Gender Bias in Politics
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Gender Bias in Politics

Political double-standards based on gender prejudice.


Women in politics are being attacked with an unfounded degree of prejudice. From the moment that Hillary Clinton was nominated for Democratic hopeful for President and Sarah Palin became a national name with the 2008 elections, ‘snide’ comments against women have become an integral part of many political conversations. Microagressions and overt prejudice are becoming an accepted and dominant behavior in American society. There is not a lot of study on this topic at this time because it is a relatively new phenomenon, but I believe that it does warrant some scrutiny. These microagressions, from bringing up the facts that Mrs. Palin was the mother of special needs children, and Hillary Clinton being the ‘wife of former President Bill Clinton’ implied the feminine side of each woman instead of concentrating on the strengths that they both have that would have made them excellent candidates for high political positions. These perceptions are being fed through the media and social networking outlets to continue the theme that women’s strength, competency, and intelligence are in question.

 Potential Harm due to Prejudice

Women in powerful positions become a danger to the patriarchal society that has held control of politics in America, from the time in history that it was merely colonies until 1920, when women won the right to vote through suffrage (Grolier, 2010). The stronger that women become in displaying equality the more radical are those who object to the advancement of women. Media outlets and typical political candidates have become more vocal in their attempts to belittle the potential of women to lead in the political arena. Successful women have come a long way in the 21st century but still have many obstacles to overcome. Women have to conform to the rules men have put forth to show they are capable of making leadership decisions themselves. When two worlds collide there is many times friction, and when women try to become political equals to men, there is a great potential for proverbial fireworks. Although much of the harm will be emotional and psychological there is also the possibility of rioting, and protests based on the outcomes of certain political races in volatile regions of the United States. If total equality is not obtained, racial, gender, and creed, there will always be friction and mistrust between groups.

Pervasiveness of Prejudice in Politics Regarding Women

Women are becoming more obvious in political campaigns. Their typical role to support and nurture is being replaced with attempts to overcome the “glass ceiling” (EOB, 2010) and show that they are also capable of becoming leaders in government. Some women are endorsing fellow political party representatives or writing scathing political novels, while others are running for political office (Kaminer, 2010). When women become more obvious they also become targets. Women, who are many times more open conversationally than men, have found that their own words are being used against them. Great examples of this is when Sarah Palin called herself a “mama grizzly” (Kaminer, 2010), and Christine admitted that when she was in high school she dabbled in witchcraft (Isley, 2010). In casual conversation neither of these remarks would have caused anyone to bat an eye, but in the political front, the comments became ammunition to negate their potential as serious candidates for office.

Men are not the only ones displaying prejudice. Women like Katie Couric, and Rachael Maddow, media journalists, are helping to provide potential voters with negative views of female candidates. Ms. Couric seemed to take great joy in indicating that Mrs. Palin was not answering questions the way that Katie wanted her to answer them, and misrepresenting Mrs. Palin’s stance on issues (Couric, 2008). The media is a huge receptacle for the negative and prejudice content of the character of any political candidate, yet those who are female seem to receive more than their share of negative publicity based on their past. The “Huffington Post” published the article “The Craziest Things Christine O’Donnell Has Ever Said” (McGlynn, 2010) the tone of article was to do nothing but to make Mrs. O’Donnell sound like a lunatic or too feeble minded to be a rational choice for Senator of Delaware. The prejudices that are indicating insanity or incompetency of women running for office are causing many rifts between candidates, and voters alike.

Theories Regarding Gender Stereotype

Role congruity theory.

Role congruity theory contends that most of society has specific roles that each individual is to perform in (Eagly, & Karau, 2002). Women are to stay at home, nurture, and work toward support and service roles. Their function in society is to be the backbone, but not the leader. “Behind every good man is a good woman” is an example of this precept (Gallo, 2010). They are rarely taken seriously because of their “delicate natures” so they are an easy target for those with agendas that do not coincide with the policies that the women are attempting to bring forth.

Where men are considered good leaders and decisive, women are considered to be nurturing, weak, and prone to following. It is very difficult for women to overcome these obstacles when trying to cross over into a male dominated role like politics. Women possess traits that would give others, men and women, to believe that women are too complacent and agreeable to be given roles where they lead military or security offensives. Even women are bound to these societal trait categories that have existed for centuries in the United States (Eagly, & Karau, 2002).


Microagressions are prevalent in most of the political forums across the country during debates and campaigns. Women are battling back with phrases like “man up” but this behavior will not do anything for the cause of equality. The male candidates question the abilities of the women, and media finds subtle jokes to negate the female candidate’s serious contention. For example, when Christine O’Donnell said that there is no “separation of church and state” in the US Constitution (deLespinasse, 2010), she was ridiculed by her opponent, with him even quoting the passage in the 1st Amendment, where it strictly states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” (US Constitution, 1784). Ms. O’Donnell’s contention was that it does not say that the government cannot rule using religious guidelines, which is an accurate statement (deLespinasse, 2010).

Strategies to Counteract Stereotype Prejudice

Role reversal.

In order to help women to develop as leaders in society they must be able to trade roles with their male counterparts. There is an insurgence of women in the workplace where the men stay at home and care for the children (Eagly, & Karau, 2002). This is such a case in Sarah Palin’s family structure. Because of her abilities to lead, which were proven by her years in public office, first as Mayor of a small town in Alaska, and then Governor of the entire state, her husband was enabled to change roles with her, and become the one who nurtured the children. The more often this role reversal is seen and accepted as a viable option, more men may cease to regard women as incapable of leadership positions, and they may begin to accept that women are capable of these same leadership decision-making spots in society.

Diversity training.

For college adults and those in the workforce, diversity training would be an asset in the fight for gender equality (Kochan, et al., 2003). Women have historically been considered the weaker gender and so it will take a lot of training and de-programming to instruct both men and women about the capacity of women in leadership roles (Kochan, et al., 2003). Women who are in leadership roles have to consider their tenuous position, and attempt to enlighten. Teaching women that nurturing is not a weakness, and teaching men that an aggressive woman is driven, but not intolerable are necessary in order to jump over the hurdles of gender prejudice and stereotyping.


Couric, K. (2008). Transcript, McCain and Palin interview: More in-depth answers to questions Katie Couric asked McCain and Palin on the broadcast. CBS News, retrieved from

deLespinasse, P. F. (2010). Why O’Donnell’s read wasn’t wrong., retrieved from

Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review 109(3), 573-598, doi: 10.1037//0033-295X.109.3.573

Encyclopedia of Business: EOB (2010). Glass ceiling. Encyclopedia of Business (2nd ed.). Reference for Business, retrieved from

Gallo, C. (2010). Why a great woman is behind every great man., retrieved from

Grolier (2010). History of women’s suffrage. Grolier Online Encyclopedia, Scholastic, retrieved from

Isley, W. (2010). Christine O'Donnell, witchcraft and the importance of religious dabbling. The Huffington Post, (9-22-10). Retrieved from

Kaminer, W. (2010). Origins of the ascendant mama grizzlies. The Atlantic, retrieved from:

Kochan, T., Bezrukova, K., Ely, R., Jackson, S., Joshi, A., Jehn, K., Leonard, J., Levine, D., & Thomas, D. (2003). The effects of diversity on business performance: Report of the diversity research network?. Wiley Online University, doi: 10.1002/hrm.10061

McGlynn, K. (2010). The craziest things Christine O’Donnell has ever said. The Huffington Post, (Oct 24, 2010), retrieved from

U.S. Constitution (1784). United States Constitution: First amendment.

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Comments (2)

Very informative. Women were often discriminated in politics but more and more women are now sitting in high positions. Our president in the past was a woman and many senators are also women. Perhaps people are now changing their views regarding women in the politics arena. Great articles.

I fully agree that gender influences many aspects of life that some men still deny it. They only need to be a woman for a while to be convinced. Politics is a man's world still so I don't look for a woman president as long as I live.