(A Long Way To)
Building One’s Own Citizenship: Housewives, Politics and TV
news in Mexico
Beginning from a gender
perspective, this article is focused on the role of Mexican
media in relation to housewives with political sphere. The
research asks: what role do TV news programmes play: a) in
informing Mexican housewives about politics, b) in
determining how they will vote and c) in their political
participation? What this research
is testing, is the idea that the media might directly cause
this social problem, by exploring their role in informing
these women and helping them to learn about politics.
Key words: housewives; political
participation; TV news programmes
In Mexico, recent research has
suggested that television news shares or even replaces
political institutions in their role as representatives and
promoters of political participation among citizens. This is
evident in two ways. According to several studies, during
electoral processes TV news become the main way for the
audiences to be informed. On the other hand, TV news
programmes have played a central role in the democratic
transition in Mexico. In consequence, television news is
seen as a condition for the healthy democracy of the
country. There is the belief that TV news programmes are
responsible for producing informed citizens, and that the
only way for most Mexicans to participate in the public
sphere of political debate is through television news. This
phenomenon takes on particular relevance in the case of
groups historically excluded from the public sphere, such as
All the above beliefs make it
difficult to account for certain central factors which
structure the political participation of many people, and in
particular women – factors such as gender, age,
socio-economic position, educational level and their spheres
of socialization (including the domestic and the public).
And it is factors such as these which, at the same time, set
the parameters for the ways such people watch and to
interpret television news about politics.
This article is focused within
this debate. Beginning from a gender perspective, it focuses
on the role of Mexican media in relation to housewives with
political sphere. The research on which it is based
asks: what role do TV news programmes play: a) in informing
Mexican housewives about politics, b) in determining how
they will vote and c) in their political participation? My
findings offer empirical evidence on Mexican housewives’
relationship with the public sphere and the role of
television news in their political participation. What this
research is testing, is the idea
that the media might directly cause this social problem.
It also gives grounds to support the conclusion that the
gender-identity of this audience group – who are marked by
their exclusion from the public sphere – provides the main
mediation influencing their relationship with TV news and,
in a structural dimension, with the wider world.
Women and Politics: a
citizenship of “low” category
The formal definition of
political sphere proposes that this is the space within
which everybody has the right to be informed, to discuss,
and to take decisions relating with political power. That
this relationship of citizens to the political sphere
involves political culture, political participation and
political socialization. In this sense, organization,
strategy and collective action are necessary to transform it
(Fernández Poncela, 1994).
This definition implies that, in
a democracy, every citizen has these rights. However, it is
not possible to make this generalization, because of a
distinction between women’s and men’s relationship with
politics. Men’s relationship involves the recognition of the
legitimacy for their exercise of power. But women’s
relationship does not. The public-private dichotomy has
largely excluded women from citizenship. Women in many
countries and cultures have been kept outside the public
domain of politics, and considered fit only for roles in the
domestic sphere, rather than public roles, because of their
‘suitability’ for caring roles as mothers and wives.
So, the historical exclusion
from the formal and hegemonic arena of politics has
complicated this relationship, and made it difficult for
women to access the public structures of power. This is why
it is common to hear that women are conservative and passive
about politics; that they do not have enough or the correct
knowledge about politics; that they are ingenuous, emotional
and idealistic when they take decisions, such as to vote.
That is in the case when women participate. When they don’t,
then hegemonic discourse says that women are, by nature,
apathetic or “apolitical”.
This instrumentalist argument
defines a political “normality” from the attitudes of
conventional politics. It is based on the essentialist
grounds that men and women are different, and that the
different response of women to politics is the result of
their gender condition as mothers. Therefore, it assumes
that women in politics will bring a special caring focus.
That the female values are not convenient for the structures
of power. That they are not capable of developing themselves
in this arena.
It is hardly surprising that all
these prejudices about female political participation are
particularly evident in the case of housewives. These women
have been historically associated with three social factors
that have boosted the stereotypes of gender related to them:
that is, the potential role of housewives as mothers, as
women for the others - to nourish and to take care of them-,
is an assignment apparently impossible to be rejected by
sphere is seen as the natural space of housewives; this is
the place where they have to carry out the social mandates
and, in consequence, the place of the ideological
reproduction of the gendered division of labor
the domestic work
developed by housewives is defined as an inactivity, because
it embraces all the private, individual and concrete
activities, dedicated to satisfy the necessities of every
member of the family.
These factors, that are used as
arguments to define the role of housewives in society, make
the activities, the places and, in one word, the identity of
these women, invisible. At the same time, these stereotypes
can influence the social perception and the auto-perception
that most of housewives develope about their own
citizenship. To think that they do not have the competence
to participate in the formal politics, becomes in ideas such
as housewives’ political participation is a citizenship of a
low status, because it is based on traditional values. That
politics is a thing for men, but not for women (Astelarra,
But what this conventional
perspective does not consider, is that women’s, and
specifically housewive’s relationship with politics may be
distinct, and display a particular way to relate to this
sphere. We must remember that there were housewives that
organized society across Argentina and the international
community to defend the human rights against the terrifying
regime. That the movements organized by housewives to
develop coperative activities, have made possible to feed
their families safe food – that is the case in the Mexican
towns of male emigrants, an example of the way that domestic
responsabilities translate into a public role of women in
the economy and politics. That housewives have fought for
rights such as education, security and health services,
conquering improvements for the development of the community
and the family. These examples evidence the public and
potentially political role of housewives and thus offer an
opportunity to explore alternative conceptualizations of
women's citizenship, to discuse about the public/private
divide, and the formal/informal politics.
In the particular case of
Mexico, women constitute more than half of the population
(51.8 percent). Their contribution to the development of the
country is also more than half compared to men, because of
their double, or even triple, working lives – in both public
and domestic spheres. But their participation, even their
representation, in formal political structures and
processes, nowhere near matches their proportion. Women’s
representation in the legislature is around 20 percent. Only
3.5 percent of local governments are represented by women.
No woman has yet been president of Mexico.
As in other countries, Mexican
women’s historic exclusion from political structures has
been the result of multiple structural and individual
factors. At the same time, whilst excluded, it must be
recognized that women have built their own citizenship, by
participating in formal politics (in parties and electoral
institutions) but also in informal politics (in coperative
communities, voluntary organisations, popular movements,
demonstrations, etc). Through these actions and in these
spaces, Mexican women, but particularly housewives, have
created their own identity as citizens, a particular way of
living their citizenship. And if women constitute half of
the population, they should have equal participation and
representation in democracy.
Theoretical keys for
In the last decades, research on
the reception of television, and its role in the
relationship between citizens and politics, has offered new
theoretical tools to understand the participation of
individuals in this process. In this way, the classical
question of the Effects perspective has been rearticulated
to address broader issues concerning the role played by mass
media messages in the production of meaning in society and,
at the same time, the role of audiences in this process.
These theoretical views,
developed by the Cultural Studies tradition (Hall, 1980;
Morley, 1980, 1986; Lull, 1990; Buckingham, 2000) and by the
Critical Audience tradition (Jensen, 1992; Orozco, 1993),
define reception as a process of making sense that takes
part in social complexity, in the context of the everyday
In Klaus B. Jensen’s (1998)
words, what research has to consider is that people are
addressed simultaneously as citizens in the public sphere,
but also as individuals in the privacy of their own homes.
At the same time, it is necessary to recognize that this
process works at two levels: the micro and the macro (Lull,
1992). This combination of ideas opens up the possibility of
looking at the macro-structure where it takes places, at the
cultural and social implications of television, as well as
the concrete activity of individuals.
Conceived in this way, this
results in a complex process defined by a group of
mediations (Martín-Barbero, 1987; Orozco, 1997) related to
the socio-historical situation of people: including gender,
socio-economic strata, educational level, race, place of
residence and age. In the same way, other elements are also
part of this communicative process: the cognition and
interest of audiences about particular items such as
politics (Orozco, 1996; Morley, 1986); the strategies and
routines practised by audiences during the reception
process, which arise from their interests and preferences,
and the way they use the information they gather. According
to Martín Barbero (1990) and Orozco (1996), these routines
include different kinds of decisions: aesthetic, affective
Finally, one other mediation is
considered central to understanding this communicative
process: the interpretative communities to which people
belong (Jensen, 1987; Morley, 1980; Orozco, 1997). These are
the different social spaces where individuals reinterpret
the media messages (such as family, school and place of
work). These communities are diverse and they are not
necessarily determined by geographical borders.
An integrative perspective
for the reception analysis
Based on those theoretical
approaches, I understand the relationship between media and
political participation as a complex, social and active
process which is manifested at both micro and macro levels.
At the same time, it is a process that involves the direct
participation of two actors: individuals and the mass media.
As a result, this communicative process demands an
integrative perspective to understand the diverse mediations
which affect it.
As a proposal for conducting
empirical research, I have developed a methodological model
which can grasp the diverse dimensions of this reception
process (Vega, 2004). This integrative perspective proposes
that there are three basic dimensions:
Individual. This dimension captures those elements
which are particular to members of the audience. It is
manifested in two scales:
which implies categories such as: gender, age,
socio-economic and educational level.
which includes the knowledge, interests, opinions,
expectations and wishes of the members of the audiences, in
relation to what they watch on TV.
The Televisual, which
addresses the role of television in the construction of
meaning (formal scale), and the role of the members
of the audience in making sense of the messages (interpretative
which considers the role of audience members as active
participants in diverse social institutions at the same time
–their interpretative communities –within which they
discuss and reflect, or where they make sense of what they
watch on TV.
Integrative perspective for the reception analysis
Gender/Age/Socio-economical scale/Educational level
Construction of meaning
Election - Consume
Practices and habits of
Construction of meaning
Source: Vega, 2004.
The present study was
exploratory, deploying qualitative methods for its audience
research, using discussion groups and in-depth interviews,
to explore housewives’ reception of TV news about politics.
My criteria for inclusion were to work with women with
in Mexico City, aged between 25 and 60 years old
strata and educational levels: being lower, middle and high
class, with basic education, middle and professional studies
In order to reach
the objective of this research, the main topics explored
with them have been :
interest in politics
opinions on the four main Mexican TV news programmes
importance of the political information presented by TV news
in participants’ political participation.
The socio-historical context of
this research was the 2000 Presidential election in Mexico.
Focus groups and in-depth
interviews were structured as follows:
Two focus groups
of six women in each. The first one, one month before the
date of the Presidential election (at the beginning of June
2000), and the second one, with the other group of women,
the day after the end of the presidential campaigns (four
days before the Elections). I decided to work with different
women in the first and in the second sessions in order that
the opinions voiced in the second session would not be
conditioned by what had been said in the first session.
interviews with housewives, between May and June 2000.
In developing this research, my
ultimate purpose was to explore audience discourses with
reference to TV news discourse and with reference to
1. Exploring the Individual
Dimension: knowledge, feelings, interests and expectations
of housewives about politics.
All the women expressed their
interest in politics and, particularly, in the Presidential
election of 2000, because of the urgency to change the
government. In this way, all participants agreed about the
importance of voting to effect this change. However, they
showed scepticism about Mexican politics and politicians,
for three main reasons:
Everybody expressed the idea that this is one of the main
problems with political institutions in Mexico.
too separated from citizens. Participants claimed
politicians ignore the needs of the people, that they only
want to obtain power, without improving conditions in
“I don’t keep up with what is
going on in politics because I don’t believe in politics an
because I find it hard to understand it, particularly when
the people involved do not want you to understand it so you
cannot make demands on them”
discourses. The housewives said that they were disappointed
about candidates’ discourses because they concentrated on
criticizing their opponents, and spending a lot of money on
that, rather than proposing their own ideas. For example:
“... I have
not heard any proposals in the campaigns... I only have
Despite this criticism, women
manifested the importance of voting and expressed their
expectation that things would be better with a new
government, solving the main social problems in Mexico:
delinquency and economy. This hope is mainly motivated by
the role of these women as mothers and wives:
“... I’m going to vote
because I want a change in the governement, that things
become better for my children... When I was
younger, my family survived the economic crisis, but I
don’t want my children have to suffer a new one”
“... My interest in
politics is derived of my interest to have a safe
country, where my family could live”
In this sense, housewives
pleased that politics was opening up as a result of the
process of democratic transition that has made the progress
of the opposition parties, and the triumph of PAN -the right
partie- in 2000, possible. They saw competition between
parties as a first step towards a new alternative.
On the other hand, housewives
showed a low belief in their own cognitions, rights and
actions about politics. Most of them -excepting the youngest
and high class’ women- expressed a feeling of exclusion from
the formal political sphere. As part of this, women who are
married say that their husband’s opinions are better and,
for them, the key to knowing and to deciding:
“When I want to know
something about politics, I prefer to ask my husband because
he knows more about it”
“My husband’s opinion matters
to me in terms of learning more, because the truth is I
don’t know much about politics and also I don’t know how to
However, the housewives
interviewed showed to have a whole knowledge about the
election: they knew the candidates - they mainly referred to
those who had the most possibilities of winning the
election, Vicente Fox (PAN), Francisco Labastida (PRI) and
Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (PRD)-, their programs and the main
events during the presidential campaigns. In this sense,
high and middle class’ housewives had a critical perspective
about this electoral process. Some of them, by going to the
local committes of the parties, were informed about the
specific proposals of the candidates:
“... I like Fox’s program
of government. His proposal about education is
interesting. I like what he’ll do against
corruption. I like his program specifies how it will
help to the micro industry”
On the other hand, what the
lowest class’ women knew and discussed about the campaigns,
it was based on what they listened at home, at neighborhood
and at television:
I only identify candidates that have been showed by
television... I think this is the main platform to know
For that election, the voting
decision of most of these women, oscillated between the
right (PAN) and the center (PRI) parties. In this sense, the
preference of these housewives it was motivated by their
presence in the domestic sphere, which in general translated
into the constant search for the well-being of the others.
At the same time, these women
also construct particular ways of political participation,
in addition to voting. A number of the women in this study
participate in local committees, voluntary organizations and
political associations, with the objective of improving
conditions of life for the domestic sphere: their family,
their neighborhood, and their city. A women of the middle
class participated in a neighbours’ organization, with the
objective to improve better conditions for the life of the
community. She expressed that, by this activity, she was
more conscious about the importance that society involves in
informal political actions. In the same way, an older woman
of the low class, by going frequently with her son to the
meetings of the party where he was activist, she started to
participate actively in that party. Finally, a young
housewive of the high class takes part of a NGO, dedicated
to fight for the human rights of women in Mexico.
Even most of the housewives
interviewed were not political activists, is important to
say that, by these forums, women have found the possibility
of exercising a more active and ongoing political
participation. In that regard, it was their social role, as
the administrators of the daily life, which mainly
stimulated their political activism.
We can detect here a
contradiction between the auto-perception of these women
about their own citizenship - as, we have seen, is expressed
by a low belief in their own cognitions, rights and actions-
and what they really do, by beeing involved in different
formal and informal politics. This is a good example of what
we annotated on the first part of this article: the public
and potentially political role of housewives, demands that
we explore alternative conceptualizations of women's
citizenship, of public/private divide, and of
formal/informal politics, to make visible the active
participation of housewives as citizens.
2. Exploring the Televisual
Dimension: the role of TV in housewives’ political
In this research, everybody
agreed about the importance of being informed. The
housewives expressed a kind of commitment to this:
everywhere, everybody talks about the election and I have to
know about this issue to give my opinion”.
Most of the women prefer radio
news. For instance, they express a preference for listening
to “Monitor”, presented by Jose Gutierrez Vivo. Their other
preferred programme is “W Radio”, presented by a woman,
Carmen Aristegui, who is recognized by the women as an
opinion leader. Their preference for these broadcasters is
because they are “honest and intelligent”.
Why do they prefer radio news
programmes? Because this is an activity that does not demand
exclusive attention. Women can listen to it at the same time
they clean their houses, or while they drive to their
children’s school or to work:
“I prefer to listen to the
radio because I do not have to interrupt housework… I can do
both activities at the same time”
The press was another source of
information. Although its consumption was very marginal
among this group, women of upper-middle, middle and working
class used the press as a source of electoral information.
Among the younger women and those with more economic
resources, Internet represented another way to be informed.
For most of the women, however,
television is the prime source of information about
politics. Among these women, some of the knowledge and
arguments they have are supported by what they watch on TV.
And of all television formats, TV news is the main source.
Women watch these programmes regularly, even every day, and
mainly in the evening. They consider that it is easier to be
informed by TV news because these programmes give a general
knowledge of events during the day, without having to invest
a lot of time. Some of these women positively value the
introductory summary of these programmes because it enables
them to be informed of the most important news in a very few
The key programmes are:
“Noticiero” (from Televisa, the most important media
enterprise in Mexico), “Hechos” (TV Azteca’s, the
second most important) and “Noticias” (Canal 11, the
public television). “Noticiero” and “Hechos” are the most
commonly watched programmes. Although “Noticias” is watched
by only a few participants, they like it because it mainly
produces educative and cultural programmes. But while
“Noticiero” is the most watched TV news in Mexico, women
expressed distrust of it. Participants saw Televisa
as connected with Mexican political power.
The style of the presenter for “Noticiero”,
Joaquín López Dóriga, contributes to the negative opinion
about this programme because, as the women say, he is
“boring and he sensationalises and distorts the political
Participants who usually watch “Noticiero”,
say that they do it because it is a kind of family tradition
to sit down every night to watch it. Another reason given is
because of power of this programme in establishing the
political agenda in Mexico. The women recognize that this
programme gives them a “guide-line” to search another
sources of information, to go more deeply into.
“Hechos” is the other most
watched news programme. Its main characteristics are, in
their own words, that its items are: short and concise, and
understandable, and they have immediacy. Even so,
participants criticize the sensationalism used by its
presenter. And, as in the case of “Noticiero”, women
identify “Hechos” as manipulating the news to the benefit of
It is important to note that
“Hechos” and “Noticiero” broadcast at the same time, around
10:30 p.m., thus participants can also switch between
compare and determine which one gives more complete and
interesting information about the presidential candidates”.
Finally, even when these
programmes constitute their main source of information,
these women attach low credibility to them. The majority of
my participants think that in Mexico it is not possible for
these news programmes to fulfil their social function
because they are influenced by the interests linking the
owners of TV stations with the Mexican government and with
some political parties.
One of the findings of this
research relates to the motivation for housewives to watch
these TV news programmes. They said, talking about “Hechos”,
that they like Javier Alatorre, its presenter:
“Because he shows that he is
sensitive to the every day problems of citizens. At the same
time, he is intelligent and handsome”
According to Stam (1983) and
Buckingham (2000), this aesthetic and affective
gratification constitutes one of the main resources for TV
news programmes to increase ratings.
“TV News programmes have increased my hesitation about
How is TV political news related
to the political participation of Mexican housewives?
The majority of participants
agreed on the idea that, by their way of presenting the
electoral news, “Hechos” and “Noticiero” had increased their
scepticism towards politicians:
“They only have showed rows
between politicians... on TV news programmes I have seen too
much circus and not enough electoral proposals”.
As a consequence, these women
believe that TV news programmes have increased their
hesitation about politics.
What housewives do at the
same time as they watch TV news: contexts and habits of
As Roger Silverstone (1996) has
suggested, home, as the center of the everyday life, is the
first place where relationship with media is formed.
Home is the place where these
housewives listen to radio news, and where they watch and
discuss TV news. The living room is the main social space
where all these women watch the news. According to Morley
(1986), this is the most important family space. This is the
place where family members meet, share and talk about their
daily life. In this socialization, television plays a
central role. In consequence, the presence of television in
the living room assists in it being seen as “natural”.
On the other hand, for my
participants, the activity of watching TV news programmes is
essentially social, in that they like to talk about it at
the same time as they are watching it. However, most of
these women stay alone at home for the most part of the day.
That is why for these women TV plays the role of companion
as well. So, watching TV programmes compensates them
“I have the TV on from the
morning – when everybody leaves home – until night. Even
though I do not watch everything, because I have to do the
housework, I do like to listen to TV programmes”
Connecting with the habits of
reception, this research provides evidence that housewives’
uses of TV are determined by their gender-identity. The
perception that these women have of home, as a place of
continuous work and responsibilities, makes particular this
communicative process. The practice of watching TV news is
constantly interrupted by other activities, domestic
activities such as ironing, cooking or doing homework with
children. This finding includes all the women: those of low
economic and medium strata, as well as the ones of the
highest strata who commonly have a domestic employee:
“At night, when the TV news
programmes starts, I use to watch it while I fix the dinner
for my family”. (lower class)
“When we watch the TV news
programmes, we used to do other things at the same time: my
husband uses to read the newspaper while I do something
related with my children”. (high class)
Finally, that power
relationships are related to gender inequality, is evident
from the reception process in this group. If in modern
society public power belongs primarily to men, this same
order is transferred into the domestic space.
Most of the women, without
distinction by social class or by age, said that it is
usually the men (husband, boyfriend, father, even young
children) who choose the TV news that is watched at home.
The reason is that, as several of the women put it, men have
more knowledge about politics – I think because men are who
historically have had the right to develop themselves on the
public sphere. There is therefore an implicit recognition
that the men are the ones who know and decide and,
therefore, a low confidence among these women about their
This male domination is much
more evident in the case of televisions with remote
controls: few of the participants take control of it.
Normally, this is “possessed” by the men. The remote control
leads to the possibility of “zapping”, an activity which
these women do not like. It is a practice that they
associate with men.
In this sense, as other works on
television reception have shown (e.g., Lull, 1990; Morley,
1986), the operations of male power in the family in
relation to viewing habits do not derive simply from the
characteristics of “being a woman” or “being a man”. Rather,
they are components within the ways that the relationship
between women and men is defined in modern society.
3. Exploring the
Socio-institutional Dimension: the interpretative
communities for housewives
If television information was
not a factor that by itself would determine the political
participation of these housewives, what were decisive
factors? The interpretative communities, as the spaces where
individuals socialize and discuss what they watch on TV,
were key elements. In the case of these housewives, those
communities were diverse. However, their gender-identity of
these women does mark out common spaces: for all the women,
family constitutes the most important interpretative
community. They believe that discussions about politics with
other members of the family represent their most important
source for making sense of political events.
But discussion with other people
about politics is also valued by these women. In other
places such as meetings with friends, or with other women at
the school of children, or neighbours, these women reflect
together about political issues and, ultimately, gain the
resources to take decisions related with this sphere –
“Sometimes the approach
from television to information is not the main thing. So
you look somewhere else, for other sources and you
discuss about it with people who know about
the issue... That is how you complement your information
to have a whole perspective of the election”.
Finally, it is in these spaces
that women identify opinion leaders. Regardless of social
class or educational level, the primary opinion leaders for
all the housewives interviewed were their husbands:
“He (my husband) has a
complete perception of politics because he reads newspaper
and talks about them with other man”.
Other male figures they
recognize are their father and brothers. In the case of the
youngest housewives, the father-in-law also counts as an
opinion leader. The broadcasters of TV news programmes too.
But never another woman: it looks that there is a
generalized scepticism about the knowledge and opinions that
women, and one of the main reasons of that it is because
they do not belong to the public sphere. This
underestimation about the women’s political knowledge is
much more evident when it is related with other housewives:
“... I’m not running down
the opinions of housewives like myself, who might well
have a good knowledge, but I think that people who
understand these things, like my father, know
These communities and opinion
leaders represent for housewives the main sources for
interpreting what they know about politics from the TV news
programmes. As we have seen, these actors are mainly men.
What we can also say is that, in some cases, this
recognition is based on a low self-esteem
about their citizenship. Women recognize these communities
and these leaders because they represent a source of
information and ideas that can lead to decisions, but also
because these women have a low self-esteem about their
knowledge and judgments on politics.
We could therefore observe that
ideological and cultural limitations went close with the
beliefs, values and behaviour that these women have
historically incorporated and reproduced. These have been
built on the bases of the male chauvinism that dominates the
habitus of the Mexican culture and which, as we can
see, directly affect the political culture of the
participants in this research.
At this point, we could say that
their gender-identity is what defines the interpretative
communities and the opinion leaders of these women, as
spaces of political socialization, but also and in many
cases, as barriers that difficult them to build an own
Apparently, there is a
contradiction inherent in here: it seems as if these women
choose to talk to other women about politics, but let men
determine the agendas and conclusions about politics.
However, again, is necessary to pay attention to the
knowledges and the perception what they have about the
public political sphere, and to the ways by these housewives
participated in politics, to consider that what these women
do, by their actions and perspectives, are another and
alternative ways to define what political participation is.
This analysis points up a small
but important conclusion about these housewives’ perceptions
of Mexican politics: the role of scepticism. Although they
recognized the importance of citizens participating in the
political sphere, their lack of trust is enhanced by
political actors themselves. Their campaign method, which is
filled with criticism and attacks, and the poverty of their
proposals is what determines the opinion of women about
We have seen that, for my
participants, the main way to be informed about politics is
via the mass media. In this sense, to listen to radio news
programmes is a form of media reception associated with
these women’s identity: they select this medium because they
can at the same time pursue activities related to housework,
such as cleaning, taking children to school, and etcetera.
It is an activity that does not demand their full attention.
Of all the mass media, however,
they prefer television. TV news programmes are their main
sources of political information. In this, the women display
two rather different beliefs: that to be informed is an
important commitment for citizens; and yet at the same time
Mexican television businesses are not to be trusted.
As for politics, these Mexican
housewives express their scepticism in the veracity of the
information broadcast by Mexican TV news programmes, because
they are aware of the long tradition of the manipulation of
TV news to favour or to disfavour parties and politicians.
These women expressed the conviction that Mexican TV news
programmes do not promote political participation by the
audience. What those programmes do instead during political
processes such as the presidential election is to emphazise
negative criticism, instead of informing about or analyzing
the really important thing in a presidential election: the
government’s proposals. In this sense, I believe that TV
news programmes bring about an increase in these women’s
distrust not only in politicians but in their own political
However, despite the importance
of TV news as the main source for citizens to be informed
about relevant events like an election, the reception
process involves other significant elements. As other
researchers have shown (Orozco, 1997; Jensen, 1992; Morley,
1986), the reception of TV news does not start or finish
when TV is turned on and turned off. Those researchers, and
also our own study, have shown that individuals take the
information provided by the news to other places, that is,
to other communities of reception – such as the home, their
children’s school, their friends, and so on – in order to
resignify it, and to take, in this specific case, the
decision to vote for a particular candidate.
In addition to these notions,
this research has given other information about the
reception of television news by this group of Mexican women.
Firstly, their habits of reception, that we have seen are
related directly with domestic activities: they usually
watch TV news at the same time they do housework activities.
More than anything else, what
this research provides is a preliminary account of how these
Mexican women are participating in the political sphere, and
the role of mass media in this process. In this sense, we
cannot affirm there is a direct influence of TV news
programmes in political participation of women. Rather, it
is mediated through their social situation and
gender-identities. This generates the main policy outcome of
this research: the need to continue opening spaces for the
political participation of women since it is their identity,
as produced and defined by their historical exclusion from
the formal and hegemonic arena of politics, which has made
this relationship complex, and made it difficult for them to
access the structures of power. What it is needed,
therefore, is a strategy for
promoting the opening
of such spaces so that all the forms and kinds of
citizenship can be recognized.
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This article is based on the Ph. D. Thesis of the
author, published by the Autonomous University of
Barcelona (UAB) in 2004, The Voting Decision of
Mexican Housewives and Television Electoral News.
Even Stam’s and Buckingham’s researches are focused
on different objects and social groups, I consider
both studies show that the criterion followed by
these programs to attract audiences, are the same in
different cultures and contexts.
Aimée Vega Montiel is a Ph D.
Researcher at the Feminist Research Program, Centre for
Interdisciplinarian Research in Social Sciences and
Humanities (CEIICH), National Autonomous University of