Researchers: Female political leaders are challenged more often in the media than men
Sweden is currently speculating about whether it will be Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson who will succeed Stefan Löfvén and become the country's next Prime Minister. She would be Sweden's first woman in the position.
“In such an event, it will be a challenge for her to establish an image of her political leadership that will not be to her disadvantage,” says Joakim Johansson, Political Scientist at Mälardalen University (MDH) who believes that there is a significant difference between how women and men are portrayed in the media.
Joakim Johansson is investigating how the public presence of female politicians has been questioned in the Swedish written press, from a gender perspective. The surveys show that Sweden still has a long way to go to achieve an equal media representation of female and male political leaders.
“My research shows that in general, female political leaders are challenged more often and criticised than their male counterparts in the Swedish written press from 2010 and onwards. Criticism of female political leaders tends to be based on and is about recreating traditional gender norms related particularly to motherhood and political skills,” he says.
Joakim Johansson cites two concrete examples of how female leaders have been questioned in politics:
“Annie Lööf was singled out in connection with the government crisis from 2018 to 2019 as a 'no' voter and incapable of acting with the best interests of the country in mind. In 2017, Anna Kinberg Batra had to leave her party leader position in the Moderate Party in a way that can be linked to her gender. Among other things, she was questioned for looking uptight.”
The power of the media
Joakim Johansson believes that the media has certain amount of power in this:
“The media has significant power in forming public opinion in society – so having their political leadership portrayed in a reasonable way in the media becomes essential for political leaders. It is in particular an important matter of democracy and a prerequisite for inclusive citizenship that women are given equal opportunities as men to exercise political leadership,” says Joakim Johansson.
Sweden is often referred to as country of gender equality. In other countries such as Finland and Germany to name two examples, women there hold leadership positions. Is it more difficult to be a female politician in Sweden compared with other countries?
“It's probably just as tough for women in other countries. It is interesting to note, however, that Sweden, unlike several other countries, has not yet had a woman as Head of Government – it violates the self-image that many Swedes have of living in a country that is always the best at gender equality. It is true that we are top of the tables in some areas – but apparently not in all areas,” says Joakim Johansson.
Global sustainable development goals
MDH is conducting research in all of the UN’s global goals for sustainability and this area is clearly linked to Goals number 5, 10 and 16: Gender equality, Reduced inequalities and Peace, justice and strong institutions.