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Sexy Sarah and a gorgeous, granny Governor-General?

By Rhyll Vallis - posted Monday, 13 October 2008

“Cute-but-feisty”, “the people's v-agra”, an “attractive young woman ... casting an erotic spell”.

Quotes from Ralph magazine talking about its latest centerfold?

No. Try instead the Canberra Times and Australian online news source Crikey discussing US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.


While some might be quick to write off the coverage of Palin as part of the circus sideshow that is US presidential campaign reporting, Australia's new Governor-General fared no better in our media.

In more than half of the 50 Australian news articles (online and print), writers felt compelled to describe the new Governor-General as either a mother or a grandmother.

With a firm finger on the pulse of what Australian readers want to know about politics, most journalists set us straight by the second paragraph about how many grandchildren she has.

Among the more condescending descriptions were “trail-blazing granny” by the Canberra Times and “New head of state Quentin Bryce still Grandma” by The Australian.

So what's it all about, this obsession with the “babes” and the “grannies”? And why haven't the “hairy-chested feminists” rumoured to lurk in every news room sorted things out yet?

Award winning journalist and lecturer Dr Julie Posetti says that news coverage of Palin and others confirms that there is still a tendency for Australia's media to ascribe restrictive definitions of womanhood to women in power.


“They are seen as either overtly feminine and attractive and therefore tolerable - or as blokey, masculine, ball-tearing and threatening,” she said. She also points to recent research findings that the feminisation of news rooms has not been accompanied by a shift in values.

“There's more women journalists but you still see traditional ways of framing the news. For example, the ridiculous amount of coverage of Palin's glasses or the obsession with the Governor-General's shoes,” she said.

Julie Baird in her 2004 book Media Tarts also singles out the media's use of formulaic accounts (which she labels “frames”) in portraying women politicians. Within these frames, women politicians are limited to being represented as “Cover Girls”, “Steel Sheilas” or “Superstar Housewives”.

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About the Author

Rhyll Vallis is a former university lecturer and researcher (in the area of sociolinguistics) who is currently studying journalism.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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