Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Government Shutdown and Representation

It's hard to think of a more salient moment to discuss representation than now. Now that the government has been shut down for five days, the effects of the shutdown are no longer hypothetical. For those who are not immediately effected by furloughs and benefit cuts, it might feel like little has changed. That is not the case, unfortunately, for women and children affected by the lack of funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), according to the Huffington Post. WIC provides support for poor mothers and pregnant women, helping them pay for healthy food for themselves and their children. While some states can choose to use their own funds to make up for the loss of federal assistance, that is not a sustainable solution. With little headway being made on the Hill, short-term solutions may run out before Congress is able to agree on a continuing resolution.

Approximately 20% of seats in Congress are held by women, which makes one wonder if American women wouldn't benefit from a more representative proportion of women in Congress. Perhaps programs like WIC would be prioritized and move Congress towards a shutdown-avoiding compromise. That is a plausible argument, but as we discussed in class this week, there is more to consider than just increasing the proportion of women in Congress. Members of Congress can represent their constituents symbolically, descriptively, and/or substantively. It would be a mistake to think that a female Member of Congress would necessarily be a better substantive representative of her female constituents- while there is something to be said for increasing the symbolic representation of women in Congress, that alone would not necessarily increase their substantive representation. 

Works Cited


  1. It would be interesting to look district by district and see how many are majority women - if it's 20%, and most of the female Members of Congress are from these districts, then maybe Congress is fairly representative of women, just at the district level.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think this is a very interesting case of descriptive representation versus substantive representation. Is there significant evidence that women representatives advocate more strongly for women's rights than men? As a follow up to that, are men who represent districts that are more heavily composed of women more likely to advocate for women's issues than other male representatives? This would be intriguing data to look at.