Reframing and Reclaiming Women’s Power

Challenging the Disparities Default: Reframing and Reclaiming Women’s Power (A Research Review)

This paper — by Perception’s Co-Director Rachel Godsil and Director of Story and Representation Aya Taveras — shares social science research to explain how the belief that women should have equal access to power may be undermined by the narratives and representations of women as disempowered.

Drawing upon insights from “frame theory” as well as social psychological research on stereotyping, this paper posits that communication and advocacy work focused on increasing the role of women in politics and the workforce can run the risk of undermining progress toward gender equity. Specifically, those that lead with current disparities in power between men and women, and the obstacles women face to overcoming these disparities, may actually reinforce gender stereotypes.

While information about disparities and obstacles is crucial to understanding the challenges, communication strategy using what can be termed “disparity” and “obstacles” framing is inconsistent with research about how our brains process information. Dominant narratives and stereotypes about women as disempowered are unlikely to be upended by information consistent with this narrative and current stereotypes.

Instead, research suggests, our brains require “power framing” — counter-stereotypical, positive narratives about women in positions of power in politics and the workplace — for counter-stereotypical attitudes to take hold.