Archive for Sunday, January 29, 2006

Gender gap narrows in political debates

Study: Male candidates using more ‘feminine style’

January 29, 2006


Women are on the attack, and men talk about education.

The ways male and female politicians present themselves in debates is blurring, according to a Kansas University professor who has researched national political debates.

"There simply are not a lot of ways in which candidates are presenting themselves differently based on their gender," said Mary Banwart, assistant professor of communication studies.

And, according to some in Kansas politics, it's women who changed the game.

"I think women changed the rules when they came into the political arena," said Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, a Lawrence Republican. "The process is more inclusive now. The process is a more open debate. The public gets to see how the decisions are made. I think that's healthy."

Banwart and Mitchell McKinney at the University of Missouri studied debates for the 2000 gubernatorial races in New Hampshire and Montana and two U.S. Senate races, including the 2002 Missouri race between Sen. Jean Carnahan and U.S. Rep. Jim Talent.

They studied candidates' performances in televised debates. There's little research in this area, Banwart said, partly because for many years there weren't enough women running.

Women today make up 14 percent of members in the U.S. House and Senate.

Among the researchers' findings: Male candidates used what researchers call "feminine style." They spoke in a more personal tone, using phrases such as "we're all in this together."

Male candidates also picked up traditional women's issues such as education and health care.

Female candidates, on the other hand, showed themselves to be aggressive and tough - styles that traditionally have been considered the domain of men.

The conclusion: Men and women are approaching these debates with the same presentation styles.

Times have changed, said state Rep. Jo Ann Pottorff, R-Wichita. On the state level, Pottorff said, more politicians have picked up those issues once considered to be women's.

"I think people are being receptive to more issues," she said.

That could be because the importance of the issues has changed, Praeger said. Health and education get a lot of attention because they are big budget items, she said.

Praeger also said she thought the media - as well as women - had played a role in changing politics, calling for more openness.

"I don't consider it a man's world," Pottorff said of politics today.

But, according to Banwart, women have a ways to go.

"I still think we have a lot of changes that need to be made," she said. "The playing field is still not completely level."

In a 2005 poll conducted by Roper Public Affairs and commissioned by The White House Project, 79 percent of respondents said they would be comfortable with a female U.S. president.

The poll also asked whether people thought a woman would handle issues of foreign policy, homeland security and the economy in a fashion no different from a man. In each area, the number of respondents who said "yes" was in the 50 to 55 percent range.

Elizabeth Baker Kinch, a Democrat who served in the Legislature from 1983 to 1992 and on the State Board of Education, said women had made progress but problems remained.

"There's still an enormous level of sexism that's out there," she said.

An example, she said, is a proposal to force registered sex offenders to put pink license plates on their autos.

"There isn't a color in the world that's more desirable to a little girl than pink," Baker Kinch said.

Baker Kinch was once a member of a group of political women that called themselves the "Steel Magnolias" and fought for children's issues.

She said she was not sure whether women had changed politics.

"I think the greed and the avarice are still present," she said.


Jamesaust 12 years, 4 months ago

A proposal to force registered sex offenders to put pink license plates on their autos is an example of sexism.

Count me as one who doesn't see a connection to "an enormous level of sexism." Just sounds like a stupid idea to me.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.