Freeing Women Political Leaders from their Gender Stereotypes

Judith A Baxter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Despite career progress made by women leaders in the professions (Morley 2014), the right-of-centre news media continues to construct women in reductive ways by foregrounding sexual aspects of their identities. Moss Kanter (1993: 211) classically argued that leading women are targeted because they are highly visible as people who are different, and yet they are not permitted the individuality of ‘their own unique, non-stereotypical characteristics’. They are often women in a masculine domain, who are perceived to aspire inappropriately to the privileges of the dominant order. In this chapter, I will explore how news media discourse mobilises stereotypes of women leaders such as the queen bee, the seductress, the iron maiden and the mother in order to ‘reduce’ women by inappropriately sexualising them. Despite this, I will argue that news media representations are rarely uniformly reductive; they provide gaps and ambiguities that allow feminist critique of dominant readings.

One way to achieve critique of leadership stereotypes is to utilise feminist poststructuralist discourse analysis (FPDA) to read news media texts ‘against the grain’. Resistant readings can rupture the text to produce multi-faceted, more empowering constructions of women’s plural identities. The chapter will examine the sexualised constructions of political leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukraine President Yulia Tymoshenko and Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon. The data consist of a small corpus of newspaper feature articles on each of these leaders drawn from a range of UK national broadsheet and tabloid newspapers that cross the political spectrum. The new range of strategies for reading gendered newspaper articles ‘against the grain’ will be proposed to help liberate scholars from viewing women leaders as ‘trapped’ within their dominant gender stereotypes in news discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChallenging Leadership Stereotypes through Discourse
Subtitle of host publicationPower, Management and Gender
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Leadership
  • Gender
  • Stereotypes
  • Representation
  • Discourses
  • FPDA


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