Most pictures and texts repeat notions about people and groups despite the person producing the material neither being conscious of it nor finding it desirable. In this way, texts and pictures can reinforce preconceptions of gender, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation.
Media analysis can concern various newspapers, ads, catalogues and website texts. In this way, the method creates awareness about how society creates genders and different conditions for different people and groups. But the analysis can also be done with a focus on material connected to your own project. In these cases the method contributes to your own organization as a step in a continuous process of change.
Choose the material that you want participants to analyse. Divide a larger group into smaller ones. Give each group materials to analyse and starting points for their analysis – for example:
The Text’s Context
- Where was the text published? In what section and under what heading?
- What is the interaction between headline, introduction, text, picture and caption like?
- Is the author’s age, gender, ethnicity or social class relevant to the text?
- What is the text about? What is its focus, what is moved to the background, what is missing?
- Does the text concern a specific group? A group that is seen as the norm or as outside of norms?
- Who is the likely reader?
- What emphasis is placed on people in the text, in relation to gender, age, ethnicity, social class etc.?
The Text Itself
- What is the tone of the text? Is something alarming? Happy? Factual?
- Who are given room to speak in the text (gender, age, ethnicity, disability, class, sexual orientation, geographic location)?
- Who is described in the text? (gender, age, ethnicity, disability, class, sexual orientation, geographic location) Are the people described the same people who are given room to speak?
- Are people or groups described based on stereotypes?
- Are there loaded words such as strong, weak, helpless, good, evil, victim, perpetrator or welfare recipient?
- Are different groups described differently? Using different words, negatively or positively?
- Whose perspective does the author use?
- What draws your attention
- How is the headline connected to the picture?
- Are women and men both represented in the picture(s)? What women and men are pictured – is there a range concerning age, skin/hair colour, disability? Are all clearly women or men?
- In what environment(s) were the pictures taken? Outdoors, indoors, at home, at work?
- What are the person(s) in the picture doing? Are they active or passive? Are they posing for the camera? If so, how?
- What does their look tell you? Is it introverted, sexually inviting, empty, confident?
- How are people dressed based on gender? Based on skin/hair colour?
- Relaxed or formal? Professional or private? Are they dressed at all?
- Are people named? Using first names or surnames?
- Where are the people in relation to the camera? At a distance, up close, photographed form above or below?
- Who is pictured as objects to be viewed or as active subjects?
Reform into one big group for presentation and reflection!
One way of going further with texts is to ask participants to think about whether it is possible to write a text using, for example, the following guidelines:
- Repetition of main words (use for example the teacher, the visitor, the director instead of her or him)?
- Gender-neutral pronouns; hen (Swedish pronoun hen goes for both sexes or none of them)
- Re-word using the plural; they
- Direct address; you
- Not allowing the male word to always be placed first – she and he instead of he and she, women and men instead of men and women.
- Use gender-neutral terms such as fire fighter (instead of fireman).
Tip: Count heads! Picture analysis can also include having the participants count the number of pictures of women/girls and men/boys. This tends to work well with national newspapers, tabloids and local papers. Ask groups of two or three to keep a tally of the number of pictures of people of each gender. Also ask participants to note in what context (news, ads, politics, entertainment, sport, economy etc.) most women and most men are featured. It can also be interesting to note what people are pictured as saying something and which are used to illustrate something. End with a joint discussion and reflect on your results.
Tip: Recreate the poses in the pictures! Ask participants to try to pose as the people in the pictures. How does it feel to pose like the men in the pictures? How does it feel to pose like the women?