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Feminist Media Studies Gender under fire: portrayals of military women in the Australian print media

The news media is historically recognised for producing and reinforcing gendered norms and binaries. Correspondingly militaries are institutions where gender roles and expectations create contention. We conducted a content analysis of two Australian
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Feminist Media Studies ISSN: 1468-0777 (Print) 1471-5902 (Online) Journal homepage: Gender under fire: portrayals of military women inthe Australian print media Donna Bridges & Ben Wadham To cite this article:  Donna Bridges & Ben Wadham (2019): Gender under fire:portrayals of military women in the Australian print media, Feminist Media Studies, DOI:10.1080/14680777.2019.1592208 To link to this article: Published online: 01 Apr 2019.Submit your article to this journal View Crossmark data  Gender under  󿬁 re: portrayals of military women in theAustralian print media Donna Bridges  a and Ben Wadham  b a School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, Australia;  b College of Education, Psychology & Social Work, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia ABSTRACT  The news media is historically recognised for producing and rein-forcing gendered norms and binaries. Correspondingly militariesare institutions where gender roles and expectations create con-tention. We conducted a content analysis of two Australian broad-sheets; the  Australian  and the  Sydney Morning Herald  . Weinvestigated how military women were represented between1997 and 2017, exploring three categories (1). Gendered violence(2). Combat (3). Organisational. This article examines  󿬁 ndingsabout Gendered violence which was reported on substantiallymore than the other categories; the act of silencing women ’ svoice and experience was highest here when the author wasmale. The  “ Skype A ff  air ”  attracted considerable media attentionand whilst reporting did not sensationalise violence againstwomen, reporters engaged in journalistic devices that diminishedthe perpetrator/s role whilst positioning the victim centrally; using “ hijacking ”  maneuvers to prioritise stories about men, omitwomen ’ s agency, and provide a smokescreen to conceal the dys-function of institutional gendered violence within the military.Feminism and feminist commentary was poorly represented, pro-viding no meaningful contribution within the sample. We con-clude that the focus on women as sexual beings and victims inthe print media in Australia reproduces stereotypes of genderroles that create and perpetuate gender inequalities. ARTICLE HISTORY Received 4 April 2018Revised 3 March 2019Accepted 5 March 2019 KEYWORDS Women in the military;gender; content analysis;print media; genderedviolence Introduction Lance Corporal Hannah Evans (2013) maintains that the Australian media only showinterest in Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel when issues of equality arise withinthe institution. Conversely, Ben Wadham (2016, 553) has argued, that the media ’ sinterest in the ADF is mostly in relation to  “ scandal, ”  or in events that occur when theotherwise secret a ff  airs of the closed institution of the military become suddenly visible,a spectacle to be witnessed through the lens of the press. Indeed, in recent years therehas been an escalation in newspaper reporting about women who serve in theAustralian military. This escalation was initiated by a crime committed by male cadetsat the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) that became a media scandal(Wadham 2016). The incident, known as the  “ Skype Sex Scandal ”  or  “ Skype A ff  air ” CONTACT  Donna Bridges FEMINIST MEDIA STUDIES © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group  occurred when a male cadet live streamed a sexual encounter between himself anda female cadet to his male friends in another room. This was done without the knowl-edge of the young woman who, later, took her story to the press. The Skype A ff  airsparked intense media coverage as well as scrutiny into the treatment of women in theADF and the handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases by military justiceprocesses. This article reports on research into how the Australian print media has coveredissues concerning women personnel in the ADF. Using a content analysis of two of Australia ’ s most widely distributed broadsheets; the  Australian  and the  Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) , we investigated how the print media represented militarywomen during a 20-year period (1997 – 2017) and what they speci 󿬁 cally reported onin relation to three themes: (1). Gendered Violence (bullying, abuse, sexual violence,and harassment) (2). Combat (women serving in the combat arms and associateddiscussions) and (3). Organisational (the roles of female personnel operationally, inemployment, recruitment/retention). This article reports on the  󿬁 ndings from the  󿬁 rstcategory, Gendered Violence. We considered how the print media represent gen-dered violence, a pervasive issue in the ADF, in relation to both victims andperpetrators. We asked whose voices are most prominent and what issues are mostlyreported on. We also entered into this research aware of two other contributingfactors that are worthy of investigation. The  󿬁 rst we observed in both media report-ing and in the literature — the argument that  “ left wing political agendas and femin-ism ”  were driving gender change in the ADF (see Ben Wadham, et al. 2018). Therefore, we asked how the print media represents feminism and feminist agendasin regards to gender integration in the ADF. The other factor was media ownershipin Australia and its impact on reporting about gendered violence. This was vitalbecause the Murdoch press conglomerate, News Corps (formally News Limited), owna 70 percent monopoly of Australian media (David McKnight 2010) and is known todrive a conservative, white, heteronormative, masculine agenda (Robert Manne2011). To be sure, the media landscape in Australia is a noteworthy site of genderanalysis (Janine Little 2012). The research reported on here is also signi 󿬁 cant for, andtransferable to, other western countries that face similar issues in relation to genderequality in their defence forces. This research makes an srcinal contribution to the Australia context as the issue of how women in the ADF are represented has not been attempted before. Where wemake a unique and important contribution is in the understanding of the practice of  “ hijacking. ”  We identify, and make visible, journalistic strategies and devices that operateto sustain unequal gender relations through hijacking. Rosalind Gill (2011) used the termto describe how journalists hijacked the word  “ sexism ”  thereby diminishing its legiti-macy and meaning. Frederick Attenborough ’ s (2013, 695) work takes this further by showing how the media  “ perform a particular kind of   ‘ mockery ’  and  ‘ hijacking ’  of sexism. ”  Carrie Rentschler (2015) shows how women used hijacking as an empowering Twitter strategy to transform and challenge victim blaming rape discourse. In this paperwe use the concept of hijacking to describe the misappropriation of stories aboutwomen by journalists. We demonstrate how journalists use hijacking strategies to divertattention and interest away from women as a smoke screen that operates to concealsexism, sexualisation, and sexual assault of women. These strategies work to neutralise 2 D. BRIDGES AND B. WADHAM  perpetrator responsibility for gendered violence against women while centralisingwomen in the crimes perpetrated against them. Understanding media practices of representation demonstrates the gendered character of the news media, its dispositionto gender issues, such as sexual assault, and the ways in which the representationsreproduce or transform the male dominated character of the news media. Raisingawareness of sexual assault against women in male dominated institutions can be usefulin generating gender equality, however if those representations are gender biased thisbene 󿬁 t can be eroded. The article starts with an outline of the journey of women ’ s integration into theADF. We consider organisational reform in the ADF and government responses to thepervasive issue of gendered violence in the ADF. We then provide a brief discussionof feminist analysis and critique of the news media and its portrayal of women asdomestic, passive, and sexual. Here we explore the role of the news media in “ framing ”  stories in such a way that they reinforce dominant culture and unequalgender relations in society. We also provide background on media ownership inAustralia including critical assessments of its in 󿬂 uence on discussions about genderand gender equity. The aforementioned  “ Skype A ff  air ”  attracted considerable media attention in 2011.Whilst reporting did not sensationalise violence against women, certainly an improve-ment on past coverage, reporters did engage in journalistic devices that diminishedthe perpetrator/s role whilst positioning the victim centrally; silencing women ’ s voices,using hijacking maneuvers to prioritise stories about men, omit women ’ s agency, andprovide a smokescreen to conceal the dysfunction of institutional gendered violencewithin the military. Feminism and feminist commentary was poorly represented, pro-viding no meaningful contribution within the sample. We conclude that the focus onwomen as sexual beings and victims in the print media in Australia remains deeplyproblematic. Indeed, the news media is diverse at the same time that it is signi 󿬁 cantlymonopolised. The Murdoch regime being a clear example of how the media messagecan be manufactured by the conservative, neoliberal, corporate press (see below).Moreover, through their framing of women ’ s issues the media can contribute to thereproduction of power relations that continue to subordinate women in relation tomen. We can see this in the  “ war story ”  as much as the domestic story of womenexperiencing sexual assault in the military. Miriam Cooke (1997) writes that representa-tions of the war story must rely upon heavily normalised ideals of the world, of whichgender is a central organising trope. In fact, to work, the war story depends ontraditional gendered notions of masculinity and femininity such as women ’ s need forprotection being the reason men must  󿬁 ght, or outworn essentialist clichés of men ’ saggressivity and women ’ s paci 󿬁 sm (Donna Bridges 2006; Cooke 1997; Joshua Goldstein 2001). Ultimately, representations of women in the military, by a news media unable todivorce itself from essentialist and dichotomous notions of gender, re 󿬂 ect a distortedview of military gender relations. Such gendered narratives of female military person-nel frame women as victims and at the same time as responsible for crimes againstthem. Reducing women ’ s experience to sexual assault and sexual exploitation isa powerful act that reproduces gender inequalities, perpetuates stereotypes of genderroles and devalues women (Melissa Graham and Stephanie Rich 2014). FEMINIST MEDIA STUDIES 3  Gender integration in the ADF: mainstreaming women ’ s roles Women ’ s roles in the ADF have been steadily increasing since the Boer War (1899 – 1902)when a small group of women shipped out to Africa as nursing personnel. Women haveserved, according to personnel needs, in both world wars, in Vietnam as nurses, andsubsequently on every war front and United Nations Peacekeeping mission Australia hasparticipated in (Bridges 2006; Scott Davison 2007). Change in the gendered order of the ADF has been driven by signi 󿬁 cant changein civil society. First by personnel requirements in both world wars and then in the1960s and 70s when social pressure, brought about by anti-Vietnam War sentimentand the human rights movement, pressed for the end of male conscription andresulted in an entirely volunteer force. Notably, the Sexual Revolution and thewomen ’ s rights movement challenged gender inequality and sex role stereotypingand unleashed a period of unparalleled social change which contributed to policychange in the ADF. In 1969, after much pressure from senior women, policy requiringwomen to leave the ADF Women ’ s Services after marriage was overturned. Though,remaining in service was conditional to the ADF requiring her  “ special talents, ”  andher husband ’ s written consent (married women could not be recruited). In 1974,policy to allow women to serve during and after pregnancy was implemented. Thiswas followed by paid maternity leave in 1975 and equal pay between 1977 and 1979(Bridges 2006). Between 1977 and 1985 Women ’ s Services were disbanded reassign-ing women  “ from a purely bene 󿬁 cent capacity to full integration into mainstreammilitary occupations ”  (Davison 2007, 60). Eliminating conscription in Australia andintegrating women into the mainstream ADF may have been born of necessity andpressure from civil society, but change has not come without problems for servingwomen. Persistent workplace discrimination, harassment, and assault have causedsubstantial recruitment and retention issues and made many women ’ s lives asmilitary personnel untenable. In-house scandals in the ADF have been persistentand numerous. A federal parliamentary inquiry into sexual harassment in the ADF in1992 investigated complaints of sexual harassment on the HMAS Swan. The 1996,Burton Report investigated cultural, social, and institutional barriers to women ’ semployment but apart from some initiatives such as the establishment of theDefence Equity Organisation, problems improved little by means of investigationsand inquiries. Pervasive assaults against women at ADFA resulted in the Review intothe Policies and Practices to deal with Sexual Harassment and Sexual O ff  ences atADFA (Bronwyn D. Grey 1998) and in 2001 a report commissioned by defence,A Survey of Experience of Unacceptable Behaviour in the ADF (Michael Power2001) was released.Whilst policy reform and milestones for women have been considerable, strategies toretain women have only made marginal gains. The ADF has focused its e ff  orts on creatinganattractivecareerpathforwomen;however,themasculinecultureoftheADFhasmeantthat women do not encounter an institution free of gendered violence. The Skype A ff  air,discussed above, is a case in point. It instigated six cultural reviews of the ADF, includingthe Australian Human Rights Commission ’ s Review into the Treatment of Women in theAustralian Defence Force Academy (Elizabeth Broderick  2011). 4 D. BRIDGES AND B. WADHAM
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