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(Re)presenting Women: Retooling Women’s Substantive Representation
Unformatted Document Text:  Christina Xydias p.3 of women’s interests may not in fact have much to do with gender. What appears to result from descriptive representation may actually be due to other factors. As I will discuss in this chapter, few models of political representation or political accountability can explain why women representatives would represent women interests: women do not form a uniform voting bloc, and there is much disagreement on what constitutes women’s interests, in the first place. 2 Gender-neutral models of political representation emphasize ways in which voters signal interests to legislators, and ways in which voters assess governments’ performance (via elections) – and these signals and institutions have little if anything to do with women constituents as women. 3 In surveying previous empirical work that examines a possible link between women’s descriptive and substantive representation, I will argue that much of this research tends to incur two conceptual errors. First, very little research specifies a mechanism for this link, i.e., it is unclear why female legislators would substantively represent women. Instead, research typically uses gender as a proxy for all of the possible causes and processes underlying differences among legislators. Second, these studies essentialize women and women’s interests, which contradicts the actual breadth of women’s attitudes and preferences. Many studies conflate feminism with women’s interests, and this is also an oversimplification. While feminism is a multi-faceted movement, I define it broadly as the advocacy of women having rights equal to men’s rights, with the goal of undoing traditional gender hierarchies. Not all women share these goals. I will discuss each of these conceptual errors in turn and explore the implications of each error separately. After identifying and discussing these prevailing conceptual problems, I will introduce my own approach. In this second half of the chapter, my theory and argument emphasize a mechanism for how – and under what conditions – legislators (women or men) might represent so-called women’s interests. I describe how I incorporate a broad notion of women’s interests, and I argue for linguistic indicators of women’s substantive representation. Extant Theoretical and Empirical Literature & Critique Why would we expect legislators to be accountable to women? “Are female legislators more likely than male legislators to actively represent women and women’s concerns?” Beth Reingold (1992) In this section I survey reasons scholars typically give for why we would expect legislators to represent women’s interests, and whether or not these reasons have been explicitly hypothesized and tested. I will argue that much work has set out to test empirically whether women legislate differently from men but has not unpacked the possible explanations for apparent gender differences. These studies have typically assumed that there is something essential about being a woman that yields the substantive 2 See Carroll (2006) for an example of work that explicitly seeks to explain why female legislators “would give greater priority to women’s issues than their male colleagues” (p.357). 3 See, for example: Mitchell (2000), Mueller (2000), Przeworski, Stokes, and Manin (1999); Strom (2000); Strom et al (2003); etc.

Authors: Xydias, Christina.
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background image
Christina Xydias
p.3
of women’s interests may not in fact have much to do with gender. What appears to
result from descriptive representation may actually be due to other factors.
As I will discuss in this chapter, few models of political representation or political
accountability can explain why women representatives would represent women interests:
women do not form a uniform voting bloc, and there is much disagreement on what
constitutes women’s interests, in the first place.
2
Gender-neutral models of political
representation emphasize ways in which voters signal interests to legislators, and ways in
which voters assess governments’ performance (via elections) – and these signals and
institutions have little if anything to do with women constituents as women.
3
In surveying previous empirical work that examines a possible link between
women’s descriptive and substantive representation, I will argue that much of this
research tends to incur two conceptual errors. First, very little research specifies a
mechanism for this link, i.e., it is unclear why female legislators would substantively
represent women. Instead, research typically uses gender as a proxy for all of the possible
causes and processes underlying differences among legislators. Second, these studies
essentialize women and women’s interests, which contradicts the actual breadth of
women’s attitudes and preferences. Many studies conflate feminism with women’s
interests, and this is also an oversimplification. While feminism is a multi-faceted
movement, I define it broadly as the advocacy of women having rights equal to men’s
rights, with the goal of undoing traditional gender hierarchies. Not all women share these
goals. I will discuss each of these conceptual errors in turn and explore the implications
of each error separately.
After identifying and discussing these prevailing conceptual problems, I will
introduce my own approach. In this second half of the chapter, my theory and argument
emphasize a mechanism for how – and under what conditions – legislators (women or
men) might represent so-called women’s interests. I describe how I incorporate a broad
notion of women’s interests, and I argue for linguistic indicators of women’s substantive
representation.

Extant Theoretical and Empirical Literature & Critique
Why would we expect legislators to be accountable to women?
“Are female legislators more likely than male legislators to actively represent women and women’s
concerns?” Beth Reingold (1992)
In this section I survey reasons scholars typically give for why we would expect
legislators to represent women’s interests, and whether or not these reasons have been
explicitly hypothesized and tested. I will argue that much work has set out to test
empirically whether women legislate differently from men but has not unpacked the
possible explanations for apparent gender differences. These studies have typically
assumed that there is something essential about being a woman that yields the substantive
2
See Carroll (2006) for an example of work that explicitly seeks to explain why female
legislators “would give greater priority to women’s issues than their male colleagues” (p.357).
3
See, for example: Mitchell (2000), Mueller (2000), Przeworski, Stokes, and Manin (1999);
Strom (2000); Strom et al (2003); etc.


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