In a February 2006 poll by CBS News and The New
York Times, 92 percent of
Americans said they would vote in a presidential election
for a qualified female candidate
from their own party. When asked if America is ready for a
woman president, 55 percent
of those surveyed said yes, a figure that has been steadily
rising since the middle of the
So why hasn't there been a woman in the White
A Johns Hopkins communications expert suggests that
Presidents have been obscured in the press. As a result,
female candidates haven't been
as familiar to voters as male candidates, said Erika Falk,
associate program chair of the
Master of Arts in Communication in Contemporary Society
program at Johns Hopkins and
author of Women for President: Media Bias in Eight
Campaigns, to be published this
month by the University of Illinois Press.
The book is especially topical during the 2008
presidential campaign, in which there
has been considerable attention paid to the lone woman in
the race, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Despite the fact that we see Clinton in print and on TV on
a daily basis, Falk argues, the
bias continues: The coverage isn't nearly as comprehensive,
she says, as it is for Sen.
In Women for President, Falk analyzes gender
bias in press coverage of the
presidential campaigns of Victoria Woodhull (who ran in
1872), Belva Lockwood (1884 and
1888), Margaret Chase Smith (1964), Shirley Chisholm
(1972), Patricia Schroeder (1988),
Lenora Fulani (1988 and 1992), Elizabeth Dole (2000) and
Carol Moseley Braun (2004).
According to Falk's research:
Men received more frequent and
longer press coverage than women in the same
race, with men having twice the number of stories written
about them. The stories about
the men were also 7 percent longer.
Stories about female candidates
emphasized their physical appearance and
families. For the women, there were three times as many
physical descriptions (e.g.,
references to clothing or a candidate's age) as for their
closest male competitor in the
race. Women also were stereotypically portrayed as more
emotional, and their
professional titles were more likely to be omitted from
Men received much more substantive
coverage, with 27 percent of the paragraphs
written about them focusing on issues. In comparison, only
16 percent of the stories
about the women were based on the issues at hand.
Even if they polled at the same
rate, men were more likely than women to be
portrayed as having a shot at winning, even though they
were just as likely to lose.
Sometimes the different portrayals
of women worked in their favor: Though they
received less coverage, women's quotes were 14 percent
longer, and they received more
frequent references to their biographies and character,
with 37 character depictions for
every 10,000 words, compared with 28 such depictions per
10,000 words for men.
"With the radical changes that have taken place for
women in politics and
journalism over the last 130 years, it is significant that
the press portrayals of women
candidates have not changed more," Falk said. "Although I
found some differences in the
press over time, the strongest trends did not show regular
progress. Instead they
suggested that women candidates from 1872 to 2004 were
treated differently from
their men counterparts, with women often getting the short
end of the stick."
Falk believes that the same forces are at work in the
2008 campaign. From the
beginning, she said, Obama has been more prominent in the
press than Clinton: Both
candidates announced their intentions to run for president
in January 2007, and despite
the fact that Clinton was higher in the polls from the
start, the top six newspapers in the
country ran 59 stories mentioning Obama in the headline
that month compared to just 36
"In presidential campaigns, media portrayals are
particularly important," Falk said.
"Unlike lower-level races where interpersonal contact plays
a central role, in presidential
contests most of what constituents know about any candidate
is learned from the media.
Depending on the content, the media can encourage people to
participate, engage and
become interested in the political process, or instead
determine that the political
process is not for them."
But the media's influence reaches beyond Clinton's run
for the White House.
"Another reason for us to be concerned is that the press
coverage or lack thereof may
have a chilling effect on women's desire to run," Falk
said. "That is to say, the press,
which tends to ignore women candidates and paints them in
stereotypical ways, may deter
women from running, and this may be the most significant
problem in making gains for
women in office."