The next female Prime Minister is closer than you think


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The Independent Online

As of this January, woman will occupy more seats than ever in the US Congress. Various theories abound as to why this is, most popularly, that controversial Republican comments on rape and abortion sparked a backlash, but Jennifer Lawless of American University has a better idea: media bias against women is on the decline.

"For decades, observers have noted that women running for political office are portrayed in the media in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes," writes Danny Hayes in the Washington Post. "Long before Sarah Palin,research had shown that female candidates tended to receive less attention in the news and were often covered in a fluffier fashion – with an emphasis on their appearance (Elizabeth Dole’s nails, anyone?), personality, family roles, or “feminine” traits, such as compassion and honesty.  Men, on the other hand, were more likely to be portrayed as experienced, competent leaders."

However, a detailed analysis of coverage during the 2010 US midterm elections showed "virtually no gender differences whatsoever." As well as changing public attitudes to women, the researchers credit the changing tone of media coverage to increasing polarisation in American politics - given the vast ideological divide between parties, gender seems less relevant.

This suggests the effects may not be felt as soon in Britain, where there is a different political context.