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How Gender played A role in the 2016 American elections

Updated on August 10, 2017

A theoretical Perspective on how Gender Played a role in the 2016 American Election

It could be right to says that the 2016 elections as basically about gender. From her campaigns, Hillary Clinton reinforced the aspect of gender discrimination and biasness by frequently talking about the state of her own mother, blame and shame faced by women who abort and the need for men to empower their daughters and the girl child in the society to yearn for higher positions. On the other hand, Trump was against all that and instead embarked on insulting women, promised to deal with those who dared to abort, and at some point arguing that women ought not to work. On Election Day, women responded by voting for Clinton, not because of the ideals or manifestos she brought forth but because of the open negative attitude by Trump. In fact, many women who supported trump viewed the 2016 election as a referendum to measure what their generation has achieved in terms of gender empowerment (Burleigh, 2016). The focus of this hub is to evaluate the role of gender in the outcome of the 2016 American elections.

We need to ask why the identification of the excitement of a first woman president in the near 250 year history of America not compared to the election of the first black president. Why did the majority of women voters in US not care whether women in their gender were in the covetous seat of the presidency. This question was more magnificent in the 2016 US election where 45% of female white college graduates and 62% of female non-college graduates opted to vote for Trump (Roberts, Siddiqui, Jacobs, Gambino, and Holpuch. 2016). Despite the fact that Clinton had one or two mistakes in her campaign, it defeats logic on how even the most egregious of them could lead women to vote for a male chauvinist, and one with very little qualification, rather than a highly qualified woman.

What is more, in 2008 or 2016, Clinton was not accorded credit for her achievements. During the 2016 election period, many people perceived her as someone who was untrustworthy, incompetent, and one who did not have any positive achievements. Her various achievements such as 8 good years as a prominent first lady, the equal number of years as a senator alongside her role in securing health and financial assistance for the 9/11 volunteers were totally ignored.

This investigation will be based on role congruity theory of prejudice. According to this theory, professed incongruity between leadership and female leaders leads to 2 forms of prejudice a) assessing behavior which fulfills the stipulations of a leader’s role in a way that is less favorable when executed by a woman and b) Looking at women as people with lower potential of performing the expected leadership roles as compared with that of men. These consequently lead to a less positive attitude towards female leaders while a more positive attitude towards male leaders. Other effects is that it becomes challenging for women to become leader and to succeed in leadership roles. These consequences are substantiated by various studies which also articulate that the consequences are more heightened in contexts that emphasize the incongruity attitudes between the role of leadership and female gender roles (Karau, and Eagly, 2002).

Prejudice and biasness towards women is even reinforced by the media. In his article, “A woman for President” Falk (2010) assesses the gender bias highlighted by the American media when covering women candidates since the first women opted to run for the seat in the oval office back in 1872. In this assessment, she evaluates the campaign of nine women who had run for president until 2008. These include Woodhul Victoris, Lockwood, Belva, Schroeder, Patricia, Fulani Lenora, Smith Chase Margaret, Dole Elizabeth, Chisholm Shirley and Hillary Clinton. This analysis established that their very little development towards fair treatment of women aspirants. She went on to observe that many media houses portrayed women as unnatural, unviable, and incompetent while also ignoring them rather than reporting their message, intent or ideals. The author’s comparison of women and men campaigns showcased a worrying and persistent trend of sexism in media coverage that subjugated the role of women particular in the top leadership positions.

The role congruity theory postulates that a group will be assessed positively when its features are identified as aligning with the social roles of that typical group (Diekman and Eagly, 2005). According to Karau and Eagly (1991) bigotry towards female leaders happens due to the inconsistencies prevalent between the features related with the female gender le gender stereotype and those related with the typical leadership.

The perception of women while in leadership position has been a major cause of prejudice preventing women from realizing their high-status success or positions. According to a study done by Eagly and Karau (2002), majority of American citizens perceive women less positively than their male counterparts. The authors went on to note that women were facing a myriad of challenges in moving to high status positions in their workplaces as well as maintaining these positions through success and achievement. In light of this, the authors point that owing to their roles that are socially accepted, women are in most cases perceived in positions of lower status when compared to their male. These gender stereotypes that are socially accepted permit a greater prediction of sex variations between females and males in social behaviors.

An earlier study done by Karau and Eagly established that men could easily become leaders than women. Despite the fact that there was a possibility of women advancing in societal roles, leadership positions that involved behaviors and specialization in relation to group’s goal were more associated with men. Further evidence is provided by Yodder and Ritter (2004) who in their experiment observed that even in cases where women harbored dominant features in group relationship; gender stereotypes and masculinized task prevented them from moving into leadership.

Cohen (2012) confirms that although male dominance in America is weakening, the society is still largely patriarchal. According to this author, United States is still ruled by men as portrayed in the top political leadership of the country. This may also explain why the national parliament is still also male dominated. The characterizes of the patriarchal society are also extended to the family set up where for instance, women are supposed to assume the surname of their husbands once married, and specific gender role expectations. These characteristics also extend to the economic sector, the cultural sphere and the political context. Consequently, people refuse to vote a female president because they do not trust her with the office. Moreover, they also perceive that a woman is entitled with the less demanding tasks since she may not be able to execute those of the higher office effectively.

A study by Hillard and Gervais (2011) noted that the level of femininity harbored by a woman may significantly influence public perception of that woman in power. In proving that assumption, the authors employ the case studies of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. According to these authors, the two women leaders were perceived negatively by voters chiefly because of their gender as it pertains to leadership and power. Accordingly, Hillard and Gervais found this to be a violation of the stereotypical gender culture as it regard to women being leaders. The negative perception therefore owed to the contradictory impression. In their analysis, the authors argued that both Palin and Clinton violated the gender norm in various perspectives. This could have been the reason why their competency and reception was evaluated differently. Despite the fact that Hillary Clinton had endeavored to present himself in a more masculine manner and that this was perceived to be congruent with the leadership position, it did not align with the feminine archetype. The kind of woman who goes against the societal gender roles is in typical sense viewed as someone who is competent but on the other side as harsh. Contrastingly, Sarah Palin presented herself with an ideal feminine attitude that perfectly aligned with her gender roles while greatly differing with the leadership position. A woman who places herself in this context is in typical sense perceived as warm but lacks the necessary competency. The hypothesis espoused by the author were that Palin could be rated as more warm but less competent while Clinton could be rated as less warm but more competent.

Hillard and Garvais also delved into the aspect of hostile and benevolent sexism and how these influenced the perception of Palin and Clinton concerning the gender norms. Benevolent sexism is a form of chivalrous perception where men have a feeling that women need to be saved and be protected and be cared for because they are not capable of doing these themselves. This perception significantly affected the voting of Sarah Palin because of the way she presented herself in an outstanding feminine stature. Hostile sexism on the other hand, is an outright and general negative perception towards men. Hostile sexists evaluated both Clinton and Palin on a negative light though there was a more likelihood for them to vote for Plain compared to Clinton owing to the fact that Palin presented herself as a stereotypical more feminine, a factor that aligned with the expected gender culture.Generally, In general, there is a more likelihood for hostile sexists penalizing Clinton because of violating the gender norms while the benevolent sexists praising glorifying Palin because of her feminity.


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    • Nyamweya profile imageAUTHOR

      Silas Nyamweya 

      14 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Thanks Jacquiline for your comment

    • Jacqueline Stamp profile image

      Jacqueline Stamp 

      14 months ago from UK

      An interesting and informed analysis Silas.


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