Gretchen Whitmer

We have learned the differences between types of representation that women leaders and legislators can offer while in office. Moving beyond formal and descriptive representation, that is, simply by being elected to represent the interests of constituents, choose a woman elected official and assess whether she makes or attempts to make a substantial difference in representing and advocating for women’s issues and interests. As Hannah Pitkin has defined it substantive representation means, “acting in the interest of the represented, in a manner responsive to them, (Pitkin 1969, 209). This means you will need to define the field of women’s issues and interests and then find out what areas your elected official advocates in her work. This can be through fund-raising, campaigning, working with parallel advocacy groups, writing, introducing and voting for legislation, public speaking or writing. You will produce an essay 5-7 pages in length that describes your officials most important advocacy activities for women’s issues. 


How to choose your subject:

The elected official must be a recent or continuing politician in local, state or federal politics in the U.S. or a current elected official in another country. I have emphasized elected because politicians who are appointed or members of royalty do not count because they do not have to convince people to vote for them despite the fact that they are women or because they are known advocates of women’s issues. 

Once you have chosen your subject, please answer most of the following questions in essay format. You should not answer them separately but work them into a paper with an introduction, middle section and conclusion. Make sure the paper has a logical flow that connects each question to another or organizes them by themes. Some of the questions may not be relevant to your elected official so do not worry if you cannot answer every single one. Rather, choose the most important ones for your elected official.

These questions are drawn from the text on page 191 of the Paxton and Hughes textbook (this page is attached to the assignment in RN). Use them to guide your study as you research your candidates’ legislative history or governing style for answers to these questions. All politicians have official web sites with their voting records and issue priorities listed on them that you may consult. You will also need to conduct research at the library concerning bills they’ve introduced or by consulting academic research that puts the politician’s work into a political science framework. Pay close attention to the electoral framework or “rules of the game” she must follow in order to be successful.


  1. Does she view women as important constituents? Furthermore, does she “see” her female constituents better than male politicians do? What kinds of assumptions does she make about her female constituents interests and needs? 
  2. Does her attitude and do her policy positions demonstrate priorities that differ from males in her legislative environment? How does she prioritize these issues? Is it different from her male peers?
  3. What party is she from? How does it view women as constituents and how does it feature women issues in its party platform? 
  4. Examine her voting record. Does she favor “women’s issue” bills more than her peers?

Examples: domestic violence, health, education, reproductive rights, child care, gay and lesbian rights (Kaufmann 2002), military withdrawal, health care, social services.

  1. Is she writing bills of interest to women? Taking the initiative to act for women in other ways?
  2. Has she been able to get any women’s issue bills (or any bills) passed after initiated? Assess her power relative to other male colleagues in her institution (Senate, House, national assembly, parliament, office of President or Prime Minister)
  3. What is her stance on reproductive rights, childcare policy and pay equity?
  4. Does she have a different legislative style than her male peers? Does she act through traditional channels of power such as party elites or clubs or have other channels arisen due to women’s impact on institutions in the country where your politician resides? Does she make use of women’s policy machinery? (Women’s caucus, Women’s ministry).
  5. How many other women are in office with her? Is she better able to negotiate politics because of the other women legislators, leaders?
  6. Does she chair or is she a member of any committees? Powerful ones?
  7. Did she have assistance from any PACs (political action committees) or quota systems? Do these groups enable or constrain her in representing women? Describe them, if applicable.
  8. Does she have any political impact outside her legislative body or institution? If so, where?


This assignment will cover the material from the first 6 weeks of class. Each student should choose a presently- elected woman politician to research. Students will have to organize the answers to these questions in a way that makes sense given their particular politician’s background and data. Not all of the questions may be relevant or important to your candidate. That’s the goal of the assignment: to get you to pick the ones that best fit and describe how they work. The basic or overall premise of the paper is to assess whether or not your candidate substantively represents women and their interests. This means you will have to identify “women” and their specific interests with respect to your politician. You could decide that your candidate does not substantively represent, explain why, and choose another form of representation for her (i.e. formal, descriptive or neither). Go back to the lecture on Representation from Week One for these designations. 

In composing this research essay you should draw on the material we have covered in the first six weeks of class to assess your candidate, including: representation, power, gender, women’s v. feminist interests, whether women can adequately represent or function in democratic politics given the structural limitations of the liberal tradition, and the overarching challenges or “obstacles” to women running, representing women and staying in office while doing so. 

Students will be assessed by how well they organize the essay, the choices they make for questions for their candidate (appropriateness, fit), how well they incorporate insights from the material in the first six weeks (since it follows thematically). Not all materials have to be represented but either many should be or a few should be substantively covered to receive a strong grade. 


Students need to have 4-5 sources from outside the course that are credible news or government sources.



The final product will be 5-7 double spaced, typed pages. You should have 4-5 sources from outside the course work. In addition, the paper should include an analysis of how the material from the first six weeks of class has informed you on how to assess your candidate. For example, is your official limited by one of the overarching challenges we learned about from Week Six? Is your official constantly having to justify her being a “woman” in politics demonstrating the double-standard of the liberal tradition from Week Four? Is your candidate a person of color and therefore expected to represent competing or mutually exclusive constituencies? Please be sure to cite your sources using a recognized academic format such as MLA or Chicago.