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Researcher explains how girls are socialized to have limited political ambition


One thing we noticed as we recorded that conversation with Andrew Yang and took questions from the audience - the vast majority of those raising their hands were men. Of course, that's just an unscientific observation on our part. But it got us thinking about a recent study on how boys and girls relate gender with politics. The study was conducted by a team of researchers that included Mirya Holman, an associate professor of political science at Tulane University. She told us the idea for the study came from an observation the team made about the 2016 presidential election.

MIRYA HOLMAN: One of the things that we were really interested in is that Hillary Clinton aired this commercial during the 2016 election, where she used Donald Trump's words...


DONALD TRUMP: You know, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.

You got to see this guy. Oh, I don't know what I said. I don't remember. He's going like...

HOLMAN: ...And said, basically, our children are watching this man behave in this way.


HILLARY CLINTON: Our children and grandchildren will look back at this time.

HOLMAN: Are you going to be OK with that? Are you going to be OK with your children, particularly your girls looking at a president that is saying these negative things about women? And we thought, well, does this actually matter? Are kids paying attention at all to what's happening in politics? At that point, we were like, OK, we really have to do it.

MARTIN: The researchers invited more than 1,600 students age 6 to 12 in four different parts of the country to participate in a process, they realized, they faced a challenge.

HOLMAN: This research was hard to do (laughter), you know? It's not easy to interview and survey kids.

MARTIN: The solution - drawings.

HOLMAN: So we asked kids to close their eyes and imagine a political leader at work. And then we gave them crayons and asked them to actually draw what they saw in their mind. And this is, I think, really interesting because it tells you a lot about how kids see the political world, the images in the political world that stick in kids' minds. And they're really cute.

MARTIN: And the result...

HOLMAN: A lot of men.

MARTIN: What really surprised Holman and her team, though, was what happened when they broke down the responses by gender and age.

HOLMAN: Young girls are much more likely to draw images of women as political leaders.

MARTIN: That was especially true of young girls between 6 and 8 years old. But when the team focused on responses from girls in the 10 to 12 range, 75% of them drew men.

HOLMAN: Boys, on the other hand, just draw lots of men as political leaders across that age range. But girls really change who they draw as they grow older.

MARTIN: Before the study, Holman's research focused primarily on how to get more adult women interested in political office. Now she's thinking more about what can be done at the elementary school level, and she wonders what the result would be if a study like hers were conducted in other countries.

HOLMAN: What does this look like if we're doing this in the U.K., where they've had two women as prime ministers, and everybody thinks about Margaret Thatcher when they think about the prime minister, right? We don't know. We'd be really interested in finding out.

MARTIN: That was Mirya Holman, associate professor of political science at Tulane University. Her research team study, "This One's For The Boys: How Gendered Political Socialization Limits Girls' Political Ambition And Interest," was published in the journal American Political Science Review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEBASTIEN TELLIER'S "DEUX EN UN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.