Not My Role Model: How Gender Norms Overturn Symbolic Effects

Posted: 2 Feb 2022 Last revised: 29 Jun 2022

See all articles by Tanushree Goyal

Tanushree Goyal

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: November 16, 2020


Does seeing women politicians increase women’s feeling of political efficacy in patriarchal societies? I investigate this question using a novel repeated-measures experiment conducted in the natural experiment of gender quotas in India. Citizens are exposed to a realistic treatment — photographs that signal the gender of their as-if-randomly assigned representative — in the second survey-wave. Women who see women pho- tographs report negative change in political efficacy compared to women who see a man’s photograph, but only higher-caste women and women who have no political con- nections outside their family. Findings suggest that women politicians evoke backlash as they threaten women’s traditional identity. Consequently, randomized information about gender quotas, by reconciling women’s political presence with existing norms, neutralizes this backlash. Findings suggest that gender norms can hinder symbolic ef- fects, but, paradoxically, gender quotas can lower backlash in contexts where norms about women’s traditional roles remain entrenched.

Suggested Citation

Goyal, Tanushree, Not My Role Model: How Gender Norms Overturn Symbolic Effects (November 16, 2020). Available at SSRN:

Tanushree Goyal (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Robertson Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1013
United States

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