Women who have experienced gender discrimination report higher levels of political participation and are more likely to vote in the general election. This connection, however, is not consistent across women’s ideological spectrum, according to recent research by the University of Georgia.
Women who describe themselves as liberal channel their efforts to combat sexism in different ways than their conservative counterparts.
Writing in the journal American Politics Research, Alexa Bankert, assistant professor of political science at UGA, found that liberal women – when experiencing discrimination – turn toward direct political action like volunteering for a campaign, while conservative women do not show a similar increase in their political engagement. In her article, Bankert suggests that conservative women might look for other, less overtly political, support systems such as religious communities.
Much higher rates
Key to the findings are differences between what liberal and conservative women categorize as sexual harassment. Initially, Bankert said she expected to see that both liberal and conservative women report similar levels of sexism, but that was not the case. In fact, Bankert saw that liberal women reported experiencing sexism at much higher rates than conservative women.
“I further investigated that pattern,” she said. “And I show that conservative women have a much narrower understanding of sexism than their liberal counterparts.”.
In the surveys that provide the basis of Bankert’s data collection, she presented respondents with a list of 16 possible sexist behaviors such as catcalling, unwanted touching or pressure for sexual favors. Respondents were then asked to mark every behavior they thought of as sexist. For liberal women, 13 of the 16 behaviors were believed to be sexist whereas among conservative women, only half of those 16 behaviors were considered sexist.
Our personal lives and beliefs really impact the way we interact with the world, and in this case, they impact our ideas of what fair and equal treatment of men and women really looks like.” — Alexa Bankert
Bankert found further differences between how liberal and conservative women view the origins of sexism. Among conservative women, the perception dominates that sexist behavior consists of isolated incidents while liberal women view sexism as a more systemic problem. This might explain why experienced sexism amplifies liberal women’s political engagement but there is not a similar participatory impetus among conservative women, Bankert said.
The implications of this research are far-reaching and topical. “I think this research shows that the personal and political spheres are very closely intertwined,” Bankert said. “Our personal lives and beliefs really impact the way we interact with the world, and in this case, they impact our ideas of what fair and equal treatment of men and women really looks like.”