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GUEST POST: Precedented inequalities in unprecedented times

Bright pink graphic that reads: "Stereotypical gender roles and wider social structures inform  the ways in which they [women] are represented, scrutinised, and  even obscured - this can be even more complicated for women  who experience oppressions  due to their race, sexuality,  or other identities."

Here we've published the next in a series of blogs from the current student placements Engender is hosting from the University of Strathclyde Applied Gender Studies and Research Methods course.

In this post, Kirsty Rorrison discusses the COVID-19 pandemic, from it's impact on women and minoritised communities to it's representation in the media, and introduces research specifically focusing on how gender bias in political news reporting has operated during the pandemic.

With the COVID-19 pandemic recently passing its two year anniversary, I’m sure many of us have been reflecting on the ways in which life has changed since the coronavirus first became a mainstream issue. We have all been impacted by the pandemic in one way or another - circumstances have changed personally, socially, politically and economically all across the world. However, while it may seem like everything in our society has fundamentally shifted, its underlying social structures have remained practically untouched. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as something of a magnifying glass for the oppressive social institutions forming the bedrock of modern society. In these "unprecedented times,” some things have reflected the precedent more than ever.

As a poem written at the height of the pandemic says, we are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” Far from being an equaliser, COVID-19 has instead emphasised the multitude of divisions within our society. For instance, those within ethnic minority groups were met with a much higher risk of infection and death from the virus than their white counterparts. Racism against people of East and Southeast Asian descent became particularly prominent in response to the hypothesised origins of the novel virus. Women have faced unique challenges balancing increased caring responsibilities with the rest of their lives, and were also put at risk by skyrocketing rates of domestic abuse during the pandemic. Low income children often struggled to access online learning, while wealthier pupils made the transition to remote education relatively easily. While we have all been living through a public health crisis, our situations have been very different; hardship has been discriminatory and disproportionate, often impacting those who were already struggling before COVID-19. The pandemic has been front page news for over two years now, and in a time where the public has relied so heavily on news reporting, and so much has been written about the pandemic, the oppressive structures which have compounded the hardships of COVID-19 were bound to be reflected in news coverage itself.

As a placement student with Engender, I have been given the opportunity to investigate the gendered dimensions of the pandemic, specifically in relation to its coverage in the media. COVID-19 has dominated the news cycle for the past two years, and this massive quantity of reporting offers extremely valuable insights into what life has been like during the pandemic. Work has already been undertaken which exposes biases in news coverage; for instance, it has been shown that reporting on the pandemic tends to over-represent the voices and interests of people who are white, middle class, and often male. I have been carrying out a content analysis on COVID-19 news coverage from some of Scotland’s most popular newspapers, hoping to understand how gender is manifested in reporting on the coronavirus. While I expect to encounter a huge amount of data regarding gender, media and COVID-19, I intend to primarily focus on the ways in which representations of politicians in the news have been gendered.

In these times of uncertainty, nations have turned to their political leaders for information, guidance and even comfort - news coverage reflects this increase in public attention received by politicians. Women in politics have always faced gender bias in media. Stereotypical gender roles and wider social structures inform the ways in which they are represented, scrutinised, and even obscured - this can be even more complicated for women who experience oppressions due to their race, sexuality, or other identities. Men and women in politics experience very different news reporting; this is especially obvious when their news coverage directly compared.

For my research project, I am exploring the following research questions:

  • Are women in politics represented differently than men in politics in news reporting of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • If they are, how can this difference be contextualised in wider social structures?

It has already been established that the pandemic has amplified existing inequalities in Scotland. It has also been proven that women in politics faced gender bias in news coverage prior to the pandemic. I am hoping to find the convergence in these two facts by investigating how gender bias in political news reporting has functioned during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, I will be considering how the precedent of gender bias in political news reporting has persisted despite these unprecedented times. My next two blog posts will detail my findings and consider the implications of the data this project produces. For now, I ask what the magnifying glass of COVID-19 may reveal about politics, gender and media.

Engender occasionally works with students as part of their placement requirements for university or college courses - this allows students to work with Engender on specific areas of our work for women's equality. Student blogs form part of their course assessment, and they do not receive payment from Engender.

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