Partisanship as a motivation for incivility against women in politics

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White, Benjamin Tracy

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Politicians who use social media often experience incivility from the public. Anecdotal evidence and recent scholarship find that female politicians are particularly likely to experience incivility online. Although women are no longer a rarity in politics, traditional gender norms still portray politics as a masculine domain. In breaking these norms, women in politics experience incivility, online abuse, and other forms of psychological or symbolic violence. However, we do not yet understand how partisanship shapes female politicians’ experiences with incivility on social media. Partisanship is a strong social identity, encouraging affective polarization and outright hostility against those from the opposing party. Recent work suggests that extreme politicians are more likely to experience incivility, but I expect that the effect of partisan extremity on incivility is stronger for women. Women in politics experience a variety of sanctions as they break traditional gender norms, but gender scholars argue that these sanctions are more likely when individuals can justify their behavior. In an age of partisan hostility, partisanship may allow individuals to justify incivility against female politicians across the aisle. I examine approximately 660,000 tweets sent to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in October 2019, and in October 2020 during the height of the presidential election campaign. Contrary to expectations, extreme female members are no more likely to experience incivility compared to moderate female members, and partisanship generally does not increase the risk of experiencing incivility. These null results persist even when considering data from two different points in time (during the 2020 campaign and a year prior), and despite operationalizing incivility in three different ways. Null results notwithstanding, this study offers an informative first look at how partisanship affects member’s experiences with incivility



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