Thursday, November 28, 2013

When Representation Isn't Representative: An Argument for Women in Politics

This is not your average plea for gender parity in politics.

I'm not going to tell you about women's empathetic, flexible leadership style or their flair for compromise. Nor will I pigeonhole women by saying they are invariably interested in issues like education and domestic violence, or that they will vote on women's issues in a monolithic bloc.

I believe it is insulting to women to insinuate that they must follow traditional gender roles and make progress in the arenas of education, healthcare, and other so-called "feminine" arenas. But it is no better to insist that women must adapt masculine, assertive leadership qualities in order to survive in their careers. Ideally, our political system could welcome a diversity of women: those who are masculine, those who are feminine, those who are gay or transgender, those who are racially or ethnically diverse, those who have disabilities.

Anyone who has tuned into Fox News knows that not all women support affordable, accessible reproductive healthcare for other women or for themselves. Not all women agree on environmental issues, or on the subject of marriage equality, or on gun regulation. Some women are racist. Some women are ableist. This is why I stress that all women's voices are important, and that in combating a dire lack of women in politics, we must elect women who represent diverse (and sometimes intersecting) backgrounds.

In the United States, the numbers are not on women's side: 
  • As of January 2013, women make up only 18.3% of Congress (this is the highest percentage in U.S. history)
  • About 24 percent of state legislators are women 
  • Women serve as mayors of only 12/100 of the largest U.S. cities
  • This year, the U.S. came in 77th place in a worldwide ranking of female leadership
(The National Women's Political Caucus)

I wish that these numbers alone were enough. I wish that anyone reading the previous bullet points would stop for a moment, and realize that, on principle, women's voices have value in the political realm. Unfortunately, arguing the ethics of women's under-representation is not always enough. 

The strongest argument I can form, if justice and morals alone are not enough, lies in the words "representative," and "democracy." According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a democracy is, "a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation." Without women in the picture, how accurate is that supposed representation?

A representative, according to the same source, is characterized by "standing or acting for another especially through delegated authority." In this case, representatives stand and act for civilian constituents. The issue lies in the fact that cisgender men in politics, who (in theory) ought to stand for women and their rights, often do not.

Therefore, in order to be a true representative democracy, women leaders must be elected to represent the views of their constituents - half of whom are women, many of whom are minority women and many of whom support progressive changes to better the lives of women. Electing women because it's the right thing to do is a good enough argument for me, but if you disagree, please take a closer look at how you define representation.

Kai Niezgoda