Status Incongruity and Backlash against Female Legislators: How Legislative Speechmaking Benefits Men, but Harms Women

Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(1) 35 –45
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919861443
Research on gender stereotypes in the workplace has doc-
umented considerable evidence that men and women are
held to different standards when competence and leader-
ship are evaluated (Brescoll 2016; Eagly and Carli 2007;
Eagly and Karau 2002; Heilman 2001). This is mainly
because men and women are typically thought to have
different defining characteristics (Abele 2003; Bakan
1966; Diekman and Eagly 2000); while men are likely to
be characterized in agentic terms such as dominance,
ambition, achievement orientation, and assertiveness,
women are typically thought to have communal qualities
such as collaboration, friendliness, and emotional sensi-
tivity (Williams and Best 1990). Because agentic quali-
ties are stereotypically regarded as a prerequisite for
effective leadership (Eagly and Karau 2002; Schein
2001), these well-established gender stereotypes “pro-
mote negative expectations about a women’s perfor-
mance by creating a perceived ‘lack of fit’ between the
attributes women are thought to possess and the attributes
thought necessary for success in traditionally male posi-
tions” (Heilman 2012, 114).
Earlier work in political science research showed that
women officeholders are less likely to be evaluated as
effective and capable political leaders due in part to “fam-
ily responsibilities” and “hyperemotionalism” (Mezey
1978, 496–98; also see Kirkpatrick 1974). Elite surveys
with Hawaiian state and local officeholders, for instance,
revealed that the great majority of female legislators
complain about sexism and bias against them by male
representatives (Mezey 1978, 498). However, although
effective leadership is typically perceived to require qual-
ities associated with masculinity and agency, women in
leadership positions who disconfirm gender stereotypes
by displaying such qualities are disliked and face eco-
nomic and social penalties (Brescoll 2011, 2016; Heilman
861443PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919861443Political Research QuarterlyYildirim et al.
1University of Stavanger, Norway
2Sabancı University, Istanbul, Turkey
3Cukurova University, Adana, Turkey
Corresponding Author:
T. Murat Yildirim, Department of Media and Social Sciences,
University of Stavanger, Kjell Arholmsgate 41, Stavanger 4036,
Status Incongruity and Backlash
against Female Legislators: How
Legislative Speechmaking Benefits
Men, but Harms Women
T. Murat Yildirim1, Gülnur Kocapınar2, and Yuksel Alper Ecevit3
The literature on nomination procedures and intra-party politics shows that engagement in personalized parliamentary
activities helps legislators get re-elected and promoted in the party list. However, as a considerable body of scholarly
work suggests, women in leadership positions who are perceived to disconfirm the well-known gender stereotypes
by being “too assertive” and “agentic” in the workplace may suffer from what social psychologists call the “backlash
effect” (i.e., facing economic and social sanctions). Integrating insights from the literatures on perceptions of female
leadership and intra-party politics, we reveal the differential effect of legislative speechmaking on the career prospects
of male and female members of parliament (MPs). Specifically, using an original dataset of over thirty-five thousand
parliamentary speeches and the biographies of 2,140 MPs who served in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey
between 1995 and 2011, we show that the well-documented positive effect of engagement in parliamentary activities
on career prospects holds for male MPs, but not for their female counterparts. In fact, we found that female MPs who
were active on the legislative floor were significantly less likely to get renominated and promoted in the party rank.
These results imply that the challenges facing women in leadership positions go beyond electoral competition.
gender stereotypes, backlash effect, intra-party politics, parliament, renomination

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