Damsels in distress: gender and negative place branding

Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 2022, 18, (4), pp. 357-371
Issue Date:
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This article provides a historical perspective on how institutionalized articulations of gender in visual news narratives may contribute towards the erosion of a country’s soft power potential. It analyses thirty years of photographic coverage given by an elite western publication, Time magazine to women from two countries with problematic place brands: Iran and Pakistan. This study documents how iterative longitudinal patterns of visual grammar contribute towards the layered marginalization of women within narratives. Women are much less visible in terms of image frequency, with selective value placed on certain kinds of female subjects across the decades, choices often shaped by stereotypes as well as foreign policy preferences. For Iranian women, the visual discourse empowers women resisting conservative forces, and valorizes trailblazers redefining the public space. For Pakistani women, a narrative showcasing political activism devolves into one highlighting victims/activists in the context of gender-based discrimination. The choice of ‘valuable’ bodies in both instances, expressed with the help of quantifiable semiotic trends in camera angles, shot and gaze, is imbued with indirect judgment of the political leadership and cultural and socio-political systems of the countries themselves. In both cases, the overall narrative is of a system pre-disposed to oppress women, thus negatively juxtaposing the ‘people’ aspect of the Anholt Nation Brand Index against the elements of governance, culture and heritage, to the overall detriment of both place brands.
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