Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Femenine Side of Leadership: A Perspective of Gender Roles in the American Elections

Today is the day! We are now less than two hours away from unveiling the next president of the United States. So while you are on edge waiting to hear the results, I hope you enjoy reading a little bit about the research on gender stereotypes and sexism in the US elections. Either way, this election year has been a historical one. A woman has finally made it this far. Regardless of who you're siding with, you have to give Hillary Clinton some credit for making it in a male dominated political system.

Gender stereotypes have always played a big role in political leadership positions and the acceptance rate of women. Previous research pointed towards leadership traits associated with more "masculine" characteristics. The stereotype still stands today where leaders that are tough, assertive and outspoken are viewed more positively and leaders that are caring, compassionate and nurturing (among other "feminine" traits) are not perceived as favorable to voters.     

A recent 2016 study conducted by Nichole Bauer at the University of Alabama reports finding that applying counterstereotypic gender strategies for women running political elections works to their advantage. Bauer constructed scenarios where people were exposed to fake newspaper articles discussing male and female political candidates that demonstrate counterstereotypic traits, meaning that male candidates were presented with either masculine or feminine traits and female candidates were presented with either masculine or feminine traits. Participants in her experiment indicated that counterstereotypic female candidates were viewed more positively whereas counterstereotypic male candidates were not. So in general, and confirming previous studies made, male traits were increasingly associated with favorability. Women in leadership positions who demonstrated 'masculine' traits were not viewed any less favorable.      

You might think that using counterstereotypic strategies leads to backlash on female candidates for acting like men. Bauer, however, found that women using counterstereotypic strategies were viewed as leaders and not as women, whereas men with 'masculine' leadership traits are viewed as just being men, leaving women at a slight disadvantage. 


Contrary to Bauer's findings, a lot of sexist remarks are still observed in some media outlets regarding the current elections especially. The video in the link above shows a reporter commenting on the way Clinton is addressing the public and criticizes her for yelling as 'she is acting as if she is confident with herself'. This might differ from Bauer's research because of the complexity of the US elections, and also because let's be real, jerks do exist. 

So next time you run for student council or other leadership positions, don’t be afraid to raise your voices and bring out that confidence! I have to admit I envy the US for having a strong female candidate that had high acceptance ratings as our last Canadian female prime minister was in office for only about 5 months. To sum it all, using counter-stereotypic strategies have proven to benefit women in being perceived more favorable by voters. The applicability of this research on a larger scale, however, is still questionable as we have still not seen the results applied to the US elections. 

Bauer, N. M. (2016). The effects of counterstereotypic gender strategies on candidate evaluations. Political Psychology, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pops.12351

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