Challenging Gendered Media Mis(s)Representations of Women Professionals and Leaders
The ESRC seminar series grant facilitated an investigation into how women professionals and leaders are misrepresented across all forms of media; from broadsheet newspapers to television programmes and social media.
If we cannot ‘see’ women professionals and leaders in our everyday lives then women in these roles remain invisible and unusual and progress towards gender equality in the UK will continue to be slow. The ESRC seminar series grant facilitated an investigation into how women professionals and leaders are misrepresented across all forms of media; from broadsheet newspapers to television programmes and social media. The research was initiated due to the media’s critical role in society and its influence in shaping individuals’ realities, including in workplaces. Media representations of women professionals and leaders are often absent or gendered, sexualised and evidenced by contradiction, for example the championing of women leaders, versus the gendering of women professionals and leaders. Findings from the research include:
1) The media have a contradictory approach to women leaders. Advantages attributed to women such as a tendency to be risk-averse are also described as disadvantageous – if women are perceived to be risk-averse they cannot fulfil the leadership ideal of being a risk-taker. Similarly, while women may be seen as being successful in adopting masculine leadership characteristics, they are often portrayed as being unable to maintain them;
2) Women’s leadership is glamourized, fetishized, and sexualized. For example, following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) where blame for the crisis was placed on hubristic men leaders, the profile of women leaders undoubtedly rose. Yet, while the media celebrate these women, they focus on their female characteristics, photographing them in glamorous clothing and highlighting their looks and ‘feminine’ qualities in visual and narrative presentation which distances them from the ideals associated with good leadership;
3) Women leaders remain constrained by their appearance; the sexualisation of women leaders’ bodies is normalised and women’s leadership power is diluted;
4) The media constructs women leaders’ presence as if arguments for gender equality have been won.
This ESRC funded seminar series was led by Professor Carole Elliott (University of Sheffield), Professor Valerie Stead (Lancaster University), Professor Sharon Mavin (Newcastle University), Dr Jannine Williams (Queensland University of Technology).
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