Maria Martin de Almagro is a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Assistant Professor in International Affairs at Vesalius College (Belgium). Her research focuses on the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Women, Peace and Security Agenda, with a particular focus on the Great Lakes region in Africa. Her work has been published in the Journal of Modern African Studies, Critical Studies on Security and Recherches Feministes, among others. She can be reached on Twitter @DrMmartind
The next US presidential elections are around the corner and the Democrat US President has already announced that he will not run for the Presidency again. He defines himself as pro-choice, and it is now up to the Vice President, a woman, to position herself – and fast – on the issue of women’s rights to abortion. She also needs to propose the maximum number of weeks up to which it is acceptable to have an abortion. Because she is the only woman candidate to the Presidency, her team believes her opinion will be taken seriously by the electorate. The team encourages Selina to start her sentences by “As a woman…” However, the Vice-President knows that focusing too much on gender issues could be a risky strategy: “No, no, no, I can’t identify as a woman! People can’t know that. Men hate that. And women who hate women hate that, which, I believe, is most women.”
This sequence of the series Veep brilliantly illustrates the challenges of being a woman in politics. You have to do both, to defend your political ideas and to eliminate possible disadvantages you might have derived from the plain fact of being a woman. Selina is not the only example we have about the difficulties of being a woman in politics. In House of Cards, Claire has been labelled as warrior, feminist and anti-heroine for using a national TV interview in which she was questioned about her childless marriage to fight for the causes more dear to her: sexual assault and abortion. But these women have to be careful not only about the words they use. They also need to pay attention to the non-verbal elements of their performance, such as the way they dress or the make-up they wear. Take for example Birgitte Nyborg, from Borgen, who fears that her neckline can make her look frivolous and curvy. All these three scenes explore different angles of the same reality: women in politics are trapped in a sort of bipolarity that makes them resilient and versatile, although it sometimes forces them to operate out of a system of discursive and cognitive frames attached to political parties and ideas.
According to Klenke, the typical masculine leadership style is instrumental and autocratic, as well as task oriented, while the feminine is more interpersonal-oriented, charismatic and democratic. This resonates with Campbell’s research on political communication that identifies a feminine style of discourse characterized by a more personal tone of communication, reliance on personal experiences and anecdotes; inductive structure; prone to invite audiences to participate and to address the audience as peers. In contrast, the masculine style is deductive and uses examples that are not directly related to its listeners. As Dolan demonstrates, stereotypical masculine traits are however still regarded by the public as more important in politics that female traits. Female political leaders then tend to adapt in order to gain voters. For example, a study found that Clinton’s political power grew when she spoke in an increasingly masculine way. Nevertheless, the same study also found that the Democratic partisan stereotypes encouraged different and sometimes conflicting self-representation strategies and therefore, it is fair to wonder whether the discursive strategies for attaining and maintaining power are different for right-wing and left-wing female candidates. As one could conclude from this study and this one, the candidates from conservative parties have it easier to adopt a masculine style. Nevertheless, the majority of these studies have the USA as an example.