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Women can only be properly represented politically by other women. Discuss

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The claim that women can only be represented politically by other women is one that assumes that women and men act differently in terms of politics. It is a claim which starts with the differing socialization of men and women and ends with the assertion that as a consequence only women can politically represent other women. By focusing on the relationship between descriptive and substantive relationship this statement suggests that an increase of female descriptive representation would consequently lead to an increase in the substantive representation of women. Whilst measuring the descriptive representation of women is straightforward, its relationship with substantive representation is not proven. The aim of this essay will be to analyze the extent to which the having women as representatives is the only way to achieve women?s substantive representation. Firstly this essay will focus on the extent to which there can be such a thing as ?women?s issues? in politics. . It will then go on to assess the extent to which women act differently to men in politics, and the extent to which this difference is beneficial in ensuring women in the electorate are properly represented politically. This essay will finish by highlighting the broader structural factors within which women?s descriptive representation takes place, and suggest that in order for women to be properly represented politically, more focus needs to put on structure rather than whether representatives are male or female. One of the main issues arising from the statement that ?women can only be politically represented by other women? is the consequent idea that women as a societal group have political goals which are both unique and homogenised. This essentialist claim is one of the main drawbacks of advocating the descriptive representation of women in order to ensure women?s substantive representation due to the fact that it tends to overlook the multiplicity of differences that exist between women including age, race, and sexuality. In order to counter this problem, feminist scholars such as Mansbridge (1999) and Young (2002) ...read more.


Moreover, the women, on average, reported receiving significantly more requests for constituency casework than did equivalently situated men. The issue with this argument is that by focusing mainly on the subjective views of female candidates it is failing to exert independent verification. Furthermore, other studies including Reingold?s (2000) suggest that there are very few gender differences in terms of receptiveness to constituencies. In this study both men and women spent equivalent amounts of time on constituent casework and meeting with constituents. As has been shown then, the claim that women are more receptive to the needs of their constituents and thus better placed to represent other women is one that is unproven. Another important argument which is used to argue that women can only be represented politically by other women is the idea men are prone to, either intentionally or unintentionally, ignore issues which are specific to women. Such a point has roots in Sapiro?s argument (1981) that trusting one societal group to protect another societal group?s interests is an undesirable method of conducting politics. Underpinning this argument is the idea that, whilst women are not one homogenized group, females are far better equipped to express the distinctive viewpoints of the group as opposed to their male counterparts. This is in contrast to a Burkean conception of democracy whereby the representative should act as a judge of the needs of their constituents. The main reasoning behind the argument that men are not equipped to represent women politically focuses on the deliberative phase of the political process and particularly the point of uncrystallized issues on which political parties have not developed policies. Mansbridge (1999, p.365) argues that in the deliberation process in legislatures, the existence of women is necessary because whilst men may attempt to act on behalf of women, crucially this is ?not enough to promote effective deliberation either vertically between constituents and their representatives or horizontally among the representatives?. ...read more.


As this essay has shown, analyzing the claim that women can only be properly politically represented by other women is one that is not at all straightforward. Firstly in terms of women?s substantive representation, there is no set policy list of women?s political needs that we can use to judge whether it is only women that can politically represent other women. This is due to the lack of homogeneity among women as a social group, thus highlighting the problems surrounding the advocacy of increased descriptive representation of women. Secondly, even if we then focus on issues that are relevant to women as a whole, this essay has shown that whilst the existence of female representatives may increase the female electorates perceptions of empowerment, crucially this does not translate into increased political participation. Therefore the symbolic existence of women in power has little influence in ensuring that the broader female population in the electorate are represented properly. Furthermore, whilst it has been argued female representatives are more receptive to their constituents needs than their male counterparts, this essay has shown that this is not the case and thus men are equally able to take on board the political desires of women within their constituencies. On the other hand that is not to undermine the existence of women as representatives of other women?s issues altogether, as crucially this essay has highlighted the fact that women are necessary in the deliberative phase of politics to ensure that issues relevant to women are not overlooked. Whilst these assertions are all relevant and important, this essay has shown that it is also equally necessary to appreciate the structural factors which are restricting women?s proper political representation. It should be concluded then that in some senses having a woman representative is beneficial to ensuring other women are properly represented politically, however, in order to ensure an increased political representation of women, an increased focus on structure is necessary. ...read more.

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