Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics

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Date: 2017
Understanding How Women Vote: Gender Identity and Political Choices
Publisher: ABC-Clio
Series: Gender Matters in U.S. Politics
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 25
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics

The gender gap in vote choice and political beliefs makes clear that women and men, in general, see at least some political issues differently. Women occupy a distinct social position shaped by their gender identity, and cultural norms reinforce that identity. Whether it is expectations about women’s roles, such as being a mother and primary caretaker, or the real-life experiences of women in a still-male-dominated world, gender is an important part of many women’s self-identity. That identification with their gender group has a clear influence on how women view political issues and engage in politics. Women with greater levels of group identification are more likely to think and act on behalf of their gender group. As explained in chapter 2 , group consciousness is an even stronger, more politicized, form of group connectedness. While there are trends and similarities among women’s political beliefs and behaviors, not all women hold the same political beliefs or support the same candidates.

While group identification and consciousness provide one explanation for differences and similarities among women voters, another important part of women’s identity must be considered if we are to truly understand the differing ways women see issues and behave politically. A woman’s beliefs about gender roles are an extremely important part of her identity. A woman who believes in traditional gender roles will see the world and politics very differently than a woman with egalitarian beliefs. Women with traditional gender-role beliefs see women and men as having different roles in family and society, and they often believe that women’s primary role is as a caretaker in the private sphere of home and family. For example, women with traditional beliefs are likely to believe that women and men have complementary roles, where men are the breadwinners and women are the caretakers.

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This is not to say that traditional women consider women to be the lesser sex or believe that women should abstain from the public sphere; rather, they see the sexes as fundamentally different and believe that they have different strengths. On the other hand, women with egalitarian gender-role beliefs see men and women as equally able to fulfill both private and public sphere duties and believe that women should be given the same opportunities as men. For egalitarian women, the genders are equal; it is like comparing apples to apples. However, for traditional women the genders are fundamentally different, like comparing apples to oranges. These two competing worldviews lead to differing positions on issues, candidate preferences, and political engagement.

Much existing research on group identification and consciousness has focused primarily on feminist women but has neglected the role of gender-based consciousness on the political beliefs and behaviors of nonfeminist women. In her book Gender Consciousness and Politics, political scientist Sue Tolleson Rinehart argues that all women can be gender conscious; even women who do not consider themselves feminist may be aware of sex discrimination and sympathetic to feminist goals, and women who hold and embrace traditional gender roles may still believe that women have a unique perspective and valuable role to play in the political world.1 Women who identify with their gender group, particularly those with gender consciousness, act on behalf of the group, and both feminist and nonfeminist women can act for the group.

The political issue of abortion provides a clear example of both the division between traditional and egalitarian women and their similarity in terms of group-based political beliefs. On one hand, there are egalitarian woman fighting for abortion rights because they believe that women, not the government, should have the right to make decisions about their bodies and reproduction. On the other hand, women with traditional gender-role beliefs may fight against abortion because they believe it is the role of women to protect and care for children and see abortion as contradictory to those beliefs. Rinehart explains, “It is difficult to question the existence of real gender consciousness in either kind of activist, one a consciousness grounded in protection of traditional roles and the other grounded in a challenge to the validity of those same roles.”2 While these two groups of women belong to the same gender group and may identify with that group, their views about what that identity is or should be differ and lead them to differing political positions and priorities.

This approach to gender consciousness is particularly relevant today, when there are more women entering the political arena who do not identify themselves as feminists and who hold more traditional gender-role Page 47  |  Top of Articlebeliefs. From the 1970s through the 1990s, many of the women active in the political world represented the feminist movement and were fighting for change that reflected their egalitarian gender-role beliefs. These women were often associated with the Democratic Party and included such notable women as Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Carol Moseley Braun, Barbara Mikulski, Shirley Chisholm, and Nancy Pelosi. In addition to women serving in elected office, there have been many politically active feminist women since women’s suffrage, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and bell hooks, just to name a few.

There have always been politically active conservative women holding traditional notions of gender roles, such as Phyllis Schlafly, but by the 1990s and continuing into the 21st century, women of the new political right also became more engaged in politics and started running for office in higher numbers than they had previously. Such women who have served in office include Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Jackie Walorski, and Joni Ernst. The rise of the conservative woman can also be seen in political media, with women like Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Maggie Gallagher voicing conservative, traditional beliefs. There has also been a growth of vocal conservative women leading women’s political organizations, such as Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America. While liberal women still outnumber the conservative in terms of voters, there has been a notable rise in politically active conservative women who articulate very different positions on a variety of issues and reflect a different type of gender group identity than liberal women.

Women on both sides of the spectrum can feel connected to their gender group, and as was demonstrated in the previous chapter, a significant number of women from both political parties indicate feelings of shared experiences, shared characteristics, and group attachment. Furthermore, a sense of collective orientation and polar affect can be found in women across party lines at varying levels. Despite this, little research has accounted for women with more conservative beliefs or compared the political beliefs and actions of conservative group-identified women with those of liberal group-identified women.

It is important to note, and will be discussed later in the chapter, that political party is not a sufficient means for understanding women’s gender-role beliefs. There are women who identify as Republican who also consider themselves feminists, and there are Democratic women who also believe in traditional gender roles. The purpose of this chapter is to identify and compare two types of group-identified women: those with egalitarian beliefs and those with traditional beliefs. These two groups will Page 48  |  Top of Articlealso be compared to those women who do not display the key elements of gender group identification.


The 2008 election demonstrated the importance of identity politics in contemporary elections. The differences among female candidates were blatant in 2008, with two prominent women fighting to break the glass ceiling to the White House: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin, very different women with very different beliefs. In 2008, Clinton represented the second wave feminists of the baby boom generation and gained much support from older working-class women.3 Palin represented something different; she did not share many issue positions held by traditional feminists, resulting in attacks from many women on the left.4 Palin’s focus on her role as a mother and her traditional beliefs led some to call her the antithesis of feminism,5 but others considered Palin a new archetype in the third wave of feminism.6 The split among women who supported Palin and those who despised her represent an opportunity to explore different types of gender identification and consciousness. As Rinehart’s work demonstrated, women may identify with and act on behalf of all women, but they may do so in considerably different ways with strikingly different goals.

Clinton and Palin exhibited their gender-role ideologies and gender identity in their campaign speeches and advertisements. Clinton gave a speech on May 31, 2007, a few months after she had announced her 2008 candidacy, to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group where she specifically addressed the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields and to compliment a specific woman:

Sixth, we have to open the doors of science and engineering to more people, especially women and minorities. We’ve done a great job bringing the best and brightest from around the world but we have to do more to get women and minorities to be involved, and as president I will try to promote that, to tap new sources of talent and to set examples by having a greater public awareness of what awaits. You know, one of my favorite people is the president of RPI in New York who previously was the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She’s the first or the second African American woman to receive a PhD in nuclear physics. Well, I don’t know if enough people know about her and know about what she has done with her life and how she can, perhaps, serve as an example for others.7

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Clinton emphasized women and women’s issues in a variety of speeches and advertisements. In one advertisement titled “Thank You,” an unnamed woman speaks in support of Clinton: “She is a symbol for the females. I’m sixty years old, and I want her to win and I will continue to support her the best I can.” The ad then cuts to a video clip of Clinton stating, “I love that sign—‘Pennsylvania women for Hillary.’ Thank you very much. There’s also a great sign back there—‘Our mamas for the mama.’ I like that.” After Clinton lost the Democratic nomination in 2008, she tried to rally her supporters and women behind Barack Obama. In her speech at the Democratic National Convention, she not only attacked McCain’s position on a variety of issues affecting women but also reminded the audience of women’s history in politics and the importance of fighting for equality:

I’m a United States Senator because in 1848 a group of courageous women and a few brave men gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, many traveling for days and nights, to participate in the first convention on women’s rights in our history.

And so dawned a struggle for the right to vote that would last 72 years, handed down by mother to daughter to granddaughter—and a few sons and grandsons along the way.

These women and men looked into their daughters’ eyes, imagined a fairer and freer world, and found the strength to fight. To rally and picket. To endure ridicule and harassment. To brave violence and jail.

And after so many decades—88 years ago on this very day—the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote would be forever enshrined in our Constitution.

My mother was born before women could vote. But in this election my daughter got to vote for her mother for President.

This is the story of America. Of women and men who defy the odds and never give up.8

Sarah Palin also spoke specifically to women and focused on her gender and traditional gender-role beliefs. This began when she was announced as John McCain’s running mate on August 29, 2008. She began by introducing her family and noting that it was her 20th wedding anniversary. She went on to further emphasize her role as a mother and wife, saying, “I was just your average ‘hockey mom’ in Alaska. We were busy raising our kids. I was serving as the team mom and coaching some basketball on the side. I got involved in the PTA and then was elected to the City Council Page 50  |  Top of Articleand then elected mayor of my hometown, where my agenda was to stop wasteful spending and cut property taxes and put the people first.”9

Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention provides another example of her emphasis on traditional gender roles. When speaking of McCain’s expertise in military affairs, she tied the topic to her own experience as the mother of a solider:

He’s a man who wore the uniform of this country for 22 years, and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who have now brought victory within sight.

And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief. I’m just one of many moms who’ll say an extra prayer each night for our sons and daughters going into harm’s way.

Our son Track is 19.

And one week from tomorrow—September 11th—he’ll deploy to Iraq with the Army infantry in the service of his country.10

These examples of Clinton and Palin in the 2008 election demonstrate how both women with egalitarian and traditional gender-role beliefs can politically identify with their gender group. Clinton’s 2016 campaign provided even more explicit examples of egalitarian gender-group identification because she made gender an even larger part of her campaign. For example, in several ads, she discussed the pay gap and paid family leave. In her ad “Paygap” Clinton clearly embraced the idea of fighting for and with women, stating, “In 2015, many women are paid less than men for doing the same work. Your fights are my fights, and I won’t quit until Americans have a chance to get ahead and stay ahead.”11 Numerous examples exist of female candidates evoking group identification and their gender-role beliefs, and they come from women on the left, such as Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand, and from women on the right, such as Kelly Ayotte and Joni Ernst. This sort of political rhetoric exists for a reason; it reflects two distinct types of women voters.


As should be clear at this point, women are not a monolithic voting bloc. Rather there are important divisions among women, and gender-role beliefs are one division that shapes political attitudes. Furthermore, as established in chapter 2 , women’s identification with their gender group also influences political attitudes. To better understand women voters, this study examines the relationships between gender-role beliefs, group Page 51  |  Top of Articleidentification, and political orientations. To begin the analysis, women’s gender-role beliefs had to be measured. The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI)12 was used because it best captures the multifaceted nature of gender role beliefs. Developed by psychologists Peter Glick and Susan T. Fiske to measure the complicated and sometimes contradictory beliefs about women and men, this scale has proven to be a reliable measure of modern gender-role beliefs.

Consistent with past research using the ASI, this study examined gender-role ideology as a composite sexism score and then more specifically along the ASI’s two distinct factors. As a composite sexism score, a high ASI score indicates more sexist—or traditional—beliefs about women’s roles, and a low score indicates more egalitarian attitudes about women’s roles. The ASI consists of two distinct factors: hostile sexism (HS) and benevolent sexism (BS). Hostile sexism reflects beliefs that are commonly considered sexist and is characterized by a feeling of hostility toward women. Hostile sexism includes beliefs that women exaggerate unfair treatment at work and are looking for special treatment and that feminist are seeking to gain control over men. The ASI measures three components of hostile sexism: dominate paternalism, competitive gender differences, and heterosexual hostility. Dominant paternalism refers to the belief that women are not capable on their own and are in need of a dominant male in their life. Competitive gender differences reflect the belief that only men have the necessary traits for leadership, and heterosexual hostility is the idea that women use sex to control men.

Distinct from hostile sexism but related to it is benevolent sexism. Benevolent sexism is a subtler form of sexism and is defined by Glick and Fiske as “a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure).”13 Examples of benevolent sexist beliefs include the belief that women have a superior moral sensibility and that women should be protected and cherished by men. The ASI also measures three components of benevolent sexism, reflecting the more positive side of the hostile sexism components. Benevolent sexism consists of protective paternalism, the belief that men need to protect and care for women; complementary gender differences, the belief that men and women complement each other through the traditional divisions of labor and traits; and heterosexual intimacy, the belief that men need intimate relationships with women to be complete.

Research has demonstrated that HS and BS are correlated but distinct factors,14 and both viewpoints demonstrate a preference for a traditional Page 52  |  Top of Articlegender-role ideology.15 Since this study attempted to understand the relationship between gender-role ideology and other variables, the ASI provides the best available means to capture the full picture of modern sexism and gender role beliefs. The ASI is composed of 22 items, 11 BS and 11 HS items, with responses ranging from “disagree strongly” (0) to “agree strongly” (5) with no neutral midpoint. Examples of hostile sexist statements include the following:

  • Women are too easily offended.
  • Most women fail to appreciate fully all that men do for them.
  • When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against.
  • Women seek to gain power by getting control over men.

Examples of benevolent sexism statements include the following:

  • No matter how accomplished he is, a man is not truly complete as a person unless he has the love of a woman.
  • Men should be willing to sacrifice their own well-being in order to provide financially for the women in their lives.
  • Women, compared to men, tend to have a superior moral sensibility.
  • A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man.

The ASI and its individual components (HS and BS) have all had high reliability in previous research.16 The composite scale proved reliable in this study (α = .90), as did the individual components (HS α = .86, BS α = .86).


To understand the factors that might influence women’s gender-role ideology, the relationships between the ASI scores with age and level of education were examined using regression analysis. The findings regarding age were particularly interesting; age was a significant predictor of gender-role ideology, such that younger women were associated with more traditional, or sexist, gender-role beliefs on the ASI and its two components, BS and HS. However, this finding was explained by the influence of education on gender-role beliefs. After accounting for education, age was no longer a significant predictor, indicating that it is not so much a woman’s age that predicts her gender role beliefs but rather her level of education. In fact, education explained 20 percent of the variance in ASI scores, which is a rather large proportion.17 In other words, as a woman’s education level increases, she is more likely to have egalitarian beliefs.

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table 3.1 ASI, Education, and Political Ideology Correlations

These findings are consistent with previous research on feminist beliefs. For example, one study found that as women are exposed to feminism, usually through college course work, they become more likely to identify as feminist and to articulate feminist beliefs.18 Rinehart found a similar relationship between egalitarianism and education; however, she also found that older women tended to hold more traditional beliefs.19 These contradictory findings suggest that the relationship between age and education has changed since Rinehart’s study over 20 years ago. This change is likely the result of a more highly educated female population. In other words, the older women in Rinehart’s study were less likely to have a college education than the older women in this study. This, in turn, resulted in a more educated and egalitarian group of women in older age groups. Table 3.1 displays the correlations between the variables of interest and clearly demonstrates the strong correlation between education and gender role beliefs.

In addition to age and education, political ideology has been tied to gender-role beliefs. Study participants indicated their political ideology by placing themselves on a scale ranging from “extremely liberal” (1) to “extremely conservative” (10). Analysis revealed that placement on the conservative-liberal ideology scale predicts over 15 percent of the variance in composite ASI scores.20 The relationship demonstrates that women who identify as politically conservative are more likely to hold traditional gender-role beliefs. Furthermore, examinations of correlations, as shown in Table 3.1 , indicate a positive relationship between conservative ideology and both benevolent sexism, which reflects positive yet limiting stereotypes about women, and hostile sexism, which reflects a negative view of women, particularly in the public sphere.

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table 3.2 Sexism Scores by Political Party

Related to political ideology is identification with a political party. Given that the Republican’s party platform is based on a conservative ideology and the Democrat’s on a liberal ideology, it would be expected that women with more traditional gender-role beliefs would be more likely to identify as Republicans. As is demonstrated in Table 3.2 , women who identify as Democrats report significantly lower levels of sexism on the ASI and its two factors, BS and HS. Most interesting are those women who do not identify with either party and are categorized as Independents. Women in this group fall between Republicans and Democrats on the ASI, and the only significant differences found were that Democrats expressed more egalitarian beliefs than Independents on the composite ASI and on the benevolent-sexism factor. These findings suggest that there is a relationship between gender-role ideology and political party affiliation but that the differences between groups is not as large as one might expect. Put simply, egalitarian women are not all Democrats, and traditional women are not all Republicans; the spectrum of gender-role beliefs can be found in both parties and among Independents.

These analyses help to paint a picture of egalitarian and traditional women. Egalitarian women tend to be more educated and consider themselves to be more liberal. On the other hand, traditional women tend to have less education and identify more strongly as politically conservative. Democratic women express slightly more egalitarian gender-role beliefs than Republican and Independent women, but there is little difference between the gender-role beliefs of Republicans and Independents. Now that a profile of egalitarian and traditional women has been created, a more nuanced examination of women based on a combination of the gender role beliefs and level of group identification is possible. The combination of these two variables provides a more complete picture of the nuances among women voters.

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As the central variables of this study are a woman’s identification with her gender group and her gender-role ideology, these variables were tested for correlations with each other as well as with the gender-consciousness variables. Previous research found similarities among women based on these categories, specifically that egalitarian women were more likely to identify with their gender group.21 However, few scholars have revisited this connection since. Therefore, my analysis reveals, first, what the relationships are between gender-role ideology, gender identification, gender consciousness and, second, if women with high gender-group identification are more likely to have a particular gender-role ideology.

In order to determine the relationships between variables, bivariate correlations were computed among the sexism (ASI, HS, and BS), gender group identification (IDPG), gender attachment, and gender-consciousness variables (polar affect and collective orientation) for the entire sample of women. As demonstrated in Table 3.3 , a significant correlation emerged between BS and IDPG such that higher levels of benevolent sexism were correlated to higher levels of identification. In other words, stronger benevolent sexist beliefs were associated with greater gender group identification. While a statistically significant relationship exists, it is rather weak and is likely caused by a specific subset of women. This relationship is explored further when Egalitarian-Identified and Traditional-Identified women are compared later in this chapter.

Additionally, the group consciousness variables of polar affect and collective orientation were correlated with ASI scores (see Table 3.3 ). Polar affect was significantly correlated with all three components of the ASI, indicating that traditional gender-role beliefs are associated with a greater preference for members of one’s own gender group. The strongest relationship was between benevolent sexism and polar affect. Since benevolent sexism includes beliefs that women are more moral, should be protected, and needed by men, it is not surprising that this variable would be associated with polar affect, as it reflects a preference for one’s own gender group and often a sense of superiority over the out-group.

Previous research has revealed a relationship between feminist attitudes and polar affect, but these findings suggest that women who hold more traditional gender-role beliefs might also feel greater affect for the in-group (women). However, the reasons behind polar affect may differ based on whether women hold more egalitarian or traditional gender-role beliefs; this will be examined later in this chapter. On the other hand, consistent with previous research on gender and feminist consciousness, the analysis in this study revealed a negative correlation between collective orientation and both the ASI and HS. Thus, egalitarian gender beliefs are associated with a greater sense that women must work as a group to overcome discrimination. These findings are consistent with a major tenet of the feminist movement—that collective action through protest and politics is necessary to better women’s place in society.

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table 3.3 Group Identification, Consciousness, and Sex-Role Ideology Bivariate Correlations

These findings indicate interesting relationships between gender-role beliefs, group identification, and consciousness when looking at women as a whole. However, as previous research and analysis in this study have found, these variables may not operate the same way for all women. Gender-role beliefs and gender consciousness may have differing relationships depending on how strongly a woman identifies with her gender group. In order to more specifically understand the interaction of these variables, women were analyzed based on their level of gender group identification to explore whether these groups varied in their gender-role ideology and gender consciousness.


The only previous research that examined women based on both group identification and gender-role ideology was Rinehart’s 1992 work. Her analysis began by splitting women into two groups: those with high levels of gender group identification (the Identified) and those with low levels of gender group identification (the Individualists). My analysis begins by grouping women in this way. To categorize women based on their level of group identification, scores on the Identification with a Psychological Group were used. This measure was chosen over the Group Attachment scale because it contained two factors of identification (shared experience Page 57  |  Top of Articleand shared characteristics) rather than one and the IDPG responses had more variance. Women with a mean IDPG score greater than or equal to four on the seven-point scale were classified as Identified, meaning they reported a high level of gender group identification. Those women with a mean score less than four on the IDPG were classified as Individualist, meaning they reported a low level of gender group identification.22

Identified versus Individualist Women

To test whether or not Identified women differed significantly from Individualist women in their gender-role beliefs, the ASI, HS, and BS scores of the two groups were compared.23 Analysis revealed no significant differences in the gender-role ideologies of women who feel that their gender is an important part of their identity as compared to those who do not. This means that group identification does not explain gender-role beliefs and that these two variables are distinct. In other words, women who identify with their gender group are equally likely to hold traditional as egalitarian gender-role beliefs.

However, analysis did find that Identified women (M = 3.56, SD = .84) reported significantly higher levels of collective orientation than Individualist women (M = 3.12, SD = 1.23). Identified women (M = 2.72, SD = .68) also reported higher levels of polar affect than Individualist women (M = 2.44, SD = .56).24 Previous research argued that group identification was linked to both polar affect and collective orientation to form group consciousness, and this study confirms that Identified women of the 21st century still show higher levels of these gender consciousness variables.25 Put simply, Identified women are more likely to have positive feelings about their gender group, favor that group, and believe that women must work together to overcome inequality.

There are clear differences between Identified and Individualist women in terms of gender consciousness, and this warrants further comparative analysis between these two groups in order to answer two questions. First, what are the relationships between sexism (ASI, HS, and BS), group identification (IDPG), gender group attachment, and gender consciousness (polar affect and collective orientation) for Identified and Individualist women? Second, how do those relationships differ between Identified and Individualist women? To address these questions, bivariate correlations were conducted for both groups on the variables of interest and are reported in Table 3.4 .

For Identified women, many of the variables correlated with each other. The relationships were such that higher levels of group identification (IDPG) were associated with higher polar affect, collective orientation, Page 58  |  Top of Articleand benevolent sexism. Interestingly, higher polar affect was associated with more traditional, or sexist, gender-role beliefs on all three sexism variables (ASI, BS, and HS). On the other hand, collective orientation negatively correlated with all three sexism variables. As was noted previously, these findings are contrary to previous research that found both polar affect and collective orientation to be associated with more egalitarian attitudes. However, much of that previous research was focused on feminist women, not women with traditional gender-role beliefs. Perhaps the components of gender consciousness are present among women with traditional beliefs but operate differently.

These findings paint a complicated picture of the Identified woman; she is someone who has an emotional attachment to her gender group, cares about the group as a whole, and believes that women must work together for equality, but she may also hold restricting beliefs about women’s gender roles. While many of these characteristics can be defined as feminist and are specifically related to second-wave liberal feminism, benevolent sexist beliefs do not. It is quite likely that Identified women as a group may hold some contradictory beliefs, and this warrants a more nuanced analysis of Identified women.

Bivariate correlations (reported in Table 3.4 ) were also conducted for Individualist women. A positive correlation emerged between gender group identification and gender attachment as well as between identification and collective orientation, indicating that even Individualist women who feel more connected to their gender group have an emotional attachment to the group and are more likely to believe that women must work together to overcome discrimination. However, by definition, Individualist women have lower levels of group identification, so it is important to note that the correlations that existed for Identified women were very different. Identified women showed a more complex relationship between these variables, as can be seen by the numerous correlations.

In fact, there are more differences than similarities in how the variables of interest operate for Identified and Individualist women. While the relationship between identification (IDPG), attachment, and collective orientation existed for both groups, Identified women were distinct in that they also displayed relationships between IDPG, polar affect, and ASI scores. In other words, while Individualist women may care somewhat about women as a group, it is not a defining part of their identity. Identified women, however, do feel that their gender is an essential part of their identity, and that feeling is related to their gender-role beliefs, feelings towards other women, and feelings towards men.

The profiles of Identified and Individualist women show some similarities between the two groups, but they show many more differences. Furthermore, the complex and sometimes contradictory beliefs expressed by Identified women necessitates further exploration of the characteristics and beliefs of this group. In order to better understand women voters, particularly group-identified women, analysis was conducted based on whether women held more egalitarian or more traditional gender-role beliefs.

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table 3.4 Identification, Consciousness, and Sex-Role Ideology Bivariate Correlations by Group Identification


Rinehart’s 1992 work further divided women based on both their gender-role ideology and level of group identification. My analysis uses a similar method to compare and describe three types of women: those who identify with their gender group and have egalitarian beliefs (Egalitarian-Identified), those who identify with and have traditional beliefs (Traditional-Identified), and those who do not identify with their gender group (Individualist).

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Figure 3.1 Categorization of Women by Identification and Sex-Role Ideology

After women were categorized based on whether they were Identified or Individualist, they were further divided based on their gender-role ideology (see Figure 3.1 ). Women with a mean score on the ASI greater than 3.5 were categorized as Egalitarian, meaning they reported more egalitarian beliefs about women’s roles. Those women with a score less than or equal to 3.5 were categorized as Traditional, meaning they reported more traditional or sexist beliefs about women’s roles. This produced 176 (40.39 percent) Egalitarian-Identified, 119 (33.15 percent) Traditional-Identified, 44 (12.27 percent) Egalitarian-Individualist, and 20 (5.57 percent) Traditional-Individualist women. Since this study was most concerned with the political participation and beliefs of Identified women and the total number of Egalitarian-Individualist and Traditional-Individualist was low, for the purpose of analysis, these two groups were collapsed into one group labeled “Individualist women” (n = 64, 17.83 percent). The categorization of women based on their level of gender group identification (Identified and Individualist) and gender-role ideology (Egalitarian-Identified and Traditional-Identified) allowed each group to be examined independently as well as compared to the other groups. This method provided a more robust analysis of women’s political participation, as is reflected in the results of this study.

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The three ideology-identification groups can be described based on demographic characteristics. Since preliminary analysis found education to play an important role in women’s sex-role ideology, the educational makeup of each group was analyzed, and Table 3.5 displays the highest level of education completed by each group. The majority of women in each category had a college degree of some sort, but it is noteworthy that Traditional-Identified women were the least likely to have a graduate degree. This might be because graduate education requires a great deal of time working away from the home, may delay marriage and children, and often encourages women to shed traditional gender roles. What is unclear is if women with traditional gender-role beliefs are less likely to pursue a graduate degree or if through the process of graduate education, women’s gender beliefs become more egalitarian.

This relationship is further emphasized by the fact that Egalitarian-Identified women were the most likely to have a graduate degree, followed closely by Individualist. Additionally, Traditional-Identified women were significantly more likely than the other two groups to indicate that they had less education than a college degree. The relationship between education and egalitarian, or feminist, beliefs has been documented in previous research. For example, Rinehart found that higher levels of education were associated with both egalitarian attitudes and greater group identification.26 The four-year college experience has also been shown to create more egalitarian beliefs, and these beliefs were related to students’ academic engagement, women’s studies courses, and diversity experiences.27

As previous analysis demonstrated, education and age are related in terms of their relationship to gender-role beliefs. In this study, Traditional-Identified women (M = 28.87, SD = 14.51) were significantly younger than Egalitarian-Identified (M = 35.52, SD = 16.42) or Individualist women (M = 35.91, SD = 16.81). As was found in the earlier analysis, this age difference is likely related to corresponding educational differences, with younger women having completed less of their education and having less exposure to feminist ideals. The marital status of women from each ideology-identification group reflected earlier findings on women as a whole, in that women from each group were equally likely to be married or in a domestic partnership. In other words, marriage does not seem to be related to a woman’s gender-role ideology or level of group identification.

Previous research, as well as the analysis in chapter 2 , makes it clear that gender group identification transcends party lines, but analysis of gender-role beliefs revealed differences based on political party. Table 3.6 demonstrates differences and similarities among women from each ideology-identification group. Not surprisingly, Egalitarian-Identified women associate most frequently with the Democratic Party, but nearly one-quarter identify as Republican. This indicates that, contrary to what some may assume, egalitarian or feminist beliefs among women cross party lines and are not exclusively a characteristic of Democratic women. The affiliations of Traditional-Identified women support the idea that gender-role beliefs and group identification are not tied to any particular political party. While a slight majority of Traditional-Identified women are Republicans, women with these beliefs are well represented in the Democratic Party and as Independents.

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table 3.5 Highest Level of Education of Ideology-Identification Groups

Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table. 3.6 Political Party Affiliations among Identification-Ideology Groups

Last, Individualist women most frequently identify as Republicans, possibly because the Republican Party less frequently emphasizes gender as a political issue. Much existing research and media coverage of political behavior focuses on political party as a primary motivation, but gender-role beliefs and group identification are also significant contributors; these findings demonstrate that political party affiliation alone does not adequately describe the beliefs of women, particularly as they relate to their gender identity. Furthermore, the ability to describe these groups of women and identify similarities that transcend party lines can provide insights into their political priorities and beliefs and can aid in Page 63  |  Top of Articleunderstanding what political messaging is likely to appeal to particular female voters, regardless of political party.

Egalitarian-Identified, Traditional-Identified, and Individualist Women

It is important to understand the specifics of the differences between women. In order to better understand the relationships between gender-role ideologies and levels of group identification, group attachment, and consciousness, the two subgroups of Identified women (Egalitarian-Identified and Traditional-Identified) were compared to each other and compared to Individualist women (see Table 3.7 ). First the gender-role ideologies of the three groups were compared.28 By definition, the Traditional-Identified women have more traditional beliefs than the Egalitarian-Identified women, but the analysis also revealed that these two groups differed in both their hostile and benevolent sexism scores. These findings demonstrate that women’s levels of hostile and benevolent sexism vary and that the two components work together to make up women’s gender-role beliefs. Furthermore, this indicates that hostile and benevolent sexist beliefs are more prevalent among Traditional-Identified women than Egalitarian-Identified women.

Like the previous analysis of Identified and Individualist women, bivariate correlations were computed for Egalitarian-Identified and Traditional-Identified women to determine how the variables of interest related to each other for each group (see Table 3.8 ). Many correlations emerged among Egalitarian-Identified women. Identification with their gender group and emotional attachment to that group were correlated with a greater sense of collective orientation. Group identification was also positively associated with polar affect. For Egalitarian-Identified women, the previous research on gender-consciousness theory was confirmed by the results in this study,29 including the finding that for Egalitarian-Identified women, consciousness includes a progressive view of gender roles and a belief that women face societal inequalities that must be overcome through collective action. In other words, among women with egalitarian gender-role beliefs and high gender-group identification, the theories developed 20 to 30 years ago still apply today.

The bivariate correlations revealed some notable relationships for Traditional-Identified women. First, gender group identification (IDPG) was positively correlated with the ASI and BS such that traditional gender-role beliefs were associated with greater identification with the group. This is a key difference between Egalitarian-Identified and Traditional-Identified women. Traditional-Identified women’s perception of their Page 64  |  Top of Articlegroup identity is tied to traditional but seemingly positive gender beliefs. The second important finding was a negative correlation between polar affect and HS, which indicates that a preference for one’s own group is associated with lower levels of hostile sexism, a relationship that did not exist for Egalitarian-Identified women. Third, and most interesting, a negative correlation between BS and HS emerged, indicating that among Traditional-Identified women, higher levels of benevolent sexism were associated with lower levels of hostile sexism.

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Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table 3.7 Ambivalent Sexism Inventory Scores by Group

Gender Identity, Gender-Role Beliefs, and Politics Table 3.8 Identification, Consciousness, and Sex-Role Ideology Bivariate Correlations by Ideology-Identification Group

The components of gender consciousness exist among Traditional-Identified women, but they seem to operate differently for this group. First, Traditional-Identified women do not have egalitarian or feminist gender-role beliefs; in fact, their beliefs are even more traditional, or sexist, than women who feel little connection to their gender group. Furthermore, benevolent sexist beliefs correlated with group identification for these women, indicating that their group identity is strongly linked to restrictive yet seemingly positive traditional gender-role beliefs. However, their identity is not linked to the more hostile forms of sexism. In fact, further analysis of the individual BS and HS items revealed that all but 2 of the 11 BS items were associated with greater group identification, and none of the HS items positively correlated with identification.

Finally, the gender-role beliefs of Traditional-Identified women seem to be particularly complex, as is indicated by the finding that this group displayed a negative relationship between benevolent sexism and hostile sexism. Previous research using the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory has found that benevolent and hostile sexism were two positively related factors.30 In other words, high benevolent sexism was associated with high hostile sexism, and the same was found in this study among Individualist and Egalitarian-Identified women. However, this was not the case for Traditional-Identified women, and the influence of benevolent sexism appears to be particularly important in the gender identification and consciousness of this group. Benevolent sexism, as measured in Glick and Fiske’s Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, reflects a belief in positive but restricting beliefs about women. For example, benevolent sexism reflects the beliefs that marriage between a man and a woman is important, that men need women and should cherish and support them, and that women have a superior moral and cultural sensibility. Among Traditional-Identified women, benevolent and hostile sexism were negatively correlated, indicating that the less these women accept hostile sexist beliefs, the more they accept benevolent sexist beliefs. This is an important difference between Traditional-Identified women and Egalitarian-Identified women.

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Since the ASI was found to be reliable and to relate to other variables, it seems that the benevolent-sexism component was the driving force of Traditional-Identified women’s traditional gender-role beliefs. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the composite ASI and BS were positively correlated. One explanation for this may be that benevolent sexism serves as a coping strategy for women that embrace traditional gender roles. Protecting their gender-role beliefs may be easier for women if they accept seemingly positive stereotypes more than the hostile and less socially acceptable stereotypes.

Previous research does provide some possible explanations. First, the subgroup of women the survey participants are thinking about may influence their responses. For example, one study found that if respondents were thinking of a woman fulfilling traditional gender roles, such as a homemaker, they were more likely to agree with benevolent sexism beliefs. Furthermore, if women thought that the BS statements described them, they were more likely to agree with them. Since Traditional-Identified women by definition hold more traditional gender-role beliefs, then it is likely that many of these women felt that BS statements represented them. Furthermore, the same study found that self-described traditional women were more likely to apply hostile sexist statements to women who were nontraditional, such as feminists and career women.31

In other words, traditional women are more likely to identify and agree with benevolent sexism statements, and they are more likely to associate hostile sexist statements with women who do not conform to traditional gender roles. As Glick and Fiske stated, “Women who are hostile sexists are likely to be traditionalists who also hold negative views of nontraditional women because such women (e.g., feminists, career women) threaten to do away with the gender-role distinctions that are integral to traditional women’s identities.”32 This statement clearly reflects the fundamental difference between Traditional-Identified women and Egalitarian-Identified women articulated at the beginning of this chapter; this difference is not in the degree of connection a woman has to her gender group but in the relationship between that connection and her beliefs about appropriate gender roles. Traditional-Identified women feel a connection to other women—but to other women who hold similar gender-role beliefs, not women who reject those beliefs. The finding that for Traditional-Identified women, higher levels of benevolent sexism was associated with a belief in greater collective orientation highlights this difference between the two groups. For Traditional-Identified women, collective orientation is the belief that women must work together to protect their traditional views and the political policies that reflect those views.

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It should be clear at this point that women are not a monolithic group of voters and political party affiliation does not provide sufficient explanation for women’s political beliefs. By examining how women feel about their gender identity and their role in society, a more nuanced picture of women voters emerges. Women who consider their gender to be an important part of their identity are distinct from those who do not. Women who have egalitarian beliefs about gender roles are distinct from those with traditional beliefs. When we look at women in terms of these beliefs, we can better understand specific groups of women voters.

While political party affiliation is an important characteristic in understanding voters, their beliefs, and their candidate preferences, my analysis demonstrates that group identification and gender-role beliefs cross party lines, which may explain why women are often swing voters. As one might expect, Republican women tended to have more traditional gender-role beliefs than Democrats, but this differences was not nearly as large as one might expect. In fact, nearly one-third of Traditional-Identified women were Democrats. Furthermore, when looking at women who identify with their gender group, over one-quarter of those with egalitarian beliefs classify themselves as Republicans and only slightly less as Independents. Finally, when looking at political Independents, those most likely to be swing voters, we find a similar amount of women from each category, a finding that could help candidates target their messaging to female swing voters.

As with Rinehart’s 1992 analysis, this study of 21st-century women confirmed that there are two distinct categories of gender-identified women: the Egalitarian-Identified and the Traditional-Identified. Both types of Identified women consider what is best for the group of all women and believe that women have a unique perspective on the world. Furthermore, it is clear that the relationship between group identification and gender-role beliefs operate differently for these two groups of women. The profile of Egalitarian-Identified women is most similar to previous research on women voters, likely because much previous gender-consciousness research has assumed that gender group identification and consciousness were associated with egalitarian or feminist beliefs. Egalitarian-Identified women express feelings of polar affect, preference for their in-group, and collective orientation, a belief that women must work together to better their social position. These feelings of identification, feminist beliefs, polar affect, and collective orientation have been qualities established by much earlier research on feminist women voters.

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The most noteworthy findings of this study deal with the profile of Traditional-Identified women. First and foremost, even women with more traditional gender-role beliefs can identify with their gender group and possess gender consciousness. However, the motivating factors behind group identification and gender consciousness for Traditional-Identified women is very different from Egalitarian-Identified women. For Traditional-Identified women, gender identity is strongly linked to benevolent sexist beliefs, which is also related to polar affect. These women do feel connected to their gender group, and that group is an important part of how they understand their identity. This connection to their gender group is based on embracing traditional gender roles that may seem positive, such as believing that women and men complement each other through their differing traits and traditional divisions of labor.

Traditional-Identified and Egalitarian-Identified women are distinct groups of voters with differing motivations and beliefs. Candidates courting the votes of Egalitarian-Identified women may want to emphasize issues of greater concern to women with more egalitarian or feminist beliefs. Previous research has found that women with feminist beliefs who also identify with their gender group are more likely to support social programs and women’s issues (e.g., equal rights, abortion) and to dislike war, so candidates courting the votes of Egalitarian-Identified women may find success if they emphasize those issues in their campaign messaging.33

The earlier examples from Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 campaigns reflect this type of strategy, but female candidates are not the only ones who can utilize such a strategy. Barack Obama successfully targeted these women voters in 2012 in his campaign advertising. Obama’s ads included one titled “First Law” that touted his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, as well as several ads that highlighted the benefits of the Affordable Care Act to women’s health and ads that attacked Romney’s positions on abortion rights and insurance covered birth control.

Candidates courting Traditional-Identified women voters will want to emphasize issues of concern to women who value elements of traditional gender roles. For example, Traditional-Identified women are more likely to be concerned with issues that emphasize their unique and traditional roles as women, such as mothers, caretakers, and wives. Female candidates looking to gain votes from Traditional-Identified women should consider emphasizing their common gendered social roles (e.g., mother, wife) as well as issues that connect to those roles. These issues might include juvenile violence, teen pregnancy, drugs, and elder care.

Additionally, as has been demonstrated by Tea Party women in recent years, candidates can tie women’s traditional roles to a variety of issues Page 69  |  Top of Articlethat might not at first seem to be associated with traditional gender roles. Melissa Deckman, professor of public affairs at Washington College, notes that the Tea Party has successfully made the federal budget a women’s issue by arguing that women take care of their family budget and hence are best suited to address the federal budget. They have also tied the role of motherhood to protecting children from future government debt and a growing federal government that harms the traditional family.34 Strategies such as these are likely to be effective in persuading and mobilizing Traditional-Identified women voters. Some of these strategies can be seen in Romney’s unsuccessful 2012 campaign. Romney’s primary message to women was that the economy was the most important women’s issue, and he ran ads like the one titled “Sarah,” which featured a woman speaking of her concern about the debt left to her children.

There is no such thing as the “women’s vote,” but women voters are important in deciding the outcome of elections, particularly presidential elections. Candidates hoping to win over women voters must first know which women they can and should be targeting. Campaigning specifically to women voters is nothing new, but campaigns attempting to persuade women voters should take into account the importance of gender to those women’s identity as well as the gender role beliefs of those women. Understanding those qualities will help candidates best target their message to the women whose votes they hope to win. Furthermore, news media and political pundits should look beyond women as a monolithic voting bloc and instead examine the nuances among women voters. Those nuances are more complicated than soccer moms and Walmart moms, and they include deeply held beliefs about gender and society.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX7328500010