Going Feminine: Identifying How and When Female Candidates Emphasize Feminine and Masculine Traits on the Campaign Trail

AuthorNichole M. Bauer,Martina Santia
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211020257
Hillary Clinton’s historic presidential campaign in 2016
generated extensive discussion about the role of gender in
politics. For example, commentators repeatedly criticized
Clinton for failing to smile more during a serious policy
discussion. But when Clinton smiled, pundits quickly
decided she should smile less. Clinton is not the only
female leader to receive gendered criticisms. The day
after Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy for the
2020 Democratic presidential nomination, online news
outlet Politico published an article declaring that Warren
will have to battle the likability factor if she projects too
much confidence on the campaign trail. These criticisms
illustrate the unique tension female political candidates
face that stems from gender stereotypes (Dittmar 2015).
Feminine stereotypes characterize women, in general, as
caring and compassionate, and voters stereotype men, in
general, as tough and aggressive (Prentice and Carranza
2002). Masculine stereotypes map onto stereotypes about
political leaders (Conroy 2015; Huddy and Terkildsen
1993), but voters do not see female candidates as having
masculine qualities (Bauer 2015; Schneider and Bos
2014). If female candidates display masculine qualities,
such as showing a stern image, they face attacks for being
too masculine and not feminine enough (Falk 2010;
Jamieson 1995; Lawrence and Rose 2010).
Extant scholarship offers conflicting conclusions about
the types of traits female candidates should emphasize in
campaign messages (Iyengar, Valentino, and Ansolabehere
1996) and the traits female candidates actually emphasize
in messages (Dolan 2014; Schneider 2014a). One strand
of scholarship finds that female candidates highlight qual-
ities consistent with feminine stereotypes (Schneider
2014a), while another line of inquiry finds that female
candidates highlight masculine qualities more than femi-
nine qualities (Sapiro et al. 2011). These methods do not
consider how female candidates develop campaign strate-
gies that integrate both feminine and masculine approaches
into a single message (see, for example, Dolan 2014;
Schneider and Bos 2014; for an exception, see Carpinella
1020257PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211020257Political Research QuarterlyBauer and Santia
1Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA
Corresponding Author:
Nichole M. Bauer, Department of Political Science, Manship School
of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University, 240 Stubbs Hall,
Baton Rouge, LA 70808, USA.
Email: nbauer4@lsu.edu
Going Feminine: Identifying How and
When Female Candidates Emphasize
Feminine and Masculine Traits on
the Campaign Trail
Nichole M. Bauer1 and Martina Santia1
Female candidates face a messaging challenge. There is a strong association between masculinity and political leadership.
Stressing masculinity can result in a likability backlash for female candidates often seen as lacking feminine qualities,
such as warmth. Preventing a likability backlash by highlighting feminine qualities can also harm female candidates.
Current scholarship offers conflicting conclusions about how female candidates balance these gendered challenges.
We fill this empirical and theoretical gap with a trait-balancing theory clarifying how and when female candidates
use feminine and masculine traits to manage competing expectations. We use original data merging information on
candidate advertising strategies across three election cycles. We show that female candidates strategically balance
masculine and feminine stereotypes in ways that often differ from their male counterparts but also differ based on
female candidate partisanship and incumbency. These results are consequential because they highlight how female
candidates manage gendered pressures in campaign strategies, which can affect their ability to win elections and,
ultimately, women’s representation in government.
female candidates, campaign advertising, gender stereotypes, partisan stereotypes
2022, Vol. 75(3) 691–705

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