Cultural Explanations for Men’s Dominance of National Leadership Worldwide

  • Elizabeth A. Yates
  • Melanie M. Hughes
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Political Leadership book series (PSPL)


Women’s election to national executive leadership is a rare occurrence. The overwhelming majority of presidents and prime ministers have been—and still are—men. One way to make sense of men’s dominance of executive political office is to look at the role of culture. Our beliefs about how men and women should behave, and how they are the same or different, benefit men politically in myriad ways. And yet, men’s privilege is not entirely automatic; men candidates and politicians also deploy masculinity, embodying the cultural practices and expressions of manhood. Various forms of instability, including political transitions toward democracy, can disrupt these dynamics and create spaces for women to rise. Stereotypically feminine traits, including the perceptions that women are less corrupt, can mean that women candidates for president or prime minister are taken more seriously. Still, more often than not, even in these contexts, men are ultimately elected to lead.


Prime Minister Gender Ideology Hegemonic Masculinity National Leadership Feminine Trait 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adams, M. (2008). Liberia’s election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and women’s executive leadership in Africa. Politics & Gender, 4(3), 475–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvarez, S. E. (1999). Advocating feminism: The Latin American feminist NGO ‘boom’. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 1(2), 181–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, N. F. (2013). Benazir Bhutto and dynastic politics: Her father’s daughter, her people’s sister. In M. A. Genovese & J. S. Steckenrider (Eds.), Women as national leaders: Studies in gender and governing (pp. 80–109). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Bardall, G. (2011). Breaking the mold: Understanding gender and electoral violence. IFES White Paper [pdf]. Washington, D.C.: IFES. Retrieved May 23, 2015, from
  5. Barnes, T. D., & Beaulieu, E. (2014). Gender stereotypes and corruption: How candidates affect perceptions of election fraud. Politics & Gender, 10(3), 365–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bauer, G., & Burnet, J. E. (2013). Gender quotas, democracy, and women’s political representation in Africa: Some insights from Botswana and autocratic Rwanda. Women’s Studies International Forum, 41(2), 103–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. BBC News. (2005, November 23). Profile: Liberia’s ‘iron lady’. BBC News [online]. Retrieved May 23, 2015, from
  8. Beasley, C. (2008). Rethinking hegemonic masculinity in a globalizing world. Men and Masculinities, 11(1), 86–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beckwith, K. (2014). From party leader to prime minister? Gender and leadership contests in West Europe. ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, April 10–15, Salamanca, Spain.Google Scholar
  10. Borland, E., & Sutton, B. (2007). Quotidian disruption and women’s activism in times of crisis, Argentina 2002–2003. Gender and Society, 21(5), 700–722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burns, S., Eberhardt, L., & Merolla, J. L. (2013). What is the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Presentations of palin and gender stereotypes in the 2008 presidential election. Political Research Quarterly, 66(3), 687–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of sex. New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  14. Cannen, E. (2013). US and Venezuelan presidential masculinities in the first decade of the ‘war on terror’. Doctoral dissertation, University of Technology Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  15. Carreras, M. (2012). The rise of outsiders in Latin America, 1980–2010: An institutionalist perspective. Comparative Political Studies, 45(12), 1451–1482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coe, K., Domke, D., Bagley, M. M., Cunningham, S., & van Leuven, N. (2007). Masculinity as political strategy: George W. Bush, the ‘war on terrorism,’ and an echoing press. Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy, 29(1), 31–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Coulomb-Gully, M. (2009). Beauty and the beast bodies politic and political representation in the 2007 French presidential election campaign. European Journal of Communication, 24(2), 203–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Connell, R. (2002). Gender. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  19. Connell, R., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cornwall, A. (2016). Introduction: Masculinities under neoliberalism. In A. Cornwall, F. Karioris, & N. Lindisfarne (Eds.), Masculinities under neoliberalism (pp. 1–29). London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  21. Craske, N. (1998). Remasculinization and the neoliberal state in Latin America. In V. Randall & G. Waylen (Eds.), Gender, politics and the state (pp. 100–120). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. D’Amico, F. (1995). Women national leaders. In F. D’Amico & P. R. Beckman (Eds.), Women in world politics: An introduction (pp. 15–30). London: Bergin and Garvey.Google Scholar
  23. D’Amico, F., & Beckman, P. R. (1994). Women, gender, and world politics: Perspectives, policies, and prospects. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.Google Scholar
  24. Derichs, C., & Thompson, M. R. (2013). Dynasties and female political leaders in Asia: Gender, power and pedigree. Zurich: LIT Verlag.Google Scholar
  25. dos Santos, P. G., & Jalalzai, F. (2014). The mother of Brazil: Gender roles, campaign strategy, and the election of Brazil’s first female president. In M. Raicheva-Stover & E. Ibroscheva (Eds.), Women in politics and media perspectives from nations in transition (pp. 167–180). New York: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
  26. Ducat, S. J. (2004). The wimp factor. Gender gaps, holy wars, and the anxious politics of masculinity. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  27. Duerst-Lahti, G. (1997). Reconceiving theories of power: Consequences of masculinism in the executive branch. In M. A. Borrelli & J. M. Martin (Eds.), The other elites (pp. 11–32). Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  28. Duerst-Lahti, G. (2014). Presidential elections: Gendered space and the case of 2012. In S. J. Carroll & R. L. Fox (Eds.), Gender and elections: Shaping the future of American politics (pp. 12–42). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.Google Scholar
  30. Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity: Theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109, 573–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Enloe, C. (2014). Bananas, beaches and bases (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  32. Escobar-Lemmon, M., & Taylor-Robinson, M. M. (2009). Getting to the top career paths of women in Latin American cabinets. Political Research Quarterly, 62(4), 685–699.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fallon, K. M., Swiss, L., & Viterna, J. (2012). Resolving the democracy paradox: Democratization and women’s legislative representation in developing nations, 1975 to 2009. American Sociological Review, 77(3), 380–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ferree, M. M. (2006). Angela Merkel: What does it mean to run as a woman? German Politics & Society, 24(1), 93–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Franceschet, S., Krook, M. L., & Piscopo, J. (Eds.). (2012). The impact of gender quotas. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Franceschet, S., & Piscopo, J. M. (2014). Sustaining gendered practices? Power, parties, and elite political networks in Argentina. Comparative Political Studies, 47(1), 86–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Fulton, S. A. (2012). Running backwards and in high heels: The gendered quality gap and incumbent electoral success. Political Research Quarterly, 65(2), 303–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gal, S., & Kligman, G. (2000). The politics of gender after socialism: A comparative historical essay. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Genovese, M. A., & Steckenrider, J. S. (Eds.). (2013). Women as national leaders: Studies in gender and governing. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Goetz, A. M. (2007). Political cleaners: Women as the new anti-corruption force? Development and Change, 38(1), 87–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hassim, S. (2010). Perverse consequences? The impact of quotas for women on democratization in Africa. In I. Shapiro, S. C. Stokes, E. J. Wood, & A. S. Kirshner (Eds.), Political representation (pp. 211–235). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hawkins, K. A. (2010). Venezuela’s Chavismo and populism in comparative perspective. New York: Cambridge University.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Htun, M. (2005). Why women, but not Blacks or Indians, got quotas in politics in Latin America. Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 7–10, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  44. Hughes, M. M. (2009). Armed conflict, international linkages, and women’s parliamentary representation in developing nations. Social Problems, 56(1), 174–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hughes, M. M., Krook, M. L., & Paxton, P. (2015). Transnational women’s activism and the global diffusion of gender quotas. International Studies Quarterly, 59(2), 357–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). (2015). Women in politics: 2015. [online] Retrieved June 1, 2015, from
  47. Jalalzai, F. (2013). Shattered, cracked or firmly intact? Women and the executive glass ceiling worldwide. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Jaquette, J. S., & Wolchik, S. L. (Eds.). (1998). Women and democracy: Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Katz, J. (2012). Leading men: Presidential campaigns and the politics of manhood. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books.Google Scholar
  50. Kimmel, M. (2003). Globalization and its malcontents: The gendered moral and political economy of terrorism. International Sociology, 18(3), 603–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kittilson, M. C., & Fridkin, K. (2008). Gender, candidate portrayals and election campaigns: A comparative perspective. Politics & Gender, 4(3), 371–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Krook, M. L., & O’Brien, D. Z. (2012). All the president’s men? The appointment of female cabinet ministers worldwide. Journal of Politics, 74(3), 840–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kunovich, S., & Paxton, P. (2005). Pathways to power: The role of political parties in women’s national political representation. The American Journal of Sociology, 111(2), 505–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lawless, J. L., & Fox, R. L. (2010). It still takes a candidate: Why women don’t run for office. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Maier, E., & Lebon, N. (Eds.). (2010). Women’s activism in Latin America and the Caribbean: Engendering social justice, democratizing citizenship. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Mainwaring, S., Bejarano, A. M., & Pizarro Leongómez, E. (2006). The crisis of democratic representation in the Andes. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Matland, R. E., & Montgomery, K. A. (Eds.). (2003). Women’s access to political power in post-communist Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Messerschmidt, J. W. (2010). Hegemonic masculinities and camouflaged politics: Unmasking the bush dynasty and its war against Iraq. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Messner, M. (2007). The masculinity of the governator: Muscle and compassion in American politics. Gender & Society, 21(4), 461–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Montecinos, V. (2001). Feminists and technocrats in the democratization of Latin America: A prolegomenon. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 15(1), 175–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Moore, A. J., & Dewberry, D. (2012). The masculine image of presidents as sporting figures: A public relations perspective. SAGE Open, 2(3), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Murray, R. (Ed.). (2010a). Cracking the highest glass ceiling: A global comparison of women’s campaigns for executive office. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.Google Scholar
  63. Murray, R. (2010b). Introduction: Gender stereotypes and media coverage of women candidates. In R. Murray (Ed.), Cracking the highest glass ceiling: A global comparison of women’s campaigns for executive office (pp. 3–28). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.Google Scholar
  64. Murray, R. (Ed.). (2014). Quotas for men: Reframing gender quotas as a means of improving representation for all. American Political Science Review, 108(3), 520–532.Google Scholar
  65. Nichols, E. G. (2014). Ultra-feminine women of power: Beauty and the state in Argentina. In M. Raicheva-Stover & E. Ibroscheva (Eds.), Women in politics and media perspectives from nations in transition (pp. 249–264). New York: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
  66. O’Brien, D. Z. (2015). Rising to the top: Gender, political performance, and party leadership in parliamentary democracies. American Journal of Political Science, 59(4), 1022–1039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pascoe, C. J. (2007). Dude you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  68. Paxton, P., & Hughes, M. M. (2016). Women, politics, and power: A global perspective (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  69. Paxton, P., Hughes, M. M., & Green, J. (2006). The international women’s movement and women’s political representation, 1893–2003. American Sociological Review, 71(6), 898–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Paxton, P., Hughes, M. M., & Painter, M. (2010). Growth in women’s political representation: A longitudinal exploration of democracy, electoral system and gender quotas. European Journal of Political Research, 49(1), 25–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Paxton, P., & Kunovich, S. (2003). Women’s political representation: The importance of ideology. Social Forces, 82(1), 87–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Polletta, F. (2004). Culture is not just in your head. In J. Goodwin & J. M. Jasper (Eds.), Rethinking social movements: Structure, meaning, and emotion (pp. 97–110). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  73. Puwar, N. (2004). Space invaders: Race, gender and bodies out of place. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  74. Raicheva-Stover, M., & Ibroscheva, E. (Eds.). (2014). Women in politics and media perspectives from nations in transition. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
  75. Ridgeway, C. L. (2001). Gender, status, and leadership. Journal of Social Issues, 57(4), 637–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rueschemeyer, M. (1994). Difficulties and opportunities in the transition period: Concluding observations. In M. Rueschemeyer (Ed.), Women in the politics of postcommunist Eastern Europe (pp. 225–237). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
  77. Saint-Germain, M. (2013). Women in power in Nicaragua: Myth and reality. In M. A. Genovese & J. S. Steckenrider (Eds.), Women as national leaders: Studies in gender and governing (pp. 110–143). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  78. Schwindt-Bayer, L. A. (2006). Still supermadres? Gender and the policy priorities of Latin American legislators. American Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 570–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schwindt-Bayer, L. A. (2010). Political power and women’s representation in Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sperling, V. (2014). Sex, politics, and putin: Gender, activism, and political legitimacy in Russia. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Starck, K., & Sauer, B. (2014). Political masculinities: Introduction. In K. Starck & B. Sauer (Eds.), A man’s world? Political masculinities in literature and culture (pp. 3–10). Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.Google Scholar
  82. Tamale, S. (1999). When hens begin to crow: Gender and parliamentary politics in Uganda. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  83. Thomas, G., & Adams, M. (2010). Breaking the final glass ceiling: The influence of gender in the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Michelle Bachelet. Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, 31(2), 105–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Thompson, M., & Lennartz, L. (2006). The making of chancellor Merkel. German Politics, 15(1), 99–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tripp, A. M. (2015). Women and power in post-conflict Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Viterna, J. (2013). Women in war: The micro-processes of mobilization in El Salvador. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Viterna, J., & Fallon, K. M. (2008). Democratization, women’s movements, and gender-equitable states: A framework for comparison. American Sociological Review, 73(4), 668–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Waylen, G. (1994). Women and democratization: Conceptualizing gender relations in transition politics. World Politics, 46(3), 327–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Waylen, G. (2007). Engendering transitions: Women’s mobilization, institutions and gender outcomes. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Waylen, G. (2014). Informal institutions, institutional change, and gender equality. Political Research Quarterly, 67(1), 212–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Wiliarty, S. E. (2008). Chancellor Angela Merkel: A sign of hope or the exception that proves the rule? Politics and Gender, 4(3), 485–496.Google Scholar
  92. Wuokko, M. (2011). Sport, body and power: Reassessing the myth of President Kekkonen. Nordic Journal for Masculinity Studies, 6(2), 124–140.Google Scholar
  93. Young, H. (2013). One of us (Final ed.). London: Pan Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations