Project Director

Gailey, Elizabeth

Department Examiner

Bellar, Stephanie; Simmons, Charlene; Wetenberger, Dana


Dept. of Communication


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


In recent years, more women have emerged from both major parties and across all regions and disciplines to make their voices heard in the political arena. Slowly, the number of women in Senate seats and governor's mansions has inched higher, and there is a strong possibility that we will have a female presidential candidate in the next election. In 2007, 87 women are serving in the United States Congress. They hold 16, or 16%, of the 100 Senate seats, and 71, or 16.4%, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. In state positions, percentages are slightly higher: in 2007, 76 women fill 24.1% of the 315 available positions in statewide elective executive offices, including governor and lieutenant governor. Additionally, women serve as 23.4% of the 7,382 state legislators in this country (Center for American Women in Politics, Women Officeholders). Based on popular media sources, the number of women in government positions seems to be rising significantly. However, a simple glance at the demographics of those in elected government positions in America over the past 15 years indicates that this is only partially true. Women have seen noteworthy Congressional gains. For instance, in 1992, dubbed "the year of the woman" by the media, only 32 women served in Congress, including 4 female Senators and 28 female Representatives (Center for American Women in Politics, Women in the U.S. Congress 2007). On the other hand, the percentage of females in state legislatures has remained relatively stagnant. In 1992, 18.4% of the 7,461 state legislators in the United States were women (Center for American Women in Politics, Women in State Legislatures). Government leadership is still largely a "boys' club," and much progress needs to be made for women's voices to be heard on an equal level. Yet research indicates that it is often difficult to recruit women to run for political office. Women are about 50 percent less likely then men to consider political candidacy. Many believe they are unqualified, or lack confidence in their leadership ability. And female candidates have yet to convince the public of their ability: Most citizens believe that women have a harder time than men becoming elected (Carroll, 2003). Why do so few members of the public think women can be leaders? Obviously, gender stereotypes continue to be perpetuated, and potential female candidates must continue to navigate around constrained expectations about what a politician is and can be. The media, for example, has been found to typecast women in roles ranging from raging feminist to carpool-mom-turned-congresswoman. Moreover, the fact that the candidate is female is sometimes made a central issue in women's campaigns (Kahn, 1996; Norris, 1997). An abundance of research details media coverage of women in Congressional and gubernatorial roles. While this information can prove helpful for those with the resources to seek such positions, there has been little research on how the media affects more localized political elections. For many women, local politics is an accessible way to participate in public office and balance other responsibilities, such as a career or family. Additionally, leadership experience in city-wide or state-wide positions often proves a stepping stone to higher offices. Understanding the most effective methods of communicating one's position to the media while undermining media stereotypes that may interfere with success is crucial. Media content and election statistics have often been used to speculate about the relationship between gender, politics, and news coverage, but few studies have thoroughly questioned female politicians themselves. This study examines the interaction between women, politics, and the media through case study research focusing on the individual experience of a female who ran for local political office. Ann Coulter, one of the first serious female candidates for mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee (population approx. 155,000), ran for office in 2004. Coulter had been involved in the city's business development for some time, and had no previous political experience. She defeated eight candidates in the general election, but because 50% of the vote is required for a win, she was required to participate in a runoff and narrowly lost the race. Information from detailed interviews from Coulter as well as those involved her campaign is used to determine if and to what extent gender may have played a role in this election. Furthermore, for a more multidimensional approach, coverage of the election in local newspapers is also evaluated to determine how Coulter was framed in the media. This case study should offer new insights into the ways in which female politicians might most effectively use the media as a tool to promote a successful campaign in a local election. Although the positions of those interviewed are opinions, and may not reflect the political atmosphere throughout the country, they provide unique perspectives about attitudes toward female leadership in a conservative mid-sized town.


B. S.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Science.




Women--Political activity--Tennessee; Stereotypes (Social psychology) in mass media; Local elections--Tennessee--Chattanooga


Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication

Document Type



60 leaves





Call Number

LB2369.5 .B762 2007