Reality Skewed: Newspaper Codification of Stay-at-Home Mothers and Working Moms

Janet K. Keeler

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, Department of Journalism and Media Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Abstract

Newspaper portrayals of stay-at-home mothers and working moms often limit and distort the motherhood experience and don’t reflect scientific and academic research. They perpetuate stereotypes and fuel “Mommy Wars,” which pit women against women on the issue of raising children. Through a content analysis of seven American newspapers from Jan. 1 to July 31, 2010, my research reveals pervasive, although probably unconscious, framing and labeling by the media – especially Southern and Midwestern journalists –about stay-at-home mothers and working mothers. The sample reviewed shows that stories that label a source as a working mom are mostly about guilt, challenges and time management. Stories that identify stay-at-home mothers as sources are about small-town values, and they also paint the mother as a heroic figure. Neither of these reflects the reality of the motherhood experience. This research shows a pattern in the coverage of stay-at-home mothers and working moms with nearly all stories falling within four themes: Life Challenges, How-To, Small-Town Values and Hero/Activist.