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The Impact of Women in Congress$
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Debra L. Dodson

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780198296744

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0198296746.001.0001

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Women's Health: Staying the Course with a Critical Mass

Women's Health: Staying the Course with a Critical Mass

(p.154) 7 Women's Health: Staying the Course with a Critical Mass
The Impact of Women in Congress

Debra L. Dodson

Oxford University Press

Women’s health policy united women across party lines in the 103rd and yielded numerous victories. These successes continued a trend established in earlier Congresses and, relatively speaking, would not come under attack in the 104th when almost every other political gain previously made by women was vulnerable. As such, juxtaposition of women’s health case studies with the reproductive rights case studies allows us to go once again beyond the simple question of ‘Do women make a difference?’ to explore not only how the confluence of individual, institutional, and cultural factors gives meaning to gender and shapes the probabilistic relationship between descriptive and substantive representation of women over time and across policy areas, but also to suggest strategies for advancing substantive representation regardless of women’s proportional presence. The results illustrate the value of diversity and suggest strategies that can sustain unity amid diversity. They suggest that in addition to increasing women’s presence, substantive representation of women will be facilitated by raising the gender consciousness of women in the mass public, by reinforcing awareness (and fear) of the gender gap, and by women’s advancement within the institutional hierarchy. In short, even with a ‘mom and apple pie’ issue, making a difference requires efforts by women inside the Congress to put matters on the agenda and the mobilization of women outside the institution to give legitimacy and political teeth to demands that challenge masculinist values.

Keywords:   breast cancer, women’s health, diversity, descriptive representation, substantive representation, extra-institutional environment, institutional environment, masculinism, gendered consequences, positional power

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