Not My Role Model: How Gender Norms Overturn Symbolic Effects
Posted: 2 Feb 2022 Last revised: 29 Jun 2022
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.
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