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Prof’s study discusses ‘gendered political socialization’

A new study has found that children living in the United States perceive politics as a “male-dominated” space, according to a study co-written by Jill Greenlee (POL). The study also found with increasing age girls perceive political leadership as a “man’s world,” according to the study


As a mother of two young girls, our research has led me to spend more time pointing out women leaders in many different fields to my children,” said Greenlee in an interview with Forbes about the study.  


The study cited the 2016 presidential election between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The authors cite Hillary Clinton’s ad campaign which featured young children watching Trump make “offensive and sexist” comments.


The ad’s message was simple: children are watching and learning. What the ad does not draw out explicitly is that children are watching and learning about gender, politics and how they interact,” according to the authors of the study. 


In the study, the authors looked at 1,604 children living in different regions of the country. The sample was examined in 2017 and 2018 through interviews and surveys of children in grades one through six, according to the study. Children were asked to complete tasks such as drawing a political leader and answering a questionnaire about interest in politics. In the questionnaire, the researchers looked at attitudes regarding children’s perceptions of political leaders, exposure to political events and political ambition. 


They looked at traditional gender socialization, which is when children internalize gender stereotypes and manifest them into their own choice of careers. They also looked at when political socialization occurs in children, or the age when children are exposed to political concepts and ideas, according to the study. 


The authors of the study merge the ideas of gender socialization and political socialization to create “gendered political socialization,” according to the study. The authors explain “gendered political socialization” as when children infer that politics are designated for men, which conflicts with the designated gender roles assigned to girls, wrote the authors


It is theorized by the authors that sex differences in politics emerge once children learn that American politics are dominated by men, according to the authors. The results found that with age, girls are less likely to picture women as leaders, according to the study, and they tend to have lower interest or ambition in politics in comparison to boys. 


The results of the study also suggest that as children get older they internalize societal gender expectations and will consequently shift their interest towards a profession that aligns with the gendered stereotype that matches their sex. While sex differences regarding political ambitions emerge in childhood, the contrast becomes greater at older ages as boys and girls develop their own complex understanding of the United States political system, according to the study.


School, media, families and peers can all be associated with a child’s perception of politics as a male-dominated domain, according to the study. As girls become more aware of the association between politics and masculinity they become less likely to see themselves in politics, as it breaks from traditional gender roles.  


One way to lessen the gap between boys’ and girls’ political interest is to have more women serve in politics and act as role models for young girls to pique their interest in the otherwise male-dominated domain, according to the study


The authors of the study note that gender norms in politics are being broken, citing that the women’s electoral college representation is the highest it has ever been and recognizing female figures such as Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who hold high political positions. This type of representation can be important to breaking sex-linked stereotypes children learn regarding politics. Though, the authors note that sex-linked inequalities have not been eradicated and there are still gaps in politics and political interests on the basis of sex.  


Moreover, the visibility of figures like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren and Greta Thunberg may expand children’s notions of the characteristics and professional paths that have long been associated with political leaders,” wrote the authors of the study. 


However, the authors wrote that broader trends of having more female representation in the American political system may slowly shift the context of the gender norms around the domain, and will not rapidly get young girls interested in politics. Interventions could also be used in a school setting to further involve girls in politics, similar to interventions run to get girls involved in STEM. 


In the Forbes interview, Greenlee said that “more research is needed to further explore the ways in which multiple identities play a role in how children think about leadership traits.” According to Greenlee, research should further look at the impact of race, ethnicity and gender to see how that affects children’s view on politics and political leaders. 


Greenlee is an associate professor in Politics and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, according to her university bio page. In her work, Greenlee examines the relationship between motherhood and women’s political attitudes, according to her page. Greenlee’s work has been featured in journals such as Political Psychology, Politics and Gender, P.S. Political Science and Politics, Politics, Groups and Identities, Public Opinion Quarterly and Political Behavior.


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