The Substantive Representation of Women: What to Do with Conservative Claims?



Recent developments in the gender and politics literature suggest that studying the substantive representation of women is much more complicated than counting the number of women present in a particular political institution and judging the actions of women representatives against a ‘feminist’ shopping list of demands. In brief, the substantive representation of women is no longer considered to be restricted to what happens in our parliaments or only by what women representatives do therein. Furthermore, what constitutes women's issues and interests – that which is to be represented – can also no longer be considered straightforwardly ‘out there’ to simply be acted upon by representatives; they are constructed as part of the representative process. Acknowledgement of the diversity and likely contested nature of claims to act ‘for women’ coincides with an emerging appreciation that the claims for women made by conservative representatives need to be brought more explicitly into our analytic frameworks and empirical studies. Together, these points not only undermine any assumption that the substantive representation of women equals the feminist substantive representation of women; they also raise the possibility of non- and anti-feminist representative claims and actions ‘for’ women. Against this backdrop, we review recent developments within the sub-field of the substantive representation of women literature and offer some reflections and suggestions about how to take conservatism seriously when studying the substantive representation of women both conceptually and empirically.