district26

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)

Election Analysis and Candidate Discussion

Sandra Fluke endured a tremendous defeat to fellow democrat Ben Allen in her run for California’s 26th district representative seat, losing by a whooping 60.8% to 39.2%.

Given that Sandra ran for an open seat in an urban majority-minority liberal region, CAWP’s research suggests that Fluke was at an advantage running in a “woman friendly district.” Fluke certainly was strategic about where and when she decided to run. According to CAWP’s Palmer and Simon, LA held perfect conditions for a democratic white woman to run and win, “White democratic women are elected from districts that are more liberal, urban, educated, diverse, and higher income than democratic men.” In addition to prime regional demographics, California’s 26th district seat was left wide open after Ted Lieu resigned to run for Henry Waxman’s seat.

 Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke held many similar views and rarely disagreed on a policy values, yet Allen won due to his superior political experience and firm local roots. Not having any prior electoral experience or much experience in LA politics proved to be disastrous for Fluke’s campaign. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Fluke only moved to LA about six years ago and only became active in LA politics two years ago. On the other hand Ben Allen is a Californian native and has been a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu school board for six years.  Both candidates raised over 1 million for their campaigns. Well known in the community, Allen was able to finance his campaign with a majority of local endorsements, while Fluke’s endorsements came mostly from out of state. This fact can be seen as a reflection of the strength of local support each candidate held. Ben Allen provided a better descriptive representation of his constituents than Fluke, having the advantage of native roots this was shown in his ability and Fluke’s inability to gain local endorsements. Substantively Allen and Fluke held similar views, but Allen had another advantage of prior political experience. Allen was a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board for six years, granting him electoral experience and legitimacy as an effective candidate.   

Sandra’s whole claim to fame began when Rush Limbaugh slut shamed her on radio for testifying in favor of contraceptive coverage before congress.  In a patriarchal society built upon Christian foundations, women are commonly perceived as either virtuous or promiscuous leaving very little room in-between. The male gender has the more socially accepted ability to sleep around without social retribution. By advocating for contraceptive coverage Fluke opened herself to an onslaught of misogynistic commentary that would not have been as violent had she been a male advocating for contraceptive coverage to protect male interests. Generally men are expected to partake in sexual activities whereas discussion of women partaking in intercourse has been stigmatized. It is important to recognize that Allen did not oppose Fluke’s contraceptive coverage plan, perhaps as a strategic move to avoid the heat. Nonetheless, Allen did not oppose contraceptive coverage and did not gain negative media as a result.  Here I found gender bias where the media chose to harass Fluke for challenging gender constructs and promote negative responses, while letting Allen’s agreement go unnoticed.

Although there are many areas that I could point to explain Fluke’s defeat, her lack of local and political experience coupled with negative gender-bias media coverage are debatably the main reasons for Fluke’s failure. LA held optimal climate conditions for Fluke to run; however, the truth is, disregarding gender, a more experienced and capable opponent defeated Sandra Fluke. If Fluke decides to run again, I believe she will fair better the next time around.