decision-making roles.  I was particularly impressed with the examination of the ‘coping strategies’ to remain in the profession (depressing though it was);

– the representation of women politicians as political candidates and incumbents in the news.  Again, the depiction of women more negatively is a depressing subject, including the use of gendered language and the disproportionate scrutiny given to their personal circumstances (including marriage, fashion and children) but Ross talks fluidly and convincingly about it;

– the role of the political spouse, which was my favourite section as Ross examines how politicians use families as a way of positioning themselves in the media but also the double standards at play in the depiction of male and female spouses.  Again, had the timing of the book been different then I would have welcomed a fuller examination of the Clintons in this respect, but I did find the examination of childless female politicians fascinating; and

– a look at the differences in how male and female politicians are depicted in the event of scandal, which was interesting because of how the nature of the scandals are usually different (with women more likely to be involved in fraud than in sex scandals).

All in all, I think it’s an interesting book that any woman considering a move into politics would do well to read.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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