Are power-seeking female politicians seen differently than their male counterparts?

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.

Source: “The Price of Power: Power Seeking and Backlash Against Female Politicians” from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2010, vol. 36, no. 7, 923-936

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