Last year, Newsweek magazine was criticized for its photo choice featuring Michele Bachmann on its cover. In the 2008 presidential election season, the looks of Sarah Palin and Hillary Rodham Clinton had a media presence as well.
Now, a report from the University of California-Los Angeles has taken a look at female politicians from both parties to judge their femininity and how it could be linked to pre-judgments about them made by voters.
What the research found was that Republican women were more likely to have what would be considered feminine facial features, whereas Democratic women "strayed from stereotypical gender norms," as the UCLA press release described it. The researchers found that students, who were not informed as to the voting records of female politicians, when shown portraits, identified those with more feminine faces accurately as conservatives.
"I suppose we could call it the 'Michele Bachmann effect,'" Kerri Johnson, a senior author for the study and assistant professor of communication studies and psychology, said in a statement. "At least when it comes to female politicians, assessing how much a face reflects gender norms may be one way of guessing political affiliations."
Bachmann was among the female Republican politicians included in the study to rank as highly feminine. Representatives Kay Granger (Texas–District 12) and Cathy Rodgers McMorris (Washington–District 5) also were reported as some of the most feminine looking.
To conduct the study, the researchers used members from the House of Representatives and software to quantify how much the portrait of each member matched the "average" for each gender:
The model compared each representative's face to the norm on more than 100 subtle dimensions, including the shape of the jaw, the location of eyebrows, the placement of cheek bones, the shape of eyes, the contour of the forehead, the fullness of the lips and the distance between such features as the bottom of the nose and the top of the lip. Armed with these dimensions, the researchers were able to arrive at an amalgamated score assessing the extent to which the face exhibited characteristics common to men or to women.
This was then compared to the politicians' DW-NOMINATE score, which the press release states is a scale using voting records to establish how conservative or liberal a politician is.
The conservative female politicians were found twice as likely to be "sex-typical" than liberal female politicians.
To further confirm the correlation between looks and political affiliation, the researchers surveyed 120 undergraduates with portraits of all members of the House. If a more liberal politician had a gender-typical face, students were more likely to guess her political affiliation incorrectly.
While looking more feminine and holding a more conservative voting record seemed to hold up for female politicians, this was not the case for male members of the House. Looking more masculine, did not have a strong correlation with political affiliation. Research did find that, on average, male Republicans scored as less masculine in appearance according to the software.
"It may be unnecessary for Republican men to exhibit masculinity through their appearance," graduate student and lead author Colleen Carpinella said in a university statement. "Their policy advocacy and leadership roles may already confer these characteristics on them."
Johnson said that she thinks the reason there is such a difference in look of liberal and conservative female Representatives is due to the Democratic Party looking to diminish gender disparity with policies and the Republican Party supporting policies with that "tend to bolster traditional sex roles."
"These policy platforms are manifest in each party's image — apparently also in the physical characteristics exhibited by politicians," Johnson said. "We suspect that conservative constituents demand that their politicians be not just competent but also gender-typical, especially among women. As a result, we think these women may find themselves in a double bind."
These findings will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Read more details of the study on the university website here.
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(H/T: Huffington Post)