The Birds and the Bees: How CNN & FOX Produce Gender and Voice in the Occupy Movement

The Birds and the Bees: How CNN & FOX Produce Gender and Voice in the Occupy Movement

Group 10: Emily Coussens, Hannah Fontenot, Ashley Koempel, Amanda Cline, & Keiko Sakai

It is not a myth that men are prioritized in our culture. The cold hard facts tell us everything. For example, women make 75-cents on the dollar that men make. We analyzed how the media portray men and women’s roles in society and how the public is influenced by and perceives these dominant roles. We are also interested specifically in how newscasters and journalists illustrate men and women’s roles within the Occupy Movement through language and other forms of power. More specifically, we look at which gender receives more coverage and whether that coverage is negative or positive, who is perceived as a more credible source, and who is the dominant gender within these roles. This is an important topic to research because of the current palpable inequalities in men and women today in all aspects of society. It seems that the media continues to perpetuate the ideologies of gender roles, which is easily translated into power inequalities to the general public. With many tools through corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis, we are able to navigate through texts while analyzing our corpora and discover how gender plays a role within the 99%.

According to Wood and Kroger (2000), “The methods are designed for the close analysis of talk and, of course, writing.  More specifically, we see discourse analysis as a related collection of approaches to discourse, approaches that entail not only practices of data collection and analysis, but also a set of metatheoretical and theoretical assumptions and a body of research claims and studies”.  Discourse analysis allows us to look at text through a critical lense and then provides us with specific tools to analyze our findings. Methods allow us to gather information through a larger theoretical framework which can then be analyzed in order to produce findings that support our main claim. Like Wodak and Meyer (2009) state, “The primary issue here is how the various approaches of CDA are able to ‘translate’ their theoretical claims into instruments and methods of analysis.” The methods are what allow us to make sense of discourse analysis which we can then apply to real world situations. “The ‘critical’ in ‘critical discourse analysis’ refers to a way of understanding the social world drawn from critical theory,” says Cameron (2001) in order to define CDA. What we believe he is trying to state is that analysts need to be critical not only about the discourse they are analyzing, but also about the world in which the discourse is used in and comes from.

Our group has used two national news sources from our discourse genre of United States’ national media: CNN and FOX News. Within these two news sources, we chose to look at written articles and news broadcast transcripts. By using two sources from both ends of the political spectrum, our corpora is more conclusive in that our text is more diverse in opinion. In order to collect this information, we went through programs on the University of Washington library website called LexisNexis and Access World News. In total, our group’s corpus ranged from September to October 2011. It totaled 568 pages and 303,978 words. Due to our target date range, we were able to look more specifically at the Occupy Movement in its beginning stages. Focusing on these two months of the Occupy Movement allowed us to look at a bigger picture of who these people are and whether gender is something that separates, unites, or even exists within the movement.

PATTERN 1: Men in positions of power are more frequently given a voice

The first pattern seen consistently throughout the corpora is that of the one where men currently in leadership positions of American society are frequently given a voice to discuss the topic of the 99% movement. This shows dominance of the male gender being given the power to discuss an important issue within our nation. In direct response to our claim, powerful males are seen dominating written text which perpetuates their power and legitimizes their rights to have a voice within the Occupy Movement. Two examples of this pattern within our corpora are the following.  The first is a quote taken out of an article discussing the thoughts of Marty Linsky on leadership roles for the Occupy Movement. He is a powerful male who is part of the CNN news team.

“In order for that to be an effective tool in achieving whatever it is the Occupy Wall Street movement eventually decides to do, Linsky said someone is going to have to assume leadership.”

Our second example of this pattern comes from a quote made by Michael Heaney (his position is stated within the quote) on a CNN news broadcast.  He is addressing a statement that was previously made about the movement being leaderless.

“‘It’s gone further than I would have guessed,” said Michael Heaney, a University of Michigan political scientist who specializes in social movements and organization in U.S. politics. “It’s amazing that it’s lasted as long as it has. … What we’re seeing has no precedent.’”

The tool that we used to discover and analyze this pattern was that of legitimization.

Fairclough states that, “legitimation provides the ‘explanations’ and justifications of the salient elements of the institutional tradition.” More importantly, “People are constantly concerned in social life and in what they say or write, with claiming or questioning the legitimacy of actions which are taken, procedures which exist in organizations, and so forth”. Legitimation is also defined as the ways in which a text establishes the legitimacy of a person, institution, process, or idea (according to Professor Toft). This subconscious consistency through the media creates the message that males speak the truth and that males have power.

In written text, males are consistently given a voice through the legitimization of their title. For example, in one CNN article (regarding the Occupy Movement) Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, fellow GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin were all mentioned and quoted within one text while House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, was the only woman of leadership mentioned.  Zolfagharkhani and Tabasi’s (2012) article discusses power relations and states that “it is obvious that without ‘discourse’ and ‘language’ the existence of ‘power’ and ‘politics’ is only a probability, because ‘discourse’ is the means of exercising the power and applying the politics” (p. 1). The texts we analyzed create a means for these power relations to be exemplified. Through our corpora and specific excerpts, we see the way discourse facilitates a relationship between power and politics. Gender ties into this because the people of power within the discourse tend to be male dominated. These men are legitimized because of their important job titles and the fact that they are tied to a legitimate institutional status, such as a “Representative” or “Presidential candidate.” Because these men are legitimized through their job title and position, we see men as a more powerful member of society. The male gender is a structural dominant force in society that we cannot escape because it is facilitated and perpetuated by cultural norms and expectations.

PATTERN 2: Social Actors gain positions of activation or passivation

The second pattern that we found within our discourse data set to support the claim on gender inequality around the Occupy Movement was the following: When female protesters are participants as social actors they are being active about the fact that they are not being represented or they are talked about in an active manner.  When protesters are discussed with gender neutral terms they are usually either talking in a passive manner or talked about as being passive by a third party person.  One example of this is shown in this passage from a CNN Newsroom report that is quoting a female protester named Jessica Lagreca,

“LAGRECA: I mean the reality is I’m the only working class person you’re going to see on Sunday in political news, maybe ever.”

This passage shows her (a female protester) as an active participant within the clause.  An example that shows the other side of our pattern (passivation in regards to the neutral gendered protesters) can be found in this next passage.

“There was chaos in the streets of Oakland overnight. Police fired tear gas, bean bags, trying to clear out the Occupy Wall Street — or Occupy Oakland, if you will…….. And about the same time this was going on, Atlanta police moved in on Occupy Wall Street protesters camped in a downtown park. There were more than 100 arrests last night combined in both Oakland and Atlanta.”

This shows the protesters as being acted upon (meaning they are passive) and only uses gender neutral terms.

The tool used to uncover this pattern is the use of activation vs. passivation when examining the different social actors in the texts.  Fairclough describes this tool as the following, “The significance of ‘activation’ and ‘passivation’ is rather transparent: where social actors are mainly activated, their capacity for agentive action, for making things happen, for controlling others and so forth is accentuated, where they are mainly passivated, what is accentuated is their subjection to processes, them being affected by the actions of others and so forth” (2003). This pattern shows an inequality of gender when examining the data for active vs. passive roles. We believe Fairclough is making a connection between actors and power. When the actor is being active, he is trying to gain power. When an actor is being passive, he is trying to give power away or that power is being taken away from him.

PATTERN 3: Lack of Women’s Voices

The third pattern seen in our corpora is the lack of women’s voices. To analyze this pattern it is helpful to use to tool of inclusion and exclusion that Fairclough discussed. “We can look at texts from a Representational point of view in terms of which elements of events are included in the representation of those events and which are excluded, and which of the elements that are included are given the greatest prominence of salience” (Fairclough 2003). Clearly, just by looking through the text, there is a lack of women’s thoughts and ideas and there is greater representation of men overall in the broadcast transcripts and written articles.  The women represented are not shown to have important titles when compared to the males of power. Women are described as what they do, not who they are, such as a Senator.  For example, compare these women and their titles with the ones given for men (above):

“Erica Payne, founder of the agenda project….., Amiliya Antonetti, small business voice……., Monica Crowley (nothing)……., and Karen Ruskin, psychotherapist.”

The tool of inclusion and exclusion can be found by examining the text for suppression and/or backgrounding.  According to Fairclough suppression is when a social actor is not mentioned in the text at all and backgrounding is when the social actor is briefly mentioned somewhere else. If we apply this tool to our pattern of finding the lack of women’s voices, an example we can use is the fact that women as participants and possessive actors are being backgrounded into the text. Therefore, their voices are being shut off and not being heard.

It is very important to use inclusion and exclusion to look at this phenomenon among the text in comparison to men and women.  Clearly, some women are represented, but the ratio is about one woman to every three men.  It is difficult to show because women are excluded, but it is important to look at their job title and whether that is foregrounded or not in comparison to how men are represented.  It is also important to look at the language surrounding the talk of men and women.  Women are represented in the text, but not nearly as often as men.

PATTERN 4: Gender-neutral talk about protesters

A fourth and final pattern seen in our corpus revolves around the language used by journalists and newscasters about the protesters. The language found is very gender-neutral when examining the text for gender inequalities. The text describing who the people of the Occupy Movement are use words such as “group(s)”, “they”, “occupiers”, “organizers”, or simply give a number of people onsite at the protests rather than giving any more information.  After identifying keywords and looking at the semantic prosody within the texts, we were able to further analyze how the terms were described, defined, talked about, and how they were meant to be perceived. According to Adolphs (2006), “Keywords can also contribute towards an analysis of the general orientation of a text via a further analysis of the keywords that are being generated” (p. 47). What Adolphs is suggesting is that a keyword can give us a general idea of what it is an important idea within the text.  If we go on to do further analysis we can narrow the keywords found to those that best represent our topical focus within the Occupy Movement.

By focusing on the keywords “group” and “they” while reading the articles for cotext, we were able to see that the keywords were not collocated near words of gender. In fact, these specific words that were found in various articles describing the people involved avoided any mention of gender and keep the group somewhat anonymous. For example, during a news broadcast a newscaster made this statement while describing a group of protesters;

“…the group here demonstrating, they are calling themselves Occupy Wall Street.”

While it is true that the protesters are often talked about in gender neutral terms, we need to remember to take a step back and look at the bigger picture; the picture in which male leaders are dominating discussion surrounding the Occupy Movement.


In conclusion, there are “micro-physics of power” present when implying that men still have the majority of the voice in the media. Today, the media continues to perpetuate that voice. This is easily translated into power and strongly influences the minds of the majority of society. By analyzing these news articles, we have discovered that gender stereotypes are still very much a part of today’s world. The data, analysis, methods, and tools give us the ability to uncover the underlying messages within our texts pertaining to the Occupy Movement. Through our analysis we have come to the conclusion that men in positions of power are more frequently given a voice, women as social actors gain/lose positions of activation/passivation, women’s voices are suppressed, and the media uses gender neutral terms when talking about protesters of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Even though there are some women in positions of power in the United States, it is important to remember that men and women still are not viewed as equals.  This analysis has opened our eyes to a world of text that can be examined to show how the micro-physics of power is still evident today. Not only is it evident in the 99% movement, but discourse analysis has allowed us to uncover inequalities in a broader social realm that reaches outside the Occupy Movement.


Adolphs, S. (2006). Introducing Electronic Text Analysis. New York: Routeledge.

Cameron, D. (2001). Excerpts from Working with spoken discourse. (pp. 123-129, 137-140). London: Sage Publications.

Fairclough, N. (2003). Meaning relations between sentences and clauses. (pp. 87-104). In Analyzing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.

Fairclough, N. (2003). Representation of Social Events. (134-155). In Analyzing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.

Gill, Rosalind. “Discourse Analysis.” Chapter 10 in Qualitative Researching with Text, Image, and Sound. Eds. Martin Bauer & George Gaskell. London : SAGE, 2000. 172-        190.

Wodak, R, and Meyer, M. (2009). Critical discourse analysis: History, agenda, theory and methodology. (pp. 1-33). In Methods of critical discourse analysis. London: Sage.

Wood, L.A. (2000) Doing Discourse Analysis: Methods for Studying Action in Talk and Text. Sage Publications, Inc.

Zolfagharkhani, M., & Tabasi, E. (2012). Power Relations: Mario Vargas LIosa’s The Feast of the Goat. Studies In Literature & Language, 4(2), 1-     12.doi:10.3968/j.sll.1923156320120402.1010


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