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Fiorina should wield humor on Trump during debate, UB gender expert says

Release Date: September 15, 2015

“I would try and play the humor card and make a lot of what Trump says into a joke without seeming mean or sarcastic. At no point can she show anger or frustration, because those are qualities that people respond to more negatively in women than in men. She can’t completely ignore him either, because that may look weak.”
Emily Grijalva, professor in the School of Management
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – When Donald Trump criticized Carly Fiorina’s looks, saying “Look at that face!” it was really no surprise, according to Emily Grijalva, University at Buffalo assistant professor in the School of Management.

“Women get more scrutiny when trying to attain high-level leadership or political roles because as a society we have gender stereotypes,” says Grijalva, who studies gender and leadership. “Implicit in those stereotypes is the assumption that men are more competent than women when it comes to high-level leadership roles. So women have to spend more time proving they are capable, and that they are assertive and dominant enough to hold those leadership positions.

“But at the same time, women cannot be too dominant or assertive, because then they may appear to deviate too much from the communal female stereotype that includes being nurturing, warm and supportive, which will make people dislike them. Women have to reach a balance that men don’t have to worry about.”

The second Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night will be Fiorina’s first real chance in the spotlight and with it will come a chance for a faceoff with Trump.

But how she interacts with him will be key, says Grijalva. Women, like Fiorina, have to strike a balance of being confident, but still likeable, she says.

“I would try and play the humor card and make a lot of what Trump says into a joke without seeming mean or sarcastic,” Grijalva says. “At no point can she show anger or frustration, because those are qualities that people respond to more negatively in women than in men. She can’t completely ignore him either, because that may look weak.”

The good news, says Jim Lemoine, assistant professor in the UB School of Management, is that this is the best time it has ever been for a female to run for president.

That is because people are becoming more open to qualities aligned with servant leadership, according to Lemoine’s research. Servant leadership – putting others first, sharing power, helping others – may actually favor females, he says.

“A lot of recent research indicates that stereotypes are changing, and we are seeing the prototypical leader as less authoritative, and more of a relationship-builder, empowering and helping others, which aligns more with our implicit female stereotypes,” says Lemoine, who studies leadership behavior and gender roles. “A female who’s too gentle can be seen as weak, but one who is too aggressive can be seen as bossy. This is a tightrope that men don’t have to walk.”

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