Thanksgiving is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop being thankful. Here’s one piece of news to get you started: Why did the recent election launch more women into Congress than ever before? Because gender stereotyping of female politicians in the media have have pretty much ended.
Two academic researchers who conducted a study of recent media coverage of women came up with some astonishingly encouraging results. Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless took a detailed look at thousands of local newspaper articles covering 2010 races for the House of Representatives in about 350 congressional districts. “Analyzing 4,748 articles, we found virtually no gender differences whatsoever,” Hayes writes in the Washington Post.:
News coverage of women was just as common as coverage of men. And the content of campaign stories was nearly indistinguishable across candidate sex. The frequency with which reporters referred explicitly to candidates’ sex or gender – for instance, noting how they dressed or their family roles – was the same for men and women. Paul Ryan, hustling to the tailor to get that suit taken in, wouldn’t be surprised.
Mentions of candidates’ personal characteristics also did not fall along stereotypical gender lines. Women were just as likely as men to be portrayed as possessing competence and leadership skills and no more likely to be covered as trustworthy or warm.
So despite the pervasive stereotype that media coverage of female candidates is outrageously biased—an idea that many found confirmed by sexist coverage of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton in 2008—things actually do seem to be getting better for many women who choose to run for office. Gender bias, be gone!
And it’s not just about the media. The researchers found that bias in the general public has dwindled drastically, too. Voters seem to assess candidates by party much more than by gender. For example, Democrat women were viewed as less empathetic than male Democrats, contrary to stereotypes, and Republican women were viewed as stronger leaders than their male peers.
The study is not comprehensive. For example, it looked at local newspapers and not cable news, where the tone of the coverage can be much harsher. And women running for the House of Representatives may be treated differently, and more respectfully, than national candidates like Palin and Clinton. (You can find the full study here.) But it’s a hugely encouraging sign that politics is becoming a more level playing field. That’s something to be thankful for, even long after Thanksgiving.