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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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Conclusion: Looking Toward the Future

Conclusion: Looking Toward the Future

(p.249) Conclusion: Looking Toward the Future
The Impact of Women in Congress

Debra L. Dodson

Oxford University Press

By going beyond the simple question ‘Do women make a difference?’ and delving into the meaning of elected women’s sense of connection of women using this dynamic framework, the results provide insight into factors that encourage substantive representation of women and shape the meaning of gender. They suggest that women may not only transform institutions, but be transformed by them and the larger political environment. To that end, the conclusion suggests six strategies likely to further substantive representation of women at any given level of descriptive representation: (1) strengthening the voices of women on the outside to encourage those on the inside to challenge masculinist values and amass the majorities they need to effect change; (2) electing men who see women as a political group with legitimate needs and interests; (3) strengthening the recruitment of gender conscious women, while nurturing gender consciousness among women inside and outside the institution; (4) increasing the legitimacy of substantive representation of women by casting achievement of such goals in terms consistent with institutional norms; (5) confronting the legitimacy of women’s claims to act for women by rejecting essentialist assumptions; and (6) confronting the contested meaning of substantive representation of women in theory and practice, while simultaneously accommodating the realities women face as actors within institutions with norms and values beyond their control. These strategies in the long term may help determine whether any compromises women make as ‘team players’ will contribute to the regendering of this political institution or simply mean more political jobs for women who reinforce long established norms, and whether ultimately we can expect ‘regendering’ within Congress to transform the nature of partisan political debate or simply reinforce the divisions of contemporary partisan politics.

Keywords:   substantive representation, descriptive representation, extra-institutional environment, feminist protest, gender consciousness, political environment, safe spaces, masculinism, institutional norms, women’s movement

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