Union professor honored for work in gender socialization research

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Zoe Oxley, professor of political science, is part of a research team awarded the 2018 Elsie Hillman Prize from the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.

The winning project was titled “Political Socialization and Early Gender Gaps in Images of Political Leaders, Political Knowledge, and Interest in Politics.”

The team also includes professors Mirya Holman and J. Celeste Lay of Tulane University, Angie Bos from College of Wooster and Jill Greenlee of Brandeis University.

The research explores early political socialization with an eye toward identifying when gendered images of political leaders form as well as when gender gaps in political knowledge and interest emerge.

Socialization research has identified that gender gaps in knowledge of and interest in politics emerge by high school. The research by Oxley’s team is exploring whether such gaps exist among younger children.

For her part, Oxley and five of her students interviewed about 200 local schoolchildren in first through sixth grades during the fall and winter terms. They assessed how children view political leaders, measured their knowledge of politics and gauged their interest in and enthusiasm toward politics and government.

The children were first instructed to imagine a political leader at work (mayor, governor, member of Congress, other) and to draw that person. Then they were asked to describe what the leader is doing in the picture, list three words that come to mind when thinking of the leader and what the leader does on a typical day.

They were also asked a series of questions.

“While we have not fully examined our results yet, we do know that children are much more likely to draw a man than a woman when asked to draw a political leader,” Oxley said. “The drawings locally suggest that students think leaders are male and white and that they give lots of speeches, do paperwork, and sit in an office all day.”

The Elsie Hillman Prize carries a $1,000 cash award. Oxley said the money will be used to fund the next stage of the project, which will explore the effects of curricular lessons.

Questions to be asked include: Do lessons that incorporate women political leaders influence how girls and boys envision political leadership? Would such lessons increase girls' interest in politics and government, perhaps even leading to the elimination of any observed gender gaps?

Oxley joined Union in 1998. The five students who assisted with her current research are Gianluca Avanzato ‘18, Olivia Britton ‘18, Rachel Clarey ‘18, Jason Nelson ‘18 and Taina Orellana ‘18.

The Elsie Hillman Prize is an annual competition designed to encourage and reward scholars embarking on significant research in the area of women and politics.

Zoe Oxley, professor of political science

 Zoe Oxley, professor of political science