Theorizing women's representation in the United States

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


From the perspective of women's experiences, it is easy to see that democratic representative institutions can be tools of oppression. After all, formal democratic institutions have been either a form of governance that has only ruled over women (e.g., women were formally prohibited from holding elected offices) or a form of governance in which women have ruled and been ruled unequally (e.g., the number of female representatives have been significantly lower than the number of male representatives). Moreover, there is good reason to believe that informal representative institutions, such as interest groups, do not work as well for multiply disadvantaged groups (Strolovitch 2007). These facts suggest that democratic representative institutions need to be viewed with suspicion. We need to know why democratic representative institutions do not work for women as well as they work for powerful men, and we need to know what conditions contribute to those institutions working better for women. We also should not assume that representative institutions in democracies necessarily benefit all women. In fact, we need to recognize how representative institutions can divide women, pitting some women's interests and preferences against other women's interests and preferences. Democratic representative institutions can function to preserve the status quo, distributing benefits unjustly and inequitably among different groups of women.Knowing if and how well representative institutions are working for women in democracies depends, in part, on one's understanding of what counts as the adequate representation of women in a democracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPolitical Women and American Democracy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780511790621
ISBN (Print)9780521886239
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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