As the calendar year begins to wind down, we take a look back at our most-read articles from 2018. We encourage you to take a quiet moment for another look as you may have missed an article or may simply enjoy the re-read. Please take a moment to share what you would like to see more of in the new year. Interested in seeing your work here? Send us a note with your ideas or submit an application to serve as a blogger for the 2019 MPSA conference.
By Susan Franceschet, University of Calgary and Karen Beckwith, Case Western Reserve University
Gender-equal governments, which include the same number of men and women as ministry heads and in other cabinet posts, used to be the purview of woman-friendly Nordic countries and highly progressive societies like Canada and Costa Rica.
Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who takes office in December, has announced that women will hold eight posts in his 16-member cabinet, including the powerful secretary of the interior position.
We call this the “concrete floor” for women’s political representation. For a democratic government to have legitimacy these days, – that is, for the general public to have faith in its decisions – it must include women.
Gains beget gains
Women’s representation doesn’t necessarily go up with each new administration.
But in studying the composition of governing cabinets in Spain, France, Australia, the United States, Canada, Chile and the United Kingdom from 1929 to 2016, we found that women’s presence did rise cumulatively – over time and across party lines – in these countries.
After a 40-year dictatorship led by General Francisco Franco, democracy returned to Spain in 1977. But it would take more than a decade for women to be included in government. Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González appointed the country’s first female ministers in 1989.
The next administration, led by conservative prime minister José María Aznar, raised the total with four female ministers in his 14-member cabinet.
Now 11 of Spain’s 17 ministers are women, including – for the first time in Spain’s history – the position of finance minister.
France’s recent history looks similar.
President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed seven women to his 15-member cabinet in 2007. His successor, Socialist François Hollande, had 17 women in his 34-member cabinet. Cabinet size in most countries varies from administration to administration.
On the campaign trail in 2016, President Emmanuel Macron promised to have equal representation. Today, his cabinet contains 11 women and 11 men.
Just a few years ago Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was celebrated around the world for assembling a gender-equal cabinet. His reasoning? “Because it’s 2015,” he told reporters.
Leaders who appoint significantly fewer women than their predecessors, on the other hand, risk heavy criticism from the media and political opponents. That can weaken their support among voters.
When Australian prime minister Tony Abbott appointed just one woman to his cabinet in 2013, he had to justify his “embarassing” decision to voters, the opposition party and the press. His predecessor’s government had included three female cabinet members.
Malcolm Turnbull replaced Abbott two years later and quickly appointed five women to his governing team.
Each gender-equal cabinet appears to create expectations of similar or greater women’s inclusion in the next.
The ‘concrete floor’
We did find several instances where leaders appointed fewer women than their predecessors. However, the decline is generally minimal.
In Chile’s first post-dictatorship government, elected in 1990, President Patricio Aylwin apointed women to just 5 percent of cabinet posts.
Chile’s first female president, Socialist Michelle Bachelet, had a gender-equal government in 2006. Four years later, her conservative successor, Sebastián Piñera, appointed seven women to his 23-member cabinet. While his government was not gender-equal, women were significantly better represented than they had been before Bachelet’s administration.
We call this phenomenon the “concrete floor.” It is the minimal threshold of women’s inclusion for people to see a leader’s cabinet as democratically legitimate.
And unlike the “glass ceiling,” that subtle, invisible barrier that has kept women out of powerful positions, the concrete floor ensuring their inclusion in government is visible to – and recognized by – all the leaders we studied.
In Canada, Germany and Spain, for example, cabinets must be geographically representative. Like those countries, the United States also has a federal system of government, but American presidents are not expected to ensure that cabinet posts go to people from different states or regions.
In Canada and the United States, all-white cabinets are now virtually unthinkable. President Lyndon Johnson appointed United States’ first African-American cabinet member – Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Robert C. Weaver – in 1966. Lincoln McCauley Alexander became Canada’s first-ever black minister in 1979.
Meanwhile, cabinets in Germany and Spain – both increasingly diverse countries – remain entirely white. The lone black parliamentarian in Spain, Rita Bosaho, wasn’t elected until 2015. No racial minority has ever held a Spanish cabinet position.
By Amanda Clayton, Diana Z. O’Brien, and Jennifer M. Piscopo
All-male panels increasingly face public pushback. Though once ubiquitous, male-only groups are encountering greater scrutiny at conferences, in workplaces, and especially in politics. In the United States, for example, a photo showing a male-only meeting of politicians discussing whether health insurance plans should be required to include maternity services provoked outrage. Irish citizens recently expressed indignation at an all-male group of city and county councilors advocating for a “no” vote in the country’s referendum to decriminalize abortion.
That all-male panels confront scorn, especially when their topic addresses matters connected to women’s experiences, suggests that women’s presence can affect how citizens view policy decisions and the institutions and processes that make them. What does women’s presence in political decision-making bodies signal to citizens? Do citizens’ reactions change depending on what decision the group makes? And do women and men respond similarly to women’s presence? Our research explains whether, when, and for whom the makeup of political institutions affects citizens’ perceptions of democratic legitimacy.
Our study is based on a November 2016 survey experiment. We asked a representative sample of Americans to read a hypothetical newspaper article about an eight-member state legislative committee evaluating sexual harassment policies. Our design varied both the gender makeup of the panel (all-male vs. gender-balanced) and the decision reached (increasing or decreasing penalties for those found guilty of harassment).
We asked respondents their feelings about the legitimacy of the decision itself, a concept we term substantive legitimacy. We also asked about their attitudes towards the decision-making process, willingness to acquiesce to the decision, and trust in the political institutions that made the decision. Together, these concepts capture procedural legitimacy. Our design allows us to see how citizens’ perceptions of governing institutions change based on whether policies advantage or disadvantage women and whether women are involved in the decision-making process.
We find that citizens, both men and women, strongly prefer gender-balanced decision-making bodies. At the same time, we also show important differences related to citizens’ assessments of substantive or procedural legitimacy, the decision the group reaches, and respondent gender.
Regarding substantive legitimacy, we find that aversion towards male-only panels is particularly strong when they make decisions that roll back women’s rights. Said another way, women’s presence adds legitimacy to policy decisions that harm women. Men especially respond positively to women’s presence in these conditions. Women’s inclusion may cue men that the decision is “right” for women (even though the decision objectively removes protections for women). At the same time, changing from an all-male to a gender-balanced panel does not affect the perceived legitimacy of decisions that expand women’s rights, for either men or women respondents.
Moving to procedural legitimacy, we find that citizens view decision-making procedures as more legitimate when women are present. This finding holds for both men and women, both when decisions expand group rights and when they restrict them. Even in cases in which all-male panels advance feminist policies, citizens report lower average levels of procedural fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence as compared to the gender-balanced committee.
Our findings hold across citizens’ party identification, indicating that both Republicans and Democrats prefer gender-balanced panels. And, our results were replicated in June 2017, ensuring that our findings are not driven by the 2016 election, when women’s access to political power and sexual harassment were particularly salient media topics.
Importantly, our results concerning procedural legitimacy also hold when we focus on a policy issue where women’s rights are not at stake. A separate group of respondents saw a news story in which an all-male or gender-balanced panel could raise or lower penalties for the mistreatment of animals on commercial farms. In this experiment, women’s presence does not affect attitudes about the substance of the decision. Yet, respondents report higher average levels of perceived fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence when the decision is made by a gender-balanced panel. Again, citizens prefer inclusion.
Together, our outcomes have mixed implications for politics and policy. On the one hand, women’s presence legitimizes policies that harm women. Actors looking to roll back group rights could thus manipulate public opinion by placing women on decision-making bodies in these instances.
On the other hand, our findings demonstrate the profound importance of inclusion. Women’s presence in elected office is necessary in order for political institutions to be seen as wholly legitimate. This holds across policy areas, and even when decisions expand women’s rights. Politicians should recognize that opprobrium against all-male panels is not just a social media trend, but a genuine citizen grievance. Having male-only policymakers erodes citizens’ beliefs in the democratic legitimacy of their political institutions.
About the Authors: Amanda Clayton is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, Diana Z. O’Brien is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University, and Jennifer M. Piscopo is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Occidental College. Their research “All Male Panels? Representation and Democratic Legitimacy” presented at the 2017 MPSA conference, received the 2018 Sophonisba Breckinridge Award for the best paper on the topic of women and politics.
#9 What Makes Citizens Support Gender Quotas? Tiffany D. Barnes and Abby Córdova highlight their Sophonisba Breckinridge Award-winning research on citizen support of gender quotas in Latin America in this blog post.
#6 I’m Not a Disgrace, I’m Just Wrong Jeffrey L. Bernstein shares his experience with a detractor at a community speech and offers tips for navigating politically-sensitive conversations in the classroom.
What was your favorite post of the year? What would you like to see more of in 2018? MPSA seeks bloggers for the upcoming conference (application deadline is January 5) and year-round; we would love to highlight your post in next year’s roundup!
MPSA seeks bloggers (and vloggers) to cover the most popular panels and events at the upcoming conference in Chicago. Just as the MPSA conference concentrates on the best thinking in the discipline, informed by theory, research and practical application, we expect our bloggers to do the same. You will gain an audience for your ideas, experience in digital media and an opportunity to expand your online visibility among peers in the discipline. You will be expected to research, craft and edit articles that appeal to members of our community including political science scholars, social scientists, media and the informed public. Conference bloggers and vloggers will also be awarded a small stipend upon staff acceptance of the required number of posts.
We ask that our conference bloggers submit well-written original content (maximum 1000 words if a blog post or 3 minutes maximum if video) that includes complete references to specific concepts and statistics. We also ask that any self-promotion remains within the bounds of the brief author bio. When a post is approved for the blog, it may be lightly edited and returned to the author for final approval. MPSA reserves the right to make minor grammatical and punctuation edits for style without author approval. MPSA staff is responsible for posting all content to the blog.
In addition to the category requirements below, for 2018 each conference blogger or vlogger is required to submit at least one post of a general nature related to a conference event/session or Chicago attraction in advance of the conference. Remaining posts must be submitted during or immediately after the conference.
Categories for 2018 MPSA Conference Bloggers and Vloggers
Graduate Student – Two posts from the perspective of a graduate student.
First Timer – Two posts from the perspective of a first-time attendee.
Chicago-native – Two posts from the perspective of a Chicago native.
Experienced Conference Attendee – Two posts from the perspective of someone who has attended 10+ MPSA conferences including historical perspective.
International Attendee – Two posts from the perspective of an international attendee.
Research-Orientated Roundtables – Two posts about research-oriented roundtables, including Author-Meets-Critics sessions, that you attend.
Professional Development – Two posts about career development sessions you attend.
Public Engagement Roundtables – Two posts about advocacy-related sessions you attend.
Mentoring – Two posts about mentoring panels/roundtables you attend.
Teaching Panels and Roundtables – One post about the Wikipedia roundtable and one post about another teaching and learning panel you attend.
Work-Life Balance – One post about a work-life balance session you attend at the conference and one post with work-life balance related tips you learned at this conference (or regularly apply during academic conferences).
Networking Events – One post about a networking event you attend at the conference and one post with networking strategies to apply in advance of the conference.
Subfield Sessions – Two posts on lightning talks or poster sessions you attended.
The lack of diversity in Trump’s cabinet appointment is significant and might be a reflection of the President’s position on issues regarding racial and gender equality in government. The President’s cabinet is made up of 18 men and four women. In total, 73% of the cabinet members are white men. The only black man on the team- Ben Carson was a contender for the presidency. In this cabinet, the big four positions- State, Defense, Justice and Treasury departments are manned by white men.
Journalists and scholars have written extensively on the apparent lack of diversity in elected and appointed positions in government, yet according to a Pew study, all minority groups are still underrepresented. The implications of diversity for the survival of the nation’s democracy are far reaching because of the changes happening in the country.
The United States is a considered a great nation because of its form of government – democracy is supposed to represent the common man. It is government of the people by the people and for the people, and not government of the rich and by the rich. The demographic trend of the present cabinet members is toward plutocracy. As the Washington post rightly said, Trump’s administration is the wealthiest in modern American history. One might wonder if there is a correlation between the lack of diversity in cabinet and the administration’s aversion to immigration.
Equal representation of all races and ethnicity in government has never been more important than it is now because of the demographic changes of the nation’s population. The United States is gradually becoming more diverse with rapid changes coming to many of the least diverse areas. According to Pew, the country is projected to be more diverse than it is currently in coming years. This diverse demographic is a result of immigrants from different parts of the world arriving the united states and claiming it as home. The projection is that by 2055 there will be no single ethnic majority on the country. Therefore, the country must make intentional effort to address issues of diversity if they want to reap the abundant benefit inherent in such endeavor.
For one, because the nation is diverse, an equal representation will increase the administration’s ability to cater to people from different backgrounds and be more tolerant of other traditions and cultures that makeup the population. A diverse cabinet will likely pay more attention to minority issues than a homogeneous cabinet.
Minta (2012), found that diversity had a great effect on the responsiveness of the nation’s political institutions to minority sentiments. They found support for the argument that shifts in the demographic composition of lawmakers made them collectively more considerate to racial and ethnic minority problems. This indicates that diversity is important in government institutions because it ensures that citizens interest will be represented.
Race and ethnicity aside, women are also underrepresented in Trump’s cabinet, with only four women appointed overall (21.1% of the confirmed positions), but no woman in the big four positions. The President was embattled over his objectification of women during the election – Megyn Kelly, who was with Fox News at the time called him out on this during one of the presidential debates. While the President has denied these allegations, his cabinet appointment does not reflect his touted respect for the female gender.
Although women are as capable as men at being good leaders, a Pew study indicates that women are still in short supply at top government positions in the united states. This gender disparity in government comes with a price. According to a 2016 Mckinsey Global Institute research, closing the the gender gap in workforce participation will lead to a $28 trillion increase to the annual world GDP.
Women are not only important in business and the economy, their input in government is also noteworthy. A study conducted by Anzia and Berry (2010), revealed that districts that are served by women have certain advantages over districts represented by men. First, districts that elect women receive about $49 million more each year in discretionary spending than those that elect men. Also, women sponsor more bills than their male counterparts. Given the disadvantaged position of women in politics, Anzia and Berry found that “women will perform better, on average, than their male counterpart.”
This quote from this CNN article sums up my gender disparity argument “Simply having female leaders changes the norms about who can and what qualities are necessary in leadership. Having women in leadership roles is breaking down cultural and structural barriers–improving leadership around the world and showing everyone what women can achieve.”
By embracing a diverse cabinet, President Trump will not only communicate fairness, but also a deep understanding that policy development and other government work benefit from having different views and backgrounds at the table.
About the author: Adaobi Duru is an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe Communication Program. Her research is in health and political communication. She examines effects of political communication regarding health policies. She is also an international media comparativist. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even if Hillary Clinton shatters the “highest” glass ceiling this November, for many years to come women are likely to remain under-represented in elected offices in the United States and throughout most of the world’s democracies. If bias on the part of party leaders or voters explains some of this variation, we can imagine three ways that such bias might operate.
The first type of bias against women would crop up if voters or party officials preferred male candidates to female candidates, even when the candidates are otherwise identical. (Or worse, if less-qualified men were preferred to more-qualified women.)
The second type of bias would arise when voters or party officials “read” a candidate’s characteristics in different ways depending on the candidate’s gender. For example, if voters were confronted an otherwise identical male and female candidates, each of whom had two children and reasoned: “well, he has good experience and, given his family commitments, he is likely to be a responsible leader” while at the same time thinking “she has good experience but, given her family commitments, she is likely to be over-taxed if she is elected”, then they display bias (perhaps unbeknownst to themselves) against women.
The third way that bias might operate is if traits that are historically and statistically more likely to be associated with male candidates are valued by party leaders or voters, while traits that are more likely to be associated with female candidates are de-valued. For example, if female office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in education, while male office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in business, and party leaders preferred candidates with business backgrounds, then their preferences were biased against female office-seekers from the get-go.
The third type of bias is the most subtle, and therefore the most difficult to observe and confront with public policy and hiring best practices. But our study shows that in some contexts, it may be the most pervasive form of bias that female candidates face. In order to understand how each of these types of bias work, we embedded conjoint experiments into surveys of three groups of people: public officials from the United States; national-level legislators from around the globe; and American voters.
Video: Experience, Discrimination, or Skill-sets?: Using Elite and Voter Conjoint Experiments to Understand Women’s Access to Political Power – Presented by Dawn Langan Teele at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 2016.
Conjoint experiments ask survey respondents to determine the winner of an imaginary competition between hypothetical candidates using nothing but simplified resumes to guide their choice. In our study, each candidate’s resume contained information including gender, political experience, marital status, number of children, and previous occupation.
In order to determine which characteristics were worthy of examination, we looked at the background traits that are commonly associated with female politicians and those that are commonly associated with male politicians. For example, the work of Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu shows that since 1980, teaching has been the single largest feeder career for women in state legislatures in the U.S., while careers in law were the most common for men. Women who enter politics are also likely to be older, have fewer children, and more likely to be unmarried than men who enter politics. These different patterns are what Carroll and Sanbonmatsu term the “gendered” pathways to political office.
To examine the role of each type of bias, we conducted three tests. First, we looked at whether, all else equal, male candidates were preferred to women. Remarkably, we do not find much evidence that women are discriminated against as women in this way. In nearly all of the surveys (and most sub-groups) women actually get a boost over men. This female preference is strongest for respondents who are themselves women, and it does not exist among Republican leaders and voters in the U.S., or independent voters, though neither group shows a type 1 male bias.
Second, by looking at interaction effects, we can see whether certain attributes become more important depending on the gender of the candidate. We find that men and women are evaluated similarly if they have high versus low levels of political experience, if they are unmarried, and they have particular previous occupations, however some respondents seem to penalize women more harshly for having children than men.
Finally, we examined whether gendered traits, like having fewer children, being un-married, or older, affect the evaluation of a candidate. Overall, we find that candidates fared worse when they have characteristics that are associated with women’s gendered pathways to political office. Older candidates and single candidates are less favored. Candidates with more children fare better than those with fewer—a pattern that damns disproportionately childless female candidates. In some surveys, respondents, and especially male respondents, passed over hypothetical candidates with backgrounds in teaching, choosing candidates with backgrounds in business or law.
In sum we don’t find much evidence of explicit bias against women, as women, and it seems that given the same characteristics, male and female candidates are evaluated similarly for most traits. However, the typical profile of female candidates—their age, marital status, family characteristics, and career backgrounds—are de-valued by leaders and voters, and thus may hinder their careers.
Hillary Clinton exhibits some although not all of the female pathway to politics. If she wins, in spite of having only one child and getting a relatively late start on her elective career, we can only hope that it might change the way voters evaluate candidates, erasing gender bias in the years to come. Until then, there is more work to be done understanding how gendered pathways influence political selection.
About the Authors: Dawn Teele is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at University of Pennsylvania, Joshua Kalla is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Frances Rosenbluth is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University.
Following the November 2015 Paris and Beirut terrorist attacks, and the more recent bombings in Brussels and Pakistan, terrorism threats and national security issues have become one of the most talked about topics in the presidential elections. While Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have hardened their rhetoric and called for bans on Muslim immigrants, increased vigilance in Muslim neighborhoods, and torture for extracting information, Hillary Clinton has maintained a starkly different approach. In her speeches, she has called for reinforcing alliances with other nations, asked for help from the technology sector in fighting terrorism, and expressed sympathy for the victims of the attacks. Her calm, reasoned tone is in sharp contrast to the provocative and incendiary language used by the Republican candidates. This raises the question whether Clinton’s strategy of restraint is useful.
Research on women in politics indicates that when national security issues are at the forefront, voters tend to prefer men candidates to women. As Holman et al. (2016) find, voters show most preference for male Republican leadership and least preference for female Democratic leadership. Anxiety and fear about terrorism encourages voters to employ a gender stereotypic lens to evaluate candidates. According to the gender stereotypes literature, the office of the president is generally considered “male” because historically no woman has ever held the office, and issues such as national security, foreign policy, economy and employment that are associated with the office, are considered male areas of expertise. During times of fear and uncertainty, voters tend to prefer the agentic qualities associated with men than the empathic qualities associated with women.
The Republican Party has often used these stereotypes to their advantage. For example, in the 2014 midterm elections in Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina, the party aired about 60 terrorism related ads, targeted mostly at women Democrat rivals. Similarly, Trump’s ad juxtaposed images of Russian president Vladimir Putin behaving in a threatening manner with Clinton’s femininity to indicate that Clinton is weak and unfit for office solely because of her gender.
Research indicates that women candidates suffer a “double bind” that hinders them from employing toughness in their speech or actions. When women act tough, they’re punished for violating gender stereotypes, but when they hold off on the tough talk, they’re perceived as incompetent.
So far Clinton’s strategy has been to portray herself as a viable alternative to the Republican candidates. Unlike the typical woman candidate, she is a well-known political figure who has held office, established her foreign policy credentials, and enjoys the mainstream media’s support. In her speeches she has been promoting her experience and foreign policy credentials, criticizing her rivals from the Republican Party without using provocative rhetoric, and focusing on finding solutions. This could be an effective strategy in combating stereotypes. Indeed, recent research indicates that gender stereotypes do not hurt the electoral chances of women candidates as much as indicated in previous studies. While the GOP is embroiled in public shows of sexism and irresponsible bluster, voters could perceive Clinton as a welcome alternative. Terrorism and the GOP’s gender war could translate into a win for Clinton.
About the Author: Newly Paul is Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University. Her research focuses on political advertising, political communication, and race and gender in politics. Her website isnewlypaul.weebly.com.
How did the launch of Women Also Know Stuff come about? I think a lot of political scientists – both men and women – are disappointed when they see conference programs, speaker series, or articles that include few women, if any at all. The individuals in our field are, by and large, extremely inclusive and progressive – yet women nonetheless tend to be underrepresented in these types of public forums.
It just seemed to me that the problem is not that anyone is intentionally excluding women but rather that it can simply be tricky to think of women when organizing these types of things. I myself have been in that position – putting together a panel and struggling to think of women who might be able to participate. So an accessible database of female political scientists, searchable by area of expertise, just seemed to be an easy way to help deal with that.
How many women were in the database when you launched the project and how many are now? The “project” in itself was a really quick and easy endeavor. I took maybe 20 minutes to start a site on wordpress.com and I added just a few areas of expertise, each with maybe 1 or 2 names. I immediately realized that there are far too many women that needed to be added to the site for just me or even for just a handful of people to maintain the database. It would have to be crowd-sourced. So I simply emailed all the login information to a dozen or so women I know in political science as well as to the listserv for Visions in Methodology. I told people the basic concept and asked them to forward it around.
It has now been 48 hours since the site was first created and there are now over 70 areas of expertise, each with at least a handful (if not several dozen) experts listed. I have not done an exhaustive count of the number of scholars in the database but it’s in the several hundreds. And, again, it has been only 48 hours since the site was created! All I did was put together a very simple website. There are dozens of political scientists – men and women – who contribute the content and maintain the site. My effort in this project has really been no greater than many others’.
The discipline seems to have quickly embraced the concept. Will you be gathering data on how much the site is actually used to procure female speakers or co-authors? To be honest, I put the site together very much on a whim and I figured that if one or two women gained a bit of visibility, it would be a success. But it has absolutely taken on a life of its own. I would love it if we were able to keep track of any impact it might have in a more systematic way. Hopefully someone will come up with a clever way to do so or will even volunteer to take that on!
How can someone make suggestions if they know of women they would like to see listed under certain categories? As I mentioned, there is no “gate-keeper” for this site. The login information is available to anyone who is interested in contributing. Simply email me or, really, anyone listed on the site, and you’ll be able to get all the information you need to make edits.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? It’s always really nerve-wracking to put yourself out there when it comes to sensitive issues like this one but I am thrilled at how excited and supportive everyone has been. Both male and female political scientists have been sharing it on social media, contributing names, and emailing me with words of encouragement. It’s not a perfect solution — or even a perfect website! – but it’s exciting to see that everyone is so open to taking small steps to fixing the problems in our field.
During a recent interview, when Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody asked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump whether he cries, Trump replied that he is “not a big crier.” He said he likes “to get things done,” but is “not someone who goes around crying a lot.” His statement generated plenty of media coverage, mostly focusing on the underlying message of the statement—that criers cannot be doers, and by extension, might be unfit for the most powerful office of the country.
At another interview, talk show host Amanda de Cadenet asked Hillary Clinton how she processes all the emotion coming at her. “As a woman, in a high public position seeking the presidency as I am, you have to be aware of how people will judge you for being “emotional,” and so it’s a really delicate balancing act,” Clinton said. Her statement was particularly revealing, considering that in the past she has been criticized for her failure to show compassion and connect with voters at an emotional level.
The two contrary positions toward emotions from candidates who are both running for the highest office in the country can be attributed in part to gender dynamics in politics.
Voters tend to associate women with expressive qualities such as compassion, warmth, gentleness, and kindness, while men are associated with agentic qualities such as competitiveness, self-confidence, aggressive, ambition, independence, strength, and toughness.
As a result of these trait stereotypes, women are expected to be more competent in dealing with social issues such as education, welfare, and environment, which involve looking after the most vulnerable sections of society, while men are expected to be better at handling issues such as foreign policy, defense, and the economy, which require them to make decisions about the overall safety and security of the country and deal with threat. Since the office of the president is associated with “male” issues such as foreign policy, defense and the economy, it is often considered “masculine.”
In terms of emotions, considering that women have traditionally played the roles of nurturer and caregiver, they are commonly associated with emotions such as happiness, embarrassment, surprise, sadness, disgust, warmth, fear, anxiety, and shame. Men, on the other hand, are associated while anger, contempt, and pride.
Given the link between candidate gender and office, Clinton’s bid for the presidency puts her in direct odds with the stereotypes literature. If she portrays herself as a tough, no-nonsense leader, she could be upending the stereotypes associated with women candidates and creating dissonance in the minds of voters. On the other hand, portraying herself as too emotional would raise doubts about her appropriateness for the office of the president. She seems to be aware of the delicate balance between femininity and toughness that she needs to display in order to be successful. In her 2008 presidential bid, she largely shunned her feminine, emotional side, but in the 2016 campaign, she has tried to portray herself as a loving grandmother as well as a tough leader committed to issues of national security as well as reproductive rights. This strategy might help her successfully navigate the gendered aspect of the presidency.
About the Author: Newly Paul is Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University. Her research focuses on political advertising, political communication, and race and gender in politics. Her website is newlypaul.weebly.com.