ACSPRI Conferences, ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference 2010

Font Size:  Small  Medium  Large

Media reporting of the women's movement

Kirsty McLaren

Building: Holme Building
Room: Sutherland Room
Date: 2010-12-02 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2010-11-19


'Mapping the Australian Women's Movement' is a mixed methods project combining protest event analysis, mapping public demonstrations between 1970 and 2005; a history of women's institutions exploring the the institutional legacy of the women's movement; and, an analysis of contemporary online feminist communities, exploring the discursive legacy of the women's movement.  By examining the trajectory of the Australian women's movement, the project aims to contribute to our theorising of the evolution of social movements. 


This paper reflects on methodological implications of the initial findings of the protest event analysis element of the project.  Protest event analysis is an extremely valuable method of quantifying trends in the public aspects of social movement activity.  It is also, however, heavily dependent on media sources, and can therefore be understood as charting media reporting of protest events, rather than events themselves.  Protest event analysis is thus shaped by the contemporary criteria of 'news-worthiness', by the biases of journalists, and by media organisations' perceptions of what is 'on the agenda'. 


Though some scholars have hypothesised that these factors will reduce the media record of women's movement protests, initial findings from our database suggest that the effect of personal and structural sexism is more complex.  In this paper, I outline three factors which seem to have shaped reporting of women's movement events.  Thus, this paper identifies important issues to be considered when undertaking protest event analysis or using media sources for other purposes. 


First, sexist assumptions have made it easier for women to hold protests which were transgressive, shocking, and hence newsworthy.  Second, our database shows a preponderance of women reporting women's protest events, and in this paper I consider what this might indicate about media reporting.  Third, the database demonstrates an increasing number of institutions organising protest events, despite decreasing numbers of protests being reported over the past two decades, and I suggest that the varying connections between social movements, community organisations and institutions have significant implications for how protest events are perceived and reported.