The representation of South African women politicians in the Sunday Times during the 2004 presidential and general elections

by Katembo, T.K.

Abstract (Summary)
This study analysed the representation of South African women politicians in the Sunday Times’ election news during the 2004 Presidential and general elections, by drawing on perspectives from cultural studies, the constructionist approach to representation and the sociology of news production. Using content analysis and critical discourse analysis, the study found that very few women politicians were used as news actors/sources in the Sunday Times, and that when women politicians were figured, the paper tended to present them in ways that serve to sustain women’s subordinate status in society.

Using content analysis, the study analysed 106 news items published between January 1, 2004 and April 30, 2004, and found that of all the 588 identifiable news actors/sources counted, 135 were women and 453 were men. Of these, only 7.67% (or 26) were women politicians and 92.33% (or 313) were men politicians. On average however, the amount of words allocated to a woman politician was more than that allocated to a man politician. The discourse analysis also revealed how the Sunday Times managed to reproduce textually the hegemonic power relations between women and men, by constructing different subject positions for women politicians and men politicians, which generally tended to be negative and positive respectively. In the representation of women politicians, the study revealed patterns that tended to ascribe them negative personality traits, accentuate their passivity and dependency on men, and construct them as incompetent political leaders.

This study’s conclusions pose a challenge to the role of the national newspaper in the transformation of gender relations and the promotion of equal access to political and decision-making positions, and to the news media. News discourse, as a social practice, both determines and is determined by the social structure in which it is produced. By systematically reproducing subordinate subject positions for women in the news, the Sunday Times helps to further women’s subordinate status in society. Particularly, as part of the broader social cultural context that is embedded in patriarchal and gender ideologies, the Sunday Times does not merely reflect but actively and effectively constructs the reality it claims to be representing.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:journalism and media studies


Date of Publication:01/01/2007

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