The GOP Has an Especially Feminine Face and Other Adventures in Physiognomy


Let’s hold hands as we stroll through this freshly-laid scientific minefield — Republican women in the House of Representatives generally, suggests a new study in the growing “social vision” branch of social science, have more “stereotypically feminine features” than their Democratic counterparts. Not only that, but Democratic men have more stereotypically masculine features than Republican men, meaning, ipso facto, that the GOP is, in fact, the real party for ladies. These are the things that science can teach us.

Of course, what this study by UCLA authors Kerri Johnson and Colleen M. Carpinella really suggests is that the overwhelming stereotypical femininity of Republican women reveals the key some of the party’s core social values. Explains Johnson,

The Democratic Party is associated with social liberal policies that aim to diminish gender disparities, whereas the Republican Party is associated with socially conservative policy issues that tend to bolster traditional sex roles. These policy platforms are manifest in each party’s image — apparently also in the physical characteristics exhibited by politicians.

The Republican Party leadership, according to this logic, would have a vested political interest in supporting and promoting women who seemed to fit squarely into a gender normative universe in which women all look a certain way. “We suspect,” says Johnson, “that conservative constituents demand that their politicians be not just competent but also gender-typical, especially among women. As a result, we think these women may find themselves in a double bind.” This double-bind is that people tend to view women either as competent or feminine, not, unfortunately, both, which makes the journey of up-and-coming women in the GOP especially arduous.

At this point, you have just a tiny, little quibble with this study and that is: What the fuck does “stereotypically feminine” mean and how could anyone assess this? In addition to compiling a lot of persuasive evidence that more Americans are making off-the-cuff, uninformed judgments about politicians based strictly on appearance ( you don’t say!), Johnson and Carpinella came up with a byzantine way for figuring out first how precious few members of the House of Representatives anyone ever really sees, then how often UCLA undergraduates successfully guessed that a congresswoman was Republican when that woman’s femininity ranking was very high.

First, Johnson and Carpinella fed pictures of 434 seldom-seen House-dwellers (the House of Representatives, they reasoned, was more likely to yield a high number politicians that, for lack exposure, might as well have been aldermen and comptrollers in various logging towns across the American northwest) into a magical femininity-evaluating machine. This device, actually called the FaceGen Modeler, boasts a database of hundreds of scanned male and female faces, allowing researchers to assess how the details of any one face approach the average for either gender. Facial features (there are hundreds) such as the shape of the jaw, the location of eyebrows, the placement of cheek bones, the shape of eyes, the contour of the forehead, and the fullness of the lips help the machine make a determination about a particular face, placing it somewhere on the scale of super masculine (-40) to super feminine (+40). Johnson and Carpinella didn’t include any of the baubles, hairstyles, or makeup in their evaluation, striving for some semblance of objectivity in determining what our society collectively agrees is masculine or feminine about the way a person’s bone-structure impresses us.

In addition to party affiliation, the study took into account each politician’s DW-NOMINATE score, which purports to show how closely a politician hews to the party line (i.e. how conservative or liberal each politician is). Johnson and Carpinella figured that, since the GOP is more frequently supporting policies that uphold anachronistic gender roles, Republican women would, overall, score more feminine and Republican men more masculine. Not so! Republican dudes were not as square-jawed and heavy-browed as their Democratic rivals, perhaps, suggests Carpinella, because “their [Republican men’s] policy advocacy and leadership roles may already confer these characteristics on them.”

Meanwhile, Republican women rated, on average, twice as “sex-typical” as Democratic women, and, among conservative lawmakers of both genders, women were 13 points more feminine on average than men were masculine. 120 UCLA undergraduates helped confirm some of these findings. According to ScienceDaily, Johnson and Carpinella showed undergrads photos of the same 434 politicians and this is what happened:

When the undergraduates guessed that a politician was Republican, their judgments were 98 percent more likely to be accurate for women with the highest rankings for femininity; the accuracy of their judgments increased the more feminine the politician’s face. When the undergraduates guessed that a politician was Democrat, their judgments were 58 percent less likely to be accurate for more feminine-looking women, and the accuracy of their judgments decreased the more feminine the politician’s face.

It all really comes down to branding, the study suggests, but more research is required to truly understand how it is that the GOP has a more feminine face. It might also be helpful to figure out what, exactly, constitutes an “objectively” — and it’s really sort of charming that people still bandy that word about like it means something — feminine face, but this is the study we’ve been dealt and its implications seem to corroborate a lot of recent evidence that the GOP would very much like to find out where Doc Brown is hiding out so he can take us all on a DeLorean ride back to the fifties, when ice cream came in three flavors and Ronald Reagan didn’t have the nuclear launch codes.

The GOP Has a Feminine Face, Study Finds [ScienceDaily]

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