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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Picture a Leader: Gender Bias in the Media Across Issues and Over Time

Political Leadership
Rens Vliegenthart
University of Amsterdam
Alyt Damstra
University of Amsterdam
Rens Vliegenthart
University of Amsterdam

Work on gender differences in media portrayals of political leaders shows that male leaders are more often evaluated on traits belonging to the male stereotype whereas female leaders are less often evaluated by these traits, neither by traits that belong to the typical female stereotype (Aaldering and Van der Pas, 2018). With this study, we add two dimensions to this framework: (1) policy issues and (2) economic context. Some policy domains are considered to be dealing with compassion issues; aid of the poor, the sick, the unemployed, and others in need (Huddy & Terkildsen, 1993). Traditionally, women are perceived more competent on these types of issues, as these relate to female trait stereotypes such as warmth, sensitivity, and compassion. ‘Hard’ issues such as finance, economics, or the military are associated with masculine traits (Huddy & Terkildsen, 1993: 140). Second, we want to investigate whether the mediated presence of masculine versus feminine leadership traits is contingent upon economic context.
We collected Dutch news data about the economy (hard issue) as well as about healthcare (soft issue), from January 2002 to December 2018 (eight newspapers; N = 215,345). Our results show that when the media discuss male leadership in the domain of economics, all traits are (much) more present than when they discuss male leadership in the healthcare domain. Second, female leaders are more strongly evaluated in terms of traits compared to their male counterparts. Together, these results indicate that the use of leadership traits is dependent upon the issue at hand as well as the gender of political actors. The analyses do not provide empirical evidence supporting the contingency on economic context. We plan to extend our research by including crime news, defense news and news about education and we hope to be given the opportunity to present our results during the ECPR Conference in Wroclaw.
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