Adrienne Shaw, Katherine Sender, and Patrick Murphy
Critical audience studies is the branch of media research primarily concerned with what people do with the media they consume, rather than on the supposedly negative effects of media on people. Critical audience studies has long drawn on “ethnographic ways of seeing” to investigate the everyday uses of media in myriad contexts. This area of audience research has had to define who and what constitutes “an audience,” where audiences are located, and how best to understand how people’s lives intersect with media. Changes in media production and distribution technologies have meant that texts are increasingly consumed in transnational and transplatform ways. These changes have disrupted historical distinctions between producers and audiences. Critical cultural approaches should be considered from a largely qualitative perspective and look at feminist and global reception studies as foundational to the understandings of what audiences might be and how to study them. Taking video game players as a boundary example, we need to reconsider how contemporary media forms and genres, modes of engagement, and niche and geographically dispersed media publics affect audiences and audience research: what, or who, is an audience, how can we understand it, and through what methods might we research it now?
Rebecca S. Richards
For much of human history, “femininity” and “masculinity” were unknown terms. But that does not mean that the concept of gender did not exist. Indeed, many societies in recorded history had conceptions of what it means to be a gendered person—most often noted in the binary of “man” and “woman”—but these conceptions were normative and perceived as intrinsic to human behavior and culture. Masculinity and femininity were naturalized concepts, assumed to be the ways in which men and women should act, look, or communicate.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars and activists noted that femininity and masculinity are social constructions of a gendered society, often denoting the ways in which people, objects, and practices conform to or transgress gendered expectations. Both terms are highly contingent upon the cultural, historical, and geopolitical locations in which they are used, meaning that they can only be accurately understood or defined for a given time or context; it is impossible to define either term in a universal manner. Femininity, as an articulated concept, has a longer history of being visible and enforced by communities. Masculinity, on the contrary, historically elided critique or visibility because its attributes were often the normative and prized values and characteristics of a given social context. However, feminist movements and intellectual projects have brought masculinity to light, showing the ways in which masculinity, just as much as femininity, is a learned and enforced way of viewing actions, people, and things.
In communication studies, current scholarship on masculinity and femininity examine how they circulate in a globalized world, picking up new definitions and often restructuring people’s lives. Even though both terms are abstractions with shifting definitions and applications, they create the conditions for people’s sense of identity and limit or enhance their ability to engage in communicative acts. Differently stated, while abstract concepts, they have material consequences. To understand how an abstract social construction creates material consequences, communication scholars have looked at several research locations where masculinity and femininity most obviously manifest, such as leadership and authority, media representations, rhetorical style and delivery, and interpersonal communications.
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.