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Charting the Historic Significance of Hillary Rodham Clinton (April 2017): Gender Politics and the Media

By Angela Fritz

Gender Politics and the Media

There is no doubt that Clinton has motivated more feminist political communication scholarship than any other person in contemporary politics. Media studies of Clinton ranging from content analysis of newspapers, cable news coverage, social media postings, and popular culture reveal the interplay of news, media, and the construction of gender in American politics. At the center of these media studies is the premise that female political candidates are judged differently from male candidates. The works in this section address why gender matters in American politics and how it affects campaign strategy and media coverage. In addition, these works detail how Clinton has navigated these challenges throughout her career. Undoubtedly, this area of study will expand with an analysis of the 2016 presidential election.

A seminal work on this subject is Susan J. Carroll and Richard L. Fox’s Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics, an expansive study of how gender has affected contemporary electoral politics that focuses on women’s increasing role as political actors throughout the twentieth century. Taking the 2008 election as its departure, the authors show how women candidates poll differently from state to state, analyze female voting turnout throughout history, examine the expanding role of Latinas in the electorate, and explore African American women’s engagement with both traditional and nontraditional forms of political participation. Gender and Elections spans the history of presidential and congressional elections and offers a foundational work to explore more in-depth communication studies.

Erica Falk’s Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns provides a 132-year context of women who have ran for the presidency. Women who had a party’s nomination or made a high-profile bid for office are also the subject of Ellen Fitzpatrick’s The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency. Fitzpatrick offers a particularly fascinating look at Victoria Woodhull’s 1872 run. By offering a detailed biography of the Equal Rights Party candidate, who also was a stockbroker, spiritualist, and free love advocate, Fitzpatrick illustrates that women’s lack of financing has been one of their largest historical obstacles to the presidency. In Falk’s analysis of the history of women’s bid for the highest political office, the author found that women were covered less by news reporters, portrayed as less viable as candidates, characterized as better suited for the vice presidency, and given less issue-oriented coverage. Falk points out that, in general, women seeking political office were targets of gender stereotyping or “gender marking” with descriptions such as “lady senators, “female candidates,” and “first woman” qualifiers. Finally, Falk and many other authors indicate that the media provide more coverage and discussions of women candidates’ attire, physical appearance, and age than their male counterparts.

Elizabeth Kelley’s The Rhetoric of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton: Crisis Management Discourse offers an analysis of Clinton’s rhetorical strategies during her early White House years. The work contextualizes Clinton within the history of first ladies’ handling of scandal, from Lucretia Garfield to Patricia Nixon. In Hillary Clinton in the News: Gender and Authenticity in American Politics, Shawn Parry-Giles examines political persona. By analyzing broadcast media’s coverage of Clinton’s from 1992 to 2008, Giles explores how political images and the “visual conceptions” of broadcast news create public perceptions of political biography that shape our collective memory. Michele Lockhart and Kathleen Mollick’s Hillary Rodham Clinton and the 2016 Election: Her Political and Social Discourse and Danny Hayes and Jennifer L. Lawless’s Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era analyze the use of gender in campaign strategies. And Kristina Horn Sheeler and Karrin Vasby Anderson’s Women President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture examines presidential campaign oratory and convention speeches from 1980 to 2008, focusing especially on how political humor reinforces negative stereotypes relating to women, power, and politics.

Offering a counter to this argument, Justin S. Vaughn, Lilly J. Goren, and Elizabeth Hatfield’s Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture and Presidential Politics discusses the ways in which popular culture both shapes and reflects perceptions of female political leadership. The essays in the collection examine the role that comedy has in “candidate framing” by focusing on Saturday Night Live’s sketches of Hillary Clinton, arguing that such portrayals humanize candidates as well as make viewers more cognizant of issues of sexism and bias in the media. The book also covers portrayals of female political leadership in films and movies, daytime talk shows, viral videos, and social media.