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Watching Election 2016 with a Gender Lens

  • Kelly Dittmar (a1)
Abstract

The presence of women candidates in both major parties’ presidential primaries, including a likely woman Democratic nominee, has increased the attention paid to gender dynamics in the 2016 US presidential election. However, the presumption that previous presidential elections—without female prominent contenders—were gender neutral is false: gender dynamics have been at play in all US presidential elections to date. The nation’s top executive office is arguably the most masculine in American politics. Duerst-Lahti (1997) describes the presidency as a gendered space in which masculine norms and images are reified as the ideal, adding, “the masculinist assumption-made-normal is strong and is made even stronger when it goes unnoticed for its gendered aspects” (22). Presidents and presidential contenders, whether male or female, are expected to meet the masculine expectations of the office through words and actions, and those around them—family, spouses, and advisors—often play a role in shaping the degree to which they are successful. In navigating American politics, candidates also face gendered treatment by opponents, voters, and media, reminding us that presidential politics is far from gender neutral. These gender dynamics have been detailed by scholars, particularly in analyses of the presidential candidacies of women (Beail and Longworth 2013; Carlin and Winfrey 2009; Carroll and Dittmar 2009; Dittmar and Carroll 2013; Duerst-Lahti 2013; Falk 2010; Han and Heldman 2007; Heldman, Carroll, and Olson 2005; Lawrence and Rose 2009; McClain, Carter, and Brady 2005). However, the depth and nuance in scholarly analyses are rarely evident in popular dialogue about the ways in which gender shapes presidential elections.

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References
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Diana B. Carlin and Kelly L. Winfrey . 2009. “Have You Come a Long Way, Baby? Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Sexism in 2008 Campaign Coverage.” Communication Studies 60 (Sep–Oct): 326–43.

Susan J. Carroll and Kelly Dittmar . 2009. “The 2008 candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin: Cracking the ‘Highest, Hardest Glass Ceiling.’” In Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics, 2nd ed., eds. Susan J. Carroll and Richard L. Fox . New York: Cambridge University Press, 4477.

Kathleen Dolan . 2008. “Women as Candidates in American Politics: The Continuing Impact of Sex and Gender.” In Political Women and American Democracy, eds. Christina Wolbrecht , Karen Beckwith , and Lisa Baldez , 110127. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Caroline Heldman , Susan J. Carroll , and Stephanie Olson . 2005. “‘She Brought Only a Skirt’: Print Media Coverage of Elizabeth Dole’s Bid for the Republican Presidential Nomination.” Political Communication 22 (3): 315–35.

Paula D. McClain , Niambi M. Carter , and Michael C. Brady . 2005. “Gender and Black Presidential Politics: From Chisholm to Moseley Braun.” Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy 27 (1–2): 3150.

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PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
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