Media’s coverage of women politicians ‘not sexist’

Most frequently cited: Doris Leuthard, here seen as she prepared to step down from her transport ministry post earlier this year © Keystone / Walter Bieri

The Swiss media’s reporting of female politicians is surprisingly well balanced, a study has found. Hairstyles and looks - so often in the past a cause of comment - were rarely a target.

This content was published on August 24, 2019 - 14:57

Researchers at the University of Zurich under Lucas Leemann at the Department of Political Science looked at how male and female politicians were portrayed in around 1.8 million German-speaking articles from 80 newspapers and magazines over the period of 2012-2018.

The results, which were published in the Tamedia press on Saturday, found fewer gender differences than expected, the researchers said. Women were cited almost as often as their male colleagues (in proportion to the number of parliamentary seats held).

Leuthard effect

Top of the list was the popular former transport minister Doris Leuthard, who got more than 62,000 mentions. Second was rightwing Swiss People’s Party strongman Christoph Blocher, also a former cabinet minister.

+ A look back at Doris Leuthard’s career

+ A glimpse into Blocher’s world

In terms of the topics that came, the study found no real gender bias, such as women always being asked about family topics. In fact, when looking for specific terms, such as “competent” and “intelligent” or “blond” and “charming”, women were found to come across as showing more integrity or being more trustworthy and honest than their male counterparts.

Hillary Clinton hair?

The most important criteria on determining the topic of the article was the personal profile of the female politicians, researchers said.

Hairstyles and looks have long been the bane of many a female politician - United States former presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton once famously said that she just needed to change her hairstyle to become front page news - but they were, according to the study, hardly ever mentioned in media reports.

But outfits were commented upon more frequently - Leuthard herself has not been immune, for example when she wore a “Swiss cheese” jacket at the opening of the Gotthard tunnel. Researcher Christopher Huddleston attributed this tendency to the less formal dresscode for women that allows for more individuality.

The study also found that the words used in association with women politicians were generally more positive and less emotional than for male politicians, although these differences were expected to lesson over time.

The results come at a time of increased debate on inequality issues and female parliamentary representation following the national women’s strike in June.


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