The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group is delighted to announce the winners of our annual Undergraduate Essay Competition. This year’s judge, PSA Women and Politics Co-Convenor Dr. Fran Amery (University of Bath), noted the outstanding quality of this year’s essays, stating: ‘This was a difficult contest to judge due to the extremely high overall standard of the essays submitted, which contained nuanced critical discussion of a range of issues in gender and politics and feminist political theory. Subjects ranged from the gendering of civil wars and peace processes, the effect of the media on gendered party campaigning, and the substantive representation of women and men, to the relevance of intersectionality to feminist theory. All of the candidates should be proud of their work.’
Our 2015 winners are:
First Prize – Letty Davis (SOAS): ‘Pinkwashing and Homonationalism: Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Israel’
The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr Rahul Rao) explores the interplay between hard and soft power in world politics through a discussion of ‘pinkwashing’ and homonationalism in Israel. The essay contends that Israel maintains a balance between unrivalled regional military strength and cultural appeal to the West through its display of democratic and pro-LGBT values, and goes on to explore the interplay between these two facets of power in the sexualisation of IDF soldiers in the Israeli pornographic film Men of Israel. The nuanced handling and seamless integration of queer theory, postcolonial theory and the more mainstream International Relations literature make this essay truly worthy of first prize.’
Second Prize – Natalie Lovell (University of Leeds): ‘Critically examine the importance of ‘intersectionality’ for feminist political theory and activism’
The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr Alexa Athelstan) draws on the work of Anna Carastathis to argue that intersectionality provides four principal benefits to feminist political theory: simultaneity, complexity, irreducibility and inclusivity. Each of these analytical benefits is exposited with textbook-perfect precision, and the essay demonstrates an extremely sophisticated grasp of the intersectionality literature.’
The Fourth European Conference on Politics and Gender saw no fewer than 450 scholars from across Europe and beyond descend on Uppsala in central Sweden, rendering it an excellent opportunity to take stock of the current state of gender and politics scholarship. At one level, the news is unreservedly positive. Feminist perspectives are being brought to bear on a bewilderingly wide variety of political phenomena, and the affective climate of the conference was often defiant and optimistic. But on digging deeper, one could detect numerous signs of unease. In the lunch breaks and in the bars of Uppsala all too frequently talk was of precarious employment and institutional marginalisation. No one could be left in any doubt that to pursue “gender-aware” political analysis is to engage in often bitter political struggle against a political science mainstream that remains largely impervious to feminist critique.
However, the conference also made visible a range of struggles within the gender and politics community, with signs of considerable disagreement over what, precisely, it means to conduct scholarship on “gender and politics”. In the opening plenaries, and in many of the panels, “gender and politics” was largely taken to refer to the gender dynamics of formal political institutions. This consists in large part of the analysis of the political representation of women, for which plenary speaker Joni Lovenduski’s pioneering work remains a key reference point. A second, rather different strand proceeds from the assumption that the scholarly analysis of gendered practices is, in some sense, always already a political project. Whilst the first strand tends to retain the same objects of analysis as mainstream political science, the second strand, being less demarcated, encompasses a wider range of theoretical and empirical concerns including, but not limited to, topics such as migration, affect, the posthuman and the lived experience of LGBTQ communities. Essentially, whilst the first is a project aimed at gendering political science and feminising political institutions, the second involves politicising gender. A striking feature of the conference was the at times very large gulf between these two approaches, which often seemed to talk past each other.
For example, whilst the language of intersectionality is now ubiquitous in the “feminising politics” tradition, there is clear uncertainty about what it means for feminist political science to take intersectionality seriously. This became particularly clear during the controversially titled roundtable ‘Europe is Burning, and we are Talking About Intersectionality’. Sylvia Walby’s framing of intersectionality “in the broadest sense” as the intersection of gender and finance capital did little other than show that mention of intersectionality is, as Akwugo Emejulu pointed out from the floor, no guarantee that racial domination will be taken seriously. Furthermore, as Johanna Kantola and Emanuela Lombardo highlighted in one of the conference’s final panels, the insights of poststructuralism (let alone “post-deconstruction”), so central to interdisciplinary gender studies, remain largely absent from feminist political science.
So perhaps an important task is to reflect on how we might build bridges between “feminising politics” and “politicising gender”. The good news is that there is clearly an emergent body of work which does precisely that. One could, for instance, point to a recent resurgence of interest in symbolic representation (as in the work of Petra Meier and Emanuela Lombardo) and representative claim making (Karen Celis, Eline Severs and others) as attempts to broaden understandings of representation beyond a rather limited emphasis on formal representative institutions. Elsewhere, some recent work on intersectionality and feminist activism – Akwugo Emejulu and Liz Evans to name but two – also offers glimpses of the style of scholarship that speaks across both traditions. Other examples include Shirin Rai and others’ work on political performance, whilst Mieke Verloo is consistent in offering a view of what it might mean for feminist political science to take intersectionality seriously. Finally, a prominent theme of the conference was the “new institutionalist” turn in feminist political analysis, which seems to have captured the imagination of many. Whilst I am something of an outsider to this debate, I was encouraged by the humility and openness which characterised several articulations of the new institutionalism within the conference space. My hope is that this generosity will pave the way for precisely the kind of interdisciplinary dialogue gender and politics scholarship requires.
To be clear, none of this is to reject or pour scorn on the “Lovenduskian” tradition of feminising political science, which was central to putting women and gender on the political science agenda. And neither is to detract from the fantastic and often under-appreciated work of the conference organisers. But my sense is that the full radicalism and significance of the challenge that “gender and politics” scholarship poses to mainstream political science is unlikely to be realised if the dialogue between “feminising politics” and “politicising gender” remains limited, particularly in a context where the former carries greater institutional weight and recognition. The danger of such a dialogue is, of course, that “gender and politics” loses its distinctiveness as an analytical project. But I think this is a price worth paying for greater inclusivity and diversity, both in terms of individuals present, and in terms of the richness and vitality of the discipline.
Jonathan Dean is Lecturer in Politics in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds.
On the 15th of May I attended the ‘Women, Gender and Political Leadership’ workshop in Birbeck university. Due to my interest in the role of women in politics, I was extremely excited to hear the papers and presentations on the day. I didn’t realise the huge range of topics that would be discussed; from business strategies to ensuring women receive promotions to the increase of female representation in Zambian politics. The opportunity to ask questions and further investigate academics ideas was an incredible opportunity and I attempted to ask as many questions as possible, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.
On Friday 15 May, the PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group and the Political Leadership Specialist Group – supported by Birkbeck and Canterbury Christ Church University – co-hosted a workshop on ‘Women, Gender and Political Leadership’. The increasing prominence of female leadership and recruitment, ranging from the UK General Election debates to the US Presidential race, has given the study of gender and political leadership a new urgency and importance. This one-day event – organised by Dr. Mark Bennister (Canterbury Christ Church), Dr. Meryl Kenny (Leicester), and Dr. Ben Worthy (Birkbeck) – brought together 40 participants to explore this under-researched area, examining in detail the challenges for women in office and the means by which they can attain it.
Academic research exploring gender and political leadership both within and beyond the UK was presented at the workshop, beginning with an opening panel focused on comparative selection and leadership performance. Papers in this session explored the relationship between political leadership and performance feedback; differing logics of access to legislative and executive office; and the question of whether women leaders were more like to promote women ministers. The second panel of the day focused on the UK context, with papers on women and political leadership in Scotland; gender and PMQs; the impact of Margaret Thatcher; and gendered conceptions of the ‘good’ prime minister. The final session of the day moved beyond Europe to look at the gendered tensions of ‘First Ladyship’; women’s political leadership in Zambia; and the political oratory of Hillary Clinton.
The event also featured a plenary roundtable with Professor Tim Bale (QMUL), Dr. Rainbow Murray (QMUL) and Dr. Rosie Campbell (Birkbeck), reflecting on the 2015 General Election (pictured above). This roundtable is available as a podcast: http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2015/05/women-gender-and-political-leadership/ Plans are underway to follow up the workshop with further events and panels, as well as academic outputs, and PSA members interested in this research agenda are recommended to contact either of the Specialist Groups to get involved.
The run-up to the 2015 General Election was dominated by coverage of ‘dangerous women’ shaking up the status quo in British politics – ranging from the ‘scarlet sisterhood’ of female party leaders to the now infamous photo-shopped ‘wrecking ball’ image of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. In the end, a record high of 191 women MPs (29%) were elected to the House of Commons on 7 May, an increase of 48 women from the immediate post-2010 election results. With the resignations of Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, five of Britain’s main political parties are now led by women – including interim party leaders Harriet Harman (Labour), Sal Brinton (Lib Dem)…and (briefly) Suzanne Evans (UKIP) until Nigel Farage’s recent ‘un-resignation’.
Yet, while these gains are to be welcomed, women’s presence at Westminster remains a long way from parity. The 2015 election results…
The Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester is hiring for a permanent position as a Lecturer in International Politics (broadly defined). The Department is particularly interested in developing its research and teaching profile in the areas of international ethics, gender, human security, intelligence and national security and conflict studies.
Ahead of the 2015 election, broadcaster Jeremy Paxman argued that voters were being given a choice “between one man who was at primary school with Boris Johnson and one man who was at secondary school with him – both of whom did PPE at Oxford”.
Throughout the campaign, we’ve been gathering data on the parliamentary candidates to see if this lack of choice plays out across the board. Do the people elected to represent the UK, bear any resemblance to the public they represent?
Women on the rise
This year saw 48 more women elected that in 2010 – bringing the total number of women MPs to a record 191. Women make up 29% of newly elected MPs, up from 22% in 2010.
The Green party had the highest percentage of women candidates selected at 38%, but with chances in only a handful of seats, they had little chance of affecting parliamentary gender balance.
Labour has the highest proportion of women in its parliamentary party. Its record number of 99 women MPs is the result of using all-women shortlists and the decision to put a majority of women candidates (53%) in winnable seats. So Labour’s conversion rate was higher, despite its poor performance in the polls.
Party breakdown (percentages are rounded). Parliamentary Candidates UK, Author provided
With 26% of women candidates selected, the Tories have 68 women MPs, up from 47 in the last parliament. Although there was no equivalent of the A-List David Cameron used in 2010 to increase the number of women put forward for winnable seats, the Tories did place women in 38% of their retirement seats.
One of the key reasons for the increase in the number of women MPs is the performance of the SNP. The Scottish party came second and tied with Labour in terms of the percentage of women candidates selected (34%) and added 20 women MPs to the overall total – as well as the youngest in Mhairi Black.
Perhaps surprisingly, given accusations of racism within the party, 6% of UKIP candidates were black or from an ethnic minority group. That’s more than the SNP, the Greens and Plaid.
The vote on May 7 saw 41 BME MPs elected to parliament, and increase on 2010 where 27 MPs were elected. MPs from non-white backgrounds make up just 6% of Parliament.
BME MPs. Percentages are rounded. Parliamentary Candidates UK, Author provided
Prior to the election, it was suggested that the Conservatives had closed the gap with Labour when it came to the proportion of black and ethnic minority candidates in the running. Our data show that the Tories led the way with 10% of BME candidates selected to stand in 2010, compared to 8% for Labour and LibDems.
But this is not the success it seems when you look at winnable seats. While 13% of Labour’s black and ethnic minority candidates were placed in winnable or marginal seats, just 5% of those standing for the Conservatives found themselves in similar positions. Labour had 16 black and ethnic minority MPs in 2010 so the increase to 23 in 2015, despite poor polling, shows the importance of where candidates are placed.
The Tories were able to boost BME representation by selecting candidates in very safe retirement seats, including Rishi Sunak in Richmond, Yorkshire – a 44% Tory majority seat – and Suella Fernandes in Fareham, a seat with a 31% majority. The Tories now have 17 black and minority MPs – an increase of six from 2010.
The increased diversity in Westminster after the 2015 election is a success worth celebrating, but we should be careful not to lose sight of the big picture. Paxman’s general premise – that there isn’t a great deal of diversity amongst the candidates of the different parties – still holds.
Women MPs make up just 29% of the new parliament, that’s less than a third for a country where women make up 51% of the population. It also puts Britain behind many of its European counterparts (Germany, France, Sweden), and well behind countries like Rwanda, Cuba and Kazakhstan. And black and ethnic minority MPs make up just 6% of parliament, despite representing 13% of the population.
To put the progress made in perspective, the UK would need to elect 130 more women and double the current number of black and ethnic minority MPs to make its parliament descriptively representative of the population it serves – and the political parties are still not offering enough candidates from these groups in the right places to make that happen.
Chrysa Lamprinakou, Marco Morucci, Sally Symington, Sam Sharp and David Ireland also contributed to this article.