Behold... the Head of State’s Spouse! A comparative study of the political rise of the First Lady in Poland, France and Spain

Ewa Widlak, Carles Pont Sorribes, Jaume Guillamet Lloveras

Abstract

Profound changes in media and political communication contributed to granting private life greater importance in political reporting. Not only did media shift their attention from parties to politicians, they also took an interest in the politicians’ entourage. The first lady, as the wife of the supposedly most powerful man in the country, became an object of public attention. Her ability to comply with social demands became of capital importance for the good image of her husband. Over the course of the last century, and despite an ambiguous media towards her political empowerment, the first lady has managed to emancipate herself as a new actor on the public stage.

This article studies the way in which the media became a key player in the creation, empowerment and definition of modern first ladyship in selected democratic countries: Poland, France and Spain. It does this through a mixed-methods approach: qualitative and quantitative content analysis of the press and extensive documentary research in the fields of political science, media and gender studies, political communication and first ladyship studies. The research finds that the press normalizes the presence of first ladies on the public stage and shapes public expectations toward spouses of heads of state.

Keywords

media influence; first lady; gendered frame; women empowerment; politics

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