Substantive Representation


The readings this week, focused on substantive representation and descriptive representation and whether they can be interchangeable. I found that Mala Htun’s “Is Gender like Ethnicity? The Political Representation of Identity Groups” and “Constituting Women’s Interests Through Representative Claims” by Karen Celis et al. are the most relevant to my candidate, Sandra Fluke. While Andrew Reynold’s “Representation and Rights: The Impact of LGBT Legislators in Comparative Perspective” is less reverent because Fluke is a Caucasian heterosexual female, she is very active in advocating LGBTQ rights and her life experiences have shaped her to become a representative for a variety of communities, but she is not a member of the LGBTQ peoples. 

Descriptive representation deals mostly with the number of women elected in national parliaments and how those representatives best resemble  the characteristics (geographical area, occupation, ethnicity, or gender) of their constituents. Substantive representation is determined by how the representative’s politics reflect those of her constituents’. Both representations are closely linked and in many ways intersect; however they are not one and the same. Sandra Fluke is a a descriptive representative in that she is woman from a middle class background. The issues in Fluke’s campaign are less for her local constituents and more for equality rights of the nation. She advocates for LGBTQ rights, insurance coverage for contraceptives, fair wages, rights for veterans and stands against domestic violence and human trafficking, all of which are huge issues within the Los Angeles area and the nation. 

In Mala Htun’s “Is Gender like Ethnicity? The Political Representation of Identity Group,” gender is by Mala Htun’s definition is an element that “tends to be crosscutting [while] ethnicity tends to be coinciding. Women and men belong to all political parties; members of ethnic groups, by contrast, frequently belong to one only… gender, though occasionally a consideration, almost never defines how individuals vote and what parties they affiliate with” (Htun, 439). Gender can crosscut into a multiple of identities, while ethnicity tends to relate to a particular group. Fluke is an interesting candidate since she tries to directly and indirectly represent the under represented ethnic group through her advocacy for immigrant rights, fair wages. Fluke is running as a democrat, therefore it goes to reason that she will appeal to a broader group being a democtratic woman and an advocate for the under represented, ethnic minorities, women’s and LGBTQ peoples’ rights. Although Sandra Fluke provides descriptive representation as to political party affiliation and gender, she also exudes substantive representation as to ethnic peoples and LGBTQ peoples. 

Karen Celis et al consider a wide range of scholarly views and press Wendy Smooth’s argument that using social movements is problematic in defining women’s interest, “Advocacy groups typically have to simplify-read: homogenize- their group’s interests in order to make a case for policy attention, in the process amplifying the most privileged women’s voices (438; cf. Strolovitch 2006). Fluke is not following a social movement but rather advocating for a broad base of issues that are present throughout the nation. In that sense she is homogenizing groups interests for her campaign attention. The presence of women in government alone has a positive effect on broadening the society’s understanding of women’s issues and enabling a more progressive ideological view, women provide an addition perspective to the creation of policies that extend over a wide range of peoples’ interests, thus making for a more substantive representation.

 I found it hard to define women’s issues as it is a very broad term that is constantly social constructed and deconstructed over time. All three readings helped to formulate the opinion that women’s issues, preferences, and interests cannot be narrowed into one category; they are all of the issues that work toward the benefit of women and society as a whole. The definition of “women’s issues” is relative to each woman’s needs and her life experiences, in short  “women’s issues” can cross a multitude of boundaries because they incorporate any matter that effects women. 

In 2012, a young woman testified before Congress for women everywhere to have affordable access to reproductive healthcare. Rush Limbaugh responded by calling her a “slut.” 2 years later, Sandra Fluke has not backed down and continues to fight her women’s rights. She has worked extensively to combat trafficking and domestic violence, not only in heterosexual couples but for homosexuals and transgender people. An advocate for education, LGBTQ, women’s rights, and the environment, Sandra has shown that she will not back down for what she believes in. We need strong women in Sacremento which is why I #StandWithSandra #vote #SandraFluke #District26 (at District 26)