Davi Johnson Thornton
Communication studies identifies bodies as both objects of communication and producers (or sites) of communication. Communication about bodies—for example, gendered bodies, disabled bodies, obese bodies, and surgically modified bodies—influences bodies at the physical, material level by determining how they are treated in social interactions, in medical settings, and in public institutions. Communication about bodies also forges cultural consensus about what types of bodies fit in particular roles and settings. In addition to analyzing the stakes of communication about bodies, communication studies identifies bodies as communicating forces that cannot be accounted for by standards of reason, meaning, and decorum. Bodies are physical, material, affective beings that communicate because of, not in spite of, their messy, ineffable status. Moreover, communication is an embodied process that involves a range of material supports, including human bodies, technological bodies, and other nonhuman physical and biological bodies. Investigating bodies as communicating forces compels an understanding of communication that is not exclusively rational, meaning-oriented, and nonviolent.
Prejudice is a broad social phenomenon and area of research, complicated by the fact that intolerance exists in internal cognitions but is manifest in symbol usage (verbal, nonverbal, mediated), law and policy, and social and organizational practice. It is based on group identification (i.e., perceiving and treating a person or people in terms of outgroup membership); but that outgroup can range from the more commonly known outgroups based on race, sex/gender, nationality, or sexual orientation to more specific intolerances of others based on political party, fan status, or membership in some perceived group such as “blonde” or “athlete.” This article begins with the link of culture to prejudice, noting specific culture-based prejudices of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. It then explores the levels at which prejudice might be manifest, finally arriving at a specific focus of prejudice—racism; however, what applies to racism may also apply to other intolerances such as sexism, heterosexism, classism, or ageism.
The discussion and analysis of prejudice becomes complicated when we approach a specific topic like racism, though the tensions surrounding this phenomenon extend to other intolerances such as sexism or heterosexism. Complications include determining the influences that might lead to individual racism or an atmosphere of racism, but also include the very definition of what racism is: Is it an individual phenomenon, or does it refer to an intolerance that is supported by a dominant social structure? Because overt intolerance has become unpopular in many societies, researchers have explored how racism and sexism might be expressed in subtle terms; others investigate how racism intersects with other forms of oppression, including those based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, or colonialism; and still others consider how one might express intolerance “benevolently,” with good intentions though still based on problematic racist or sexist ideologies.
Understanding the role of gender in the newsroom involves tracing a shift from an initial consensus that women’s only journalistic role was to write with “a woman’s touch” about women, for women readers, to a claim that women should be allowed to produce the same “unmarked” news as men. The claim became that women’s forms—women’s sections or other materials intended for women audiences—represented professional ghettos, and that women were needed to produce better, more ethical journalism. That is, within the newsroom, gender was first dichotomized, rendering the interests of women and men as opposites, and then it claimed to be irrelevant. Feminist scholars point out that, over time, men have consistently tried to protect their status, jobs, and salaries, and have failed to acknowledge how journalism was set up as a male enclave with “macho” values and a culture that disadvantaged women, especially mothers, with its tradition of long and irregular hours and lack of childcare.
Research on gender and journalism can be divided into two categories: (a) gender “at work” in newsrooms (including opportunities or inequities in jobs, promotions, and salaries, as well as sexism), and (b) representations of women. Scholars often assume that the first issue over-determines the second. On both issues, research shows improvement, but also continuing problems. Now women journalists appear to be well established; the news includes issues associated with women’s quotidian concerns, and it takes women seriously. Yet a variety of gender divides continue to characterize journalism. Researchers find gendered patterns in coverage, especially in politics and sports. Women television journalists are routinely sexualized, and their high visibility in television broadcasting—through explicit scrutiny of their bodies, hairstyles, clothing, and voices—is countered by their invisibility in management. Gendered double standards and a glass ceiling continue to stymie the promotion of women to key decision-making and governance positions in print and broadcast news organizations. Moreover, women are far from enjoying equity in the online context.
Women continue to be concentrated in low-status media outlets and beats: they dominate community, small-town, and regional news organizations, and they produce “soft news,” human-interest stories and features. Men still dominate, although they do not monopolize, most of the high status areas of news production, particularly politics and business, as well as the lucrative and popular area of sports, a highly gendered and sexist domain. The most overtly gendered arena is war correspondence. Women who report on war and conflict are judged by very different standards than men. In particular, mothers are condemned when they go off to dangerous conflict areas, although fathers who cover war continue to be largely immune from public criticism. Women war reporters run a high risk of sexual violence and harassment, although women who have been sexually attacked rarely tell their supervisors—probably for fear of being pulled off an assignment.
Countless platforms are now available to citizens to disseminate their views as citizen journalists, including blogs and Twitter; these provide opportunities for challenging gender roles and democratizing relations between men and women. On the other hand, social media threaten the business model of professional journalism; the resulting trend to part-time, freelance, and even unpaid work creates a precarious and potentially highly feminized labor force.