December 17, 2012
THE OPPORTUNITY AGENDA ANALYZES THE INTERSECTION OF GENDER & IMMIGRATION IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA; CITES NEED FOR BETTER-BALANCED STORIES ON IMMIGRANT WOMEN
In recognition of the ongoing debate on immigration policy reform with probable movement in President Obama’s second term, The Opportunity Agenda reviewed media coverage and public opinion research to find the overarching story being told in mainstream media about immigrant women. Does the story being told help or hinder the mobilization of public opinion behind policies that pave the way for integration of immigrant women into American society? You can review the findings at the following link.
The Opportunity Agenda’s mainstream media analysis, based on the content of articles in 20 national, regional, and local print outlets, exposes a disconnect between how immigrant women, especially undocumented women, are portrayed in the media, and how they themselves define their lives, priorities, and aspirations. Almost without exception, the articles in the scan tell the dark side of the immigrant woman’s experience. Her role as the family steward and civic leader is missing from the dominant media narrative. Although many of the stories do place her in her family, it is usually in the context of impending family separation, not cohesiveness or leadership. In this narrative, instead of exercising stewardship, she is powerless to prevent her family’s dissolution (even though she struggles mightily to keep her family together). In her life outside of the family, she is almost always depicted as the victim of exploitation at the hands of employers, traffickers, and violent partners.
The Opportunity Agenda found:
• The dominant narrative in mainstream media portrays immigrant women as victims who are powerless to find safety and security for themselves and their families because of public policies and private exploitation.
• The depiction of immigrant women as helpless victims strengthens perceptions of otherness and dependency, and tends to reinforce the belief still held by some Americans that immigrants are a burden on our country.
• At the same time, a majority of Americans continue to support policies that would provide a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants who are currently without documentation.
• Media that reach women, progressives, and Millennials rarely report on immigrant women and their issues. This creates a lack of visibility among audiences important to the immigrants’ equal rights movement.
It is clear from this research that the American public supports some positive immigrant policies, they are not yet receiving a balanced picture of the lives, contributions, aspirations and challenges of the 20 million women living in the United States who are foreign-born. Advocates, policymakers, journalists, and others can promote a more informed public discourse that builds support for policies that encourage the full integration of this important constituency into U.S. society.
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