Why is there still a focus on Julia vs Kevin?

It might seem like yesterday’s news but there’s a reason the Prime Minister’s opponents are continually focussing on exactly how she took over from Kevin Rudd.

This newly published research examined the proposition that “the perception that a candidate is power-seeking will lead to social penalties for female politicians but not for male politicians and that these penalties may be reflected in voting preferences”.

The research was undertaken by Yale University School of Management researchers, Tyler Okimoto and Victoria Brescoll. It is published in the latest issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Here’s the abstract:

Two experimental studies examined the effect of power-seeking intentions on backlash toward women in political office. It was hypothesized that a female politician’s career progress may be hindered by the belief that she seeks power, as this desire may violate prescribed communal expectations for women and thereby elicit interpersonal penalties. Results suggested that voting preferences for female candidates were negatively influenced by her power-seeking intentions (actual or perceived) but that preferences for male candidates were unaffected by power-seeking intentions. These differential reactions were partly explained by the perceived lack of communality implied by women’s power-seeking intentions, resulting in lower perceived competence and feelings of moral outrage. The presence of moral-emotional reactions suggests that backlash arises from the violation of communal prescriptions rather than normative deviations more generally. These findings illuminate one potential source of gender bias in politics.

The authors conclude that unlike high-level managerial roles, political roles like Senator (and in our context probably Minister) do not imply a communal deficit. “This lack of a baseline backlash, however, may be due to the distinct lack of male sex-typed attributes necessary to success in that political role. In other words, backlash may occur more often in political roles requiring more of a commanding, decisive, and authoritative style (e.g., president of the United States, speaker of the House of Representatives), and further research is necessary to identify whether backlash is indeed an incessant barrier to women in high-level politics”.

Okimoto T and Brescoll V, The Price of Power: Power Seeking and Backlash Against Female Politicians, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2010, 36 (7), 923-936


2 Comments on “Why is there still a focus on Julia vs Kevin?”

  1. Michael says:

    The research is interesting, but I think it would be something truly unprecedented if the media wasn’t still talking about what was a virtually unprecedented leadership challenge. I like Julia Gillard and don’t blame her for wanting the leadership, I do however still have reservations about the challenge, but I genuinely don’t think it’s because she is a woman. I have been surprised at how quickly and completely Rudd has been cast as a deeply flawed control freak who couldn’t work with his colleagues or win an election. The media is constantly speculating over leadership and much prefers to report on it than on anything substantive regarding policy.

  2. Q.Maisie says:

    The toppling of Rudd was spectacular, but really, no more spectacular that when any PM is moved on, whether by the electorate or their party. It always requires collaboration by backers, whether they’re a union faction or a group of “the fellows at the club” 😉 and speed beats dragging it out anyday. Yes, he was a sitting PM, but he was destined for a loss…
    I agree with Michael, it’s not because she’s a woman that people have reservations about the challenge, but when I hear women screw their noses up at the challenge being ‘unseemly’ ot ‘ungracious’ I can’t help but think that the tone of the criticism, not the strength of it, is gendered. And yes, Michael, the media prefers this stuff to helping shape the nation’s dialogue on anything meaningful.


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