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(Re)presenting Women: Retooling Women’s Substantive Representation
Unformatted Document Text:  Christina Xydias p.6 representation: the descriptors meriting representation are the ones that signify 1) shared historical injustices and 2) shared experiences of political exclusion. Examples of African Americans and women are often given to demonstrate their point. Interestingly, these justifications for selecting one dimension of identity over others tend to focus on redressing historical injustices more than on the corresponding set of interests being most urgent. Another voice in this debate places more emphasis on political interests. Hayward (ms 2006), for example, notes the way in which even an ostensibly democratic representative government effectively maintains social hierarchies, and how descriptive representation might be one way of encouraging policies that proactively seek to de-construct these hierarchies. An example of this kind of effort is New Zealand’s electoral law, which creates a separate Maori district (based on identity, not territory), in order to assure Maoris political representation (in the name of democracy). The expectation is that descriptive representatives will be the people most likely to de-construct existing power structures, because they belong to groups that have been marginalized. By contrast, we would not expect power-holders to be willing to de-construct the bases of their own authority. A final strand of theoretical justification for why descriptive representation might facilitate substantive representation is based in a theory of “gendered social capital,” by which female legislators might feel “internally accountable” to female constituents. 6 Susan Carroll (2006) suggests that women’s organizations and networks may “[foster] a representational relationship between women public officials and women in the electorate” (357). 7 These theories of gendered social capital are not extensively developed, however. In summary, much theoretical work on women’s political representation has argued that women are more likely than men to be aware of the political relevance of women-specific concerns, and this awareness is typically described as “special knowledge” that women legislators have about women’s interests. This expectation is due to women’s shared history of discrimination, their lack of “presence” in politics, and the observation that women share (in the main) enough experiences as a group to shape common interests. “special knowledge” representation of interests However, the more empirically oriented counterparts to this theoretical work do not explicitly test this proposed mechanism. It is not clear how they model the connection between women’s “special knowledge” and their actions as legislators. Instead, these studies use legislators’ gender as a proxy for assumed differences between female and male legislators. While this might yield gendered patterns of difference, e.g., female legislators tend to serve on “soft” committees more than male legislators do, these patterns are not self-explanatory. Essentializing gender makes it impossible to parse explanations for gendered preferences/behavior. Moreover, patent evidence that male legislators, too, substantively represent so-called women’s interests would seem to argue 6 Mansbridge (1995) quoted in Carroll (2006). 7 See also Katzenstein (1998), who writes about gendered social capital in the church and military.

Authors: Xydias, Christina.
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background image
Christina Xydias
p.6
representation: the descriptors meriting representation are the ones that signify 1) shared
historical injustices and 2) shared experiences of political exclusion. Examples of African
Americans and women are often given to demonstrate their point. Interestingly, these
justifications for selecting one dimension of identity over others tend to focus on
redressing historical injustices more than on the corresponding set of interests being most
urgent.
Another voice in this debate places more emphasis on political interests. Hayward
(ms 2006), for example, notes the way in which even an ostensibly democratic
representative government effectively maintains social hierarchies, and how descriptive
representation might be one way of encouraging policies that proactively seek to de-
construct these hierarchies. An example of this kind of effort is New Zealand’s electoral
law, which creates a separate Maori district (based on identity, not territory), in order to
assure Maoris political representation (in the name of democracy). The expectation is that
descriptive representatives will be the people most likely to de-construct existing power
structures, because they belong to groups that have been marginalized. By contrast, we
would not expect power-holders to be willing to de-construct the bases of their own
authority.
A final strand of theoretical justification for why descriptive representation might
facilitate substantive representation is based in a theory of “gendered social capital,” by
which female legislators might feel “internally accountable” to female constituents.
6
Susan Carroll (2006) suggests that women’s organizations and networks may “[foster] a
representational relationship between women public officials and women in the
electorate” (357).
7
These theories of gendered social capital are not extensively
developed, however.
In summary, much theoretical work on women’s political representation has
argued that women are more likely than men to be aware of the political relevance of
women-specific concerns, and this awareness is typically described as “special
knowledge” that women legislators have about women’s interests. This expectation is due
to women’s shared history of discrimination, their lack of “presence” in politics, and the
observation that women share (in the main) enough experiences as a group to shape
common interests.
“special knowledge” representation of interests
However, the more empirically oriented counterparts to this theoretical work do
not explicitly test this proposed mechanism. It is not clear how they model the connection
between women’s “special knowledge” and their actions as legislators. Instead, these
studies use legislators’ gender as a proxy for assumed differences between female and
male legislators. While this might yield gendered patterns of difference, e.g., female
legislators tend to serve on “soft” committees more than male legislators do, these
patterns are not self-explanatory. Essentializing gender makes it impossible to parse
explanations for gendered preferences/behavior. Moreover, patent evidence that male
legislators, too, substantively represent so-called women’s interests would seem to argue
6
Mansbridge (1995) quoted in Carroll (2006).
7
See also Katzenstein (1998), who writes about gendered social capital in the church and
military.


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