Beth Reingold | Kerry L. Haynie | Kirsten Widner

It is well established that the race and gender of elected representatives influence the ways in which they legislate, but surprisingly little research exists on how race and gender interact to affect who is elected and how they behave once in office. How do race and gender affect who gets elected, as well as who is represented? What issues do elected representatives prioritize? Does diversity in representation make a difference?

Race, Gender, and Political Representation takes up the call to think about representation in the United States as intersectional, and it measures the extent to which political representation is simultaneously gendered and raced. Specifically, the book examines how race and gender interact to affect the election, behavior, and impact of all individuals. By putting women of color at the center of their analysis and re-evaluating traditional, “single-axis” approaches to studying the politics of race or gender, the authors demonstrate what an intersectional approach to identity politics can reveal. Drawing on original data on the presence, policy leadership, and policy impact of Black women and men, Latinas and Latinos, and White women and men in state legislative office in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, each chapter shows how the politics of race, gender, and representation are far more complex than recurring “Year of the Woman” frameworks suggest. An array of race-gender similarities and differences are evident in the experiences, activities, and accomplishments of these state legislators. Yet one thing is clear: the representation of those marginalized by multiple, intersecting systems of power and inequality is intricately bound to the representation of women of color.

Race, Gender, and Political Representation is published by Oxford University Press.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 1 introduces the book’s motivating questions and puzzles about race, gender, and political representation, particularly as they pertain to women of color in the U.S. It summarizes and critiques existing research that examines women’s representation with little regard to race/ethnicity or minority representation with little regard to gender and calls for a more intersectional approach. The authors detail what intersectionality as a critical research paradigm entails and how they adapt and apply it to the study of representation in state legislatures. A preview of the remaining chapters follows, outlining the central questions, analyses, and findings of each. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the study’s normative implications for democratic politics and its epistemological implications for the study of race, gender, and political representation.

Chapter 2: The Political Geography of Descriptive Representation

Chapter 2: The Political Geography of Descriptive Representation Descriptive representation, or the presence of women and minorities in public office, is the central focus of Chapter 2. Why are some legislatures more diverse than others? Why are some constituencies more likely to elect women and minorities? Chapter 2 addresses these questions about the political geography of race, gender, and representation with an intersectional lens. It re-evaluates existing theories about the electoral barriers and disadvantages facing women and minorities and tests an alternative theory that women of color, through intersectional resistance and resilience, can overcome such obstacles. Based on an analysis of descriptive representation in all state houses and house seats in 2005, the findings suggest the electoral fortunes of women of color are no less constrained than those of men of color or white women. Rather, women of color face a variety of structural challenges – and opportunities – that are similar to and different from those faced by others.

Chapter 3: Conceptions of Group Interests and the Links between Descriptive and Substantive Representation

Chapter 3 examines the relationship between descriptive and substantive representation – who among officeholders advocates for whom – by re-evaluating prevailing notions of group interests, with a critical intersectional lens. Do single-axis conceptions of women’s issues, Black interests, and Latinx interests obscure the representational efforts of women of color, especially when they include only narrowly or explicitly defined group-specific concerns? Extensive analysis of policy leadership activity in fifteen state houses in 1997 and 2005 shows that women of color are always on the forefront of legislating on behalf of group interests, no matter how they are defined. Their leadership is particularly strong and distinctive on issues of overlapping concern to all three groups, namely health and education. Ignoring issues of health and education, which are not always framed explicitly in group-specific terms, therefore, will underestimate the leadership of women of color and obscure the complexities of race, gender, and representation.

Chapter 4: Race-Gender Policy Leadership

Chapter 4 presents a different conception of group-interested representational activity: race-gender policy leadership, or sponsoring legislation that addresses issues of race and gender, the interests of women and racial/ethnic minorities, or the interests of intersectionally disadvantaged subgroups of women and minorities, such as poor women of color. Employing this more intersectionally capacious definition of substantive representation offers additional insight into the distinctive policy leadership of women of color. Further analysis of bill sponsorship patterns in fifteen state houses across two decades reveals that women of color are more likely than any other race-gender group of legislators to engage in two forms of race-gender policy leadership. Latinas are most likely to sponsor “one of each” – at least one women’s interest bill and one minority interest bill. Black women are most likely to sponsor “welfare/poverty” bills that address the interests of low-income individual and communities subject to multiple, intersecting disadvantages.

Chapter 5: Explorations in Intersectional Policymaking

Chapter 5 explores the concept of intersectional policymaking further by examining closely the content of legislation sponsored by a small subset of Democratic state legislators serving majority-minority constituencies in California, New Jersey, and Texas in 1997 and 2005. What might intersectional policymaking look like and who practices it? The analysis uncovers a wide variety of intersectional proposals, spanning multiple policy arenas and addressing many different problems arising from multiple, intersecting forms of inequality and marginalization. Particularly notable are measures concerning the health and welfare of women of color, immigrants, and others often disproportionately located within low-income communities, as well as criminal justice measures taking on issues of over-policing and mass incarceration that disproportionately affect men and boys of color in similar low-income, urban communities. Most lawmakers in this subsample sponsor at least one intersectional bill, but women of color stand out as the most reliable practitioners of intersectional advocacy.

Chapter 6: Welfare Policy Outcomes: Comparing Single-Axis and Intersectional Approaches

Research shows that Black and Latinx legislators make a difference in the welfare policies states enact. Do women also make a distinctive contribution? Focusing on state welfare reform in the mid-1990s, Chapter 6 weighs the efficacy of two alternative approaches to answering that question. An additive approach, which treats gender and race/ethnicity as mutually exclusive, suggests that female legislators – regardless of race/ethnicity – will mitigate the more restrictive and punitive aspects of welfare reform, much like their Black and Latinx counterparts do. In contrast, an intersectional approach, which emphasizes the interdependence of gender and race/ethnicity, suggests that legislative women of color will have the strongest countervailing effect on state welfare reform – stronger than that of other women or men of color. The analysis demonstrates that an intersectional approach yields a better understanding of race, gender, and representation: legislative women of color have a distinctive impact on welfare policy in the states.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

The concluding chapter summarizes the main findings and highlights the book’s contributions to the study of gender, race, and representation and the development of intersectionality as an analytic framework. It reviews, chapter by chapter, the many ways in which the election, activity, and impact of legislative women of color matter, not just for women and minorities, but especially for those situated at the intersections of multiple forms of disempowerment and misrepresentation. Examining politics from the perspective of women of color, this book demonstrates the many complex ways race and gender together shape democratic institutions and the representational opportunities and challenges they present. Little of what the book reveals, however, would have been possible without the critical intersectional approach informing it. Thus, Chapter 7 concludes with a call for more intersectional approaches to investigating questions, both old and new, about political representation and categories of difference.