Research Projects

From Tightrope to Gendered Trope

Doctoral research examining and comparing the gendered mediation of women prime ministers from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

My dissertation, ‘From Tightrope to Gendered Trope: A comparative study of the print mediation of women Prime Ministers’, took an interdisciplinary methodological and theoretical approach spanning the disciplines of political science, gender studies and media studies. This was a methodologically rigorous and innovative research project, combining quantitative content analysis with qualitative discourse and visual analyses of mainstream print media use of gender tropes and norms in their reportage of five women political leaders.

This resulted in three key findings: a framework of ‘gendered tropes’, encompassing five significant themes found in the media coverage of women political leaders; that the political spectrum was of relevance, as the conservative press generally rely on gendered tropes more frequently and more intensely than their progressive counterparts, especially with reference to progressive leaders, and; that gendered reportage differs over time, with recent leaders experiencing more gendered and misogynistic coverage than their predecessors. My findings have had considerable academic and public impact, being discussed for a public audience in my TEDx Macquarie University talk as well as being noticed by former prime minister Julia Gillard. It also won the ANU Gender Institute PhD Thesis Prize for best PhD thesis that was ‘seen to advance broader feminist theory in studies of gender and/or sexuality’.

Williams, Blair. 2017. ‘A Gendered Media Analysis of the Prime Ministerial Ascension of Gillard and Turnbull: He’s “taken back the reins” and she’s “a backstabbing” murderer’. Australian Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 550–564.

Williams, Blair. 2020. ‘A Tale of Two Women: A comparative media analysis of UK Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May’. Parliamentary Affairs 0: 1-23.

Williams, Blair. 2020. ‘It’s a Man’s World at the Top: Gendered Media Representations of Julia Gillard and Helen Clark’. Feminist Media Studies.

Murdoch and his ‘Culture Wars’

The Murdoch press has long held political and cultural influence in Australia, in part due to its domination of national daily circulation and its monopoly in multiple states and capital cities. These papers have largely promoted conservative economic and social views that are hostile to women, particularly those who threaten the political status quo through ascending into the upper echelons of politics. In a series of publications, I examine how he portrays both women politicians in addition to issues relating to feminism and LGBTQIA+ activism and communities to untangle how Murdoch has fueled the ‘culture wars’.

Williams, Blair. Forthcoming (2021). ‘The Murdoch Presses: Representation of Masculinity and Femininity in Leadership’. In Gender and Australian Political Leadership, edited by Zareh Ghazarian and Katrina Lee-Koo. Sydney: NewSouth.

Williams, Blair. 2020. ‘It’s a Man’s World at the Top: Gendered Media Representations of Julia Gillard and Helen Clark’. Feminist Media Studies.

Williams, Blair and Marian Sawer. ‘“Feminists have lost the plot”: Murdoch’s Anti-Gender Crusade in The Australian (2010-2020)’. Working Paper.

GIWL Collaboration

I have been invited to collaborate with former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL), King’s College London, to research the gendered double standards of the media coverage of the respective ascensions of Theresa May and Boris Johnson. This will result in an academic journal publication in addition to blogposts on the GIWL website. We intend to raise awareness of the double standards that women politicians – particularly leaders – face and create tangible change in the media culture, particularly reportage of women in leadership positions.

Women Leaders, COVID-19 and the Media

The socio-cultural impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a weakening of the gendered division enforced between the private sphere of the home and the public sphere of politics that has traditionally disadvantaged women political leaders. Whereas male political leaders have historically drawn on the customary role of the paterfamilias to display forms of masculine protectionism toward citizens, the pandemic has compelled women leaders to draw on the complementary role of the caring mother—for example, as the member of the household who traditionally cares for the sick—to display parallel forms of feminine protectionism. As a result, women leaders across the world have found an opportunity to leverage their traditional role in the home to their advantage in the political sphere. How, then, might this impact media coverage of women leaders, against whom such gender norms and stereotypes have long been used to delegitimise and undermine their public authority?

Johnson, Carol and Blair Williams. 2020. ‘Gender and Political Leadership in a Time of COVID’. Politics & Gender.

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