Women in Congress: A Policy Difference?

Date01 February 1986
DOI10.1111/j.1467-9256.1986.tb00160.x
Publication Date01 February 1986
AuthorPippa Norris
SubjectArticle
WN
IN
CONGRESS:
A
POLICY
DIFFERENCE?
PIPPA
NORRIS
The emergence of the gender gap in electoral behaviour in America has
stimulated debate about whether women and men are significantly different in
their political values. Recent evidence suggests that as voters women in the
US
tend to be more liberal on a range of social, economic and foreign policy
issues.
Is
this
gender difference found in the elite as well as at the mass
level? This paper analyses whether women in Congress are distinctive in their
legislative behaviour
in
recent years, in particular whether women have tended
to give stronger support than male colleagues
to
measures which are liberal
or feminist. The election of more women to office
is
desirable in terms of
equity, but
will
it
also make a difference in terms of public policy?
debate on this question is inconclusive.
So
far the
Some observers believe that women politicians are different as they are
more supportive
of
pacific and humanitarian values.
legislators are likely to be more sympathetic to policies such as nuclear
disarmament, consumer rights, welfare programmes, educational spending and
environmental protection due to their different life experiences as mothers and
wives, or due to innate characteristics. Stanwick and Kleeman (1983) stress thae
women in office
will
have an impact on policy as they have different attitudes
to men on current issues, from nuclear power to the death penalty and government
intervention in the economy,
with
the most marked contrasts evident on 'women's
issues', including child care and abortion.
It
is suggested that female
Women's different perspective
will
ultimately reshape the
public policy agenda
. .
.
As more women serve in public
office their presence is bound to affect the composition,
the processes, and the policies of government. (Stanwick
and .Kleeman,
1983,
p
19;
see also Johnson, 1980, p
67;
Smeal,
1984;
Abzug,
1984,
Gertzog,
1984;
Flamming,
1984).
Others have found women in office
in
the past to be more liberal than
their male colleagues in their voting behaviour (Leader,
1977,
p 227; Frankovic,
1977;
Gehlen,
1977),
although the differences were not major.
differences have been found among other elites including party delegates (Baxter
and Lansing,
1983,
p
133;
Soule and McGrath, 1977). This suggests that
if
there
were more women in Congress this might influence the policy output through
differential voting.
Similar sex
Others argue i'n contrast that women in office are indistinguishable from
men in their voting behaviour, due to the process of selective recruitment,
party pressure and political socialisation within legislatures. Only certain
women are selected as candidates and once in the legislature to be successful
they learn the accepted rules of the game (Randall,
1983).
The minority status
of women in public office may also increase the pressure on women to keep
in
the
mainstream of politics, thereby avoiding unnecessary conflict. This is
supported by research at the congressional, state and local levels which has
found that most elected women in their voting behaviour are indistinguishable
from their male colleagues; certainly women do not act as a legislative bloc
(Diamond,
1977;
Bers,
1978;
Mezey,
1978;
Gehlen,
1977.;
Frankovic, 1977). The
majority of female politicians have not campaigned on women's issues nor, once
elected, do they actively pursue feminist goals (Mueller, 1982; Carroll,
1984;

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