Society for Anthropological Sciences
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Record numbers of women are running for and entering U.S. political office. A partisan divide—most of them are Democrats—brings up questions about how political orientation and attitudes about gender and leadership interact. To explore those questions, I present findings from my ongoing dissertation research analyzing and comparing discourses about gender and leadership that circulate in U.S.-based partisan and nonpartisan women’s candidate training programs.
Political training programs for women are considered an important strategy for achieving gender parity in public office. Taking an ethnographic and interview-based approach, I study candidate training programs as part of complex networks of political action and examine constructions of gender and leadership expressed by practitioners. How do these organizations fit into the broader social space of political action, including local party nomination systems? What understandings of power and messaging circulate within them?
Drawing from feminist anthropology and political science scholarship, I consider how training programs promote emergent understandings of women’s leadership while continuing to circulate representations of women leaders that align with traditional gender norms like heterosexuality and motherhood. I examine how assumptions about women’s psychological predispositions (i.e. lack of confidence) informing training strategies may elide structural barriers to political participation (Piscopo 2018). In exploring practitioners’ understandings of women’s political representation and visions for a future in which more women hold public office, this project follows Ortner’s (2016) call for ethnographic studies of social movements that help us explore the range of ways individuals challenge the existing order and envision the future.