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Op/Ed: Women Who Ran for Congress Avoided Women Issues in Their Ads

Communications Researchers Find Female Candidates Instead Projected Power

By Aya Hussein Farhat By Matthew Salzano By Skye de Saint Felix

Elaine Luria video screenshot

Screenshot of "Elaine Luria for Congress: Sea Change" via YouTube

When Democrat Elaine Luria ran for a U.S. House seat in Virginia, she highlighted her military career in the Navy.

The 116th Congress opened yesterday with a record number of women, but the winners didn’t get there by playing the “gender card,” according to research from UMD’s Department of Communication.

Professor Shawn Parry-Giles and doctoral students Aya Hussein Farhat, Matthew Salzano and Skye de Saint Felix studied the political ads of 25 female candidates in 2018—both Democrat and Republican—and found that they generally avoided what are seen as “women’s issues” such as abortion, pay equity, sexual violence and harassment, according to an essay published today in The Conversation. Instead, the candidates typically focused on their career achievements:

These ads reveal that using their gender as an advantage, trying to promote women’s issues, or calling out sexist behavior are still a challenge for women in politics. The ads in our study reflect the cautionary words that Democratic pollster Celinda Lake offers to women candidates: “Traditional gender roles remain powerful, influencing what we perceive to be acceptable and appropriate behavior for men and women.”

In 2018, as The Washington Post reports, some candidates charged their opponents with “sexist” behavior while others more likely used “surrogates” to issue such accusations. Candidates stayed away from such controversial accusations in the ads we studied.

Read more at The Conversation.

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