Toward a theory on gender and emotional management in electoral politics : a comparative study of media discourses in Chile and the United States

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Bachmann Cáceres, Ingrid

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The role of a political leader often is associated with the emotional attributes of a man, and there is empirical evidence that media coverage reinforces culture-specific emotion display rules for politicians. Feminist communication scholarship also has shown the gendered assumptions manifest in mediated discourses. This dissertation explores the relationship between gender, culture and candidates’ emotionality by examining and comparing news media coverage of the emotional management of Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and the United States’ Hillary Clinton, two female candidates with a viable bid for the presidency in their respective countries.

Using a discourse analysis of 1,676 items from national newspapers, news magazines and television newscasts, this study found that cultural differences influence the discursive constructions of these women candidates’ emotionality. In the case of Bachelet, she was deemed as a soft, empathic and ultimately “feminine” candidate who needed to toughen up to convey authority and convince voters that she had the skills, in addition to the charm, to lead a country. In the case of Clinton, she was described mainly as a cold and unsympathetic contender, an unwomanly woman with too much ambition to be likable, and who was portrayed either as fake or frail when being more emotionally open.

These mediated discourses suggest the media favored determined understandings for a woman’s place and role, reinforcing socially-shared and culturally-bound meanings about gendered identities. Informed by a feminist theoretical framework, the discussion addresses how these mediated discourses on Bachelet and Clinton illustrate the power of culturally-sanctioned sexism in Chile and the United States to make of gender a restrictive force that keeps women out of the realms of politics and policy.



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