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Talk "Like a Man": Feminine Style in the Pursuit of Political Power

  • Author(s): Jones, Jennifer Jean
  • Advisor(s): Monroe, Kristen
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

Communication is a key factor in the strategic self-presentation of political leaders and candidates for office. It is especially important for women in US politics who remain numerically underrepresented at all levels of government, particularly in leadership positions. Drawing from theories on self-presentation, social identity, and implicit communication, this dissertation explores the relationship between gender, language, and political leadership. How do female politicians present themselves as viable leaders in a male-dominated political arena? Existing research suggests that women adopt masculine behaviors to succeed in politics. I asked: Do they talk like men?

Informed by empirical work in social psychology and linguistics, I conceptualized feminine and masculine styles of communication in an original way. Using quantitative text analysis, survey, and experimental approaches, I investigated the gendered communication styles of US political leaders and the impact that such styles have for candidate evaluations.

Analyzing 567 of Hillary Clinton's interview and debate transcripts between 1992--2013, I found that as Clinton's political power grew, she spoke in an increasingly masculine way. To follow up on this case, I analyzed 2,484 interview and debate transcripts from 126 political leaders and found that, like Clinton, female leaders broadly conformed to masculine styles of communication. Despite this, partisan stereotypes encouraged a different, and sometimes conflicting, self-presentation, which suggests that the self-presentational strategies for attaining and maintaining power are not the same for Republican and Democratic women. In contrast, male leaders did not significantly alter their self-presentation when transitioning into different leadership roles. Among male leaders, Democrats and Republicans tended to conform to party stereotypes. In addition, survey results showed that individuals reliably associated masculine communication styles with men and the Republican party and feminine statements with women and the Democratic party. Experimental results showed that regardless of a candidate's gender, evaluations of warmth---but not competence---were significantly affected by the candidate's gendered style of communication.

Ultimately, these findings demonstrate how seemingly unremarkable linguistic structures---pronouns, articles, prepositions, emotional expressions and more---conform to, reflect, and cue two key factors underlying political behavior: partisanship and gender.

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