• An earlier version of this article was presented as part of a Symposium on Perceptions of Femininity, Masculinity, and Power (H. Lips, Chair) at the Annual Conference of the Southern Regional Chapter of the Association for Women in Psychology, Hilton Head, SC, October 1996.

  • I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Wayne Andrew for his help with data analysis. I also acknowledge, with thanks, the collaboration of Mirta Gonzalez Suarez, Renata Frank de Verthelyi, Sudie Back, Claudia Díaz Zuñiga, Lori Wilson, Vonita Brim, and Leigh Shannon in the development and testing of various aspects of this research project.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Hilary M. lips, Department of Psychology, Box 6946, Radford University, Radford, VA 24142. E-mail:


The research literature, the shortage of women in positions of visible leadership, and the media's treatment of powerful women suggest that cultural prescriptions for power and leadership mesh uncomfortably with expectations for women in many contexts. To explore the ways in which young women and men may be absorbing cultural messages about power and gender, this study investigated the ways in which university students imagined their “possible powerful selves.” Respondents provided written descriptions of their possible selves as persons with power, political leaders, chief executive officers, and directors of scientific research centers as well as ratings of how possible and how positive such roles would be for them. Women rated the possibility of becoming a person with power or a political leader lower than men did. Women were also significantly more likely than men to anticipate relationship problems associated with the political leader role.