A Delicate Hand or Two-Fisted Aggression? How Gendered Language Influences Candidate Perceptions

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(3) 353365
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211064884
A Delicate Hand or Two-Fisted Aggression?
How Gendered Language Inf‌luences
Candidate Perceptions
Damon C. Roberts
and Stephen Utych
Gendered language is seemingly found everywhere in American politics. We test the impact that gendered language has on voter
support for a candidate, using a validated dictionary of words rated as highly masculine or feminine. In three experimental
studies, we f‌ind that the use of feminine language causes individuals to perceive political candidates as more liberal. Additionally,
liberals tend to prefer candidates who use feminine language, and conservatives prefer candidates who use masculine language,
regardless of the sex of the candidate. These effects are mostly mediated, however, by perceptions of candidate ideology caused
by the use of language.
gender, language, stereotypes, experimental methods
Gender plays a prominent, and likely increasingly important,
role in the political world. Typically, work on gender focuses
on concepts like gender stereotyping, which has vital im-
portance for how women are viewed in politics. However,
this work often focuses on how broad concepts (Bauer, 2015;
Winter, 2010) and classes of words (Gaucher, et al., 2011) are
assumed to have gendered connotations. We argue that words
can operate in more subtle ways, as specif‌ic words are likely
to be viewed as masculine or feminine. Indeed, recent work in
political science has developed and validated a dictionary of
words rated on the dimension of masculinity and femininity
(Roberts and Utych, 2020), allowing for a more expansive
view of how gendered language can work in more subtle
ways than is uncovered in traditional work on gender ste-
reotypes. Mendelberg et al. (2014) show that female view-
points are often times discounted in discussions. Further, they
show that, in the situations were female viewpoints are
recognized due to the networks structure, the perspectives of
the female participants do change the deliberation and its
outcomes (Mendelberg et al., 2014). This further demon-
strates that the prevalence of masculinity and femininity
matter in political situations.
Furthermore, gender and language work together to shape
our perceptions of the world most obviously through issue
framing (Bracic, et al., 2018) and priming (Schaffner, 2005;
Winter, 2010). As we communicate with one another, word
choice expresses not only your message but also opinions,
biases, and perspectives, either explicitly or implicitly. For
example, historically, when we use a generic pronoun such as
they,men are more likely than women to assume the person
or the description of the noun as a he(Gastil, 1990). Due to
this preexisting research, one wonders how language, gender,
and partisanship may be interconnected. We of course are not
alone to advance the argument that gender is heavily involved
in partisan stereotypes (see Winter, 2010). We depart from
these other scholars by arguing that these primes to gender
based partisan stereotypes do not have to be heavy-handed
but instead can be quite subtle. To do this, we examine the
effects that the use of words stereotyped to be either mas-
culine or feminine by a candidate will have on the level of
support co-partisan voter expresses. We argue that voters do
use gendered language as an ideological cue, and as a result
we expect that the degree of congruence with the use of
masculine or feminine language with gender-based partisan
stereotypes will, in part, be used as a basis of supporting that
candidate. We argue that gender-based partisan stereotypes
can be quite subtle and have effects on the degree of support
voters express towards candidates.
We f‌ind that political candidates are seen as more liberal
when they use feminine language, compared to masculine or
University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA
Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA
Corresponding Author:
Stephen Utych, Department of Political Science, Boise State University, 1910
University DriveMS 1935, Boise, ID 83725, USA.
Email: stephenutych@boisestate.edu

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