Commentary Magazine

Women in Politics

To the Editor:

Because Suzanne R. Weaver’s review of my book on women in politics, Political Woman [Books in Review, March], attributes to me a position with which I firmly disagree, I should like to set the record straight.

Mrs. Weaver’s review states that I believe “sexual representation is good in and of itself,” that I believe the “representation of women in the political elite is desirable,” that I believe that “the idea ‘that power should be shared by those affected by it’ confers a kind of automatic legitimacy . . . on all such symbols as grounds for a claim to representation.”

In fact, I believe that proposals to represent biological attributes and demographic groups (e.g., sex, color, age, social class) are mistaken in conception and mischievous in their consequences. I have argued elsewhere at great length (“Representation in Political Conventions: The Case of 1972,” a paper presented at the 1974 convention of the American Political Science Association, to be published in the summer issue of the British Journal of Political Studies) first, that doctrines of demographic representation are based on the false assumption that political opinion follows sexual, racial, and age identifications when in fact women and youth are divided among themselves on political issues much as middle-aged men are divided—some women support easy abortion, others oppose it, some support a strong defense posture, some oppose it, and so forth; second, that the practice of demographic representation deprives voters of the opportunity to decide which of their various ethnic, age, racial, sexual, economic, social, and religious identifications shall have priority in particular political contests; third, that giving demographic representation priority over the representation of political views may result in the selection of an assembly which is grossly unrepresentative of the views and values of those who are presumably “represented.”

In addition to having written at considerable length on the subject, I am closely and publicly associated with an organization (Coalition for a Democratic Majority) which has persistently (if unsuccessfully) opposed demographic representation in the Democratic party. I do not suggest that Mrs. Weaver should have known either about my paper on representation or my political affiliations. I only desire to point out that for me to be described as an advocate of sexual representation (in COMMENTARY, of all places) is, to put it mildly, ironic.

I do not know what I said in Political Woman that led Mrs. Weaver to her views about my views. My description of how shared attributes (race, class, sex, age) become symbols of identification in whose name grievances are stated and demands are made was intended to be just that—a description, My assertion that the “notion that power should be shared by those affected by it” was intended only to describe the rationale for expansion of the suffrage. I do not ask, in Political Woman, “why the representation of women is in fact so slight.” My concern is not the representation of women but their participation.

As a political scientist, I am interested in the political behavior of individuals and groups. The non-power-seeking behavior of women is both interesting and unexamined. And there is a great deal of lore concerning women as political actors—some favorable, some unfavorable, also unexamined. In Political Woman I attempted to examine and illuminate some aspects of some women’s behavior in relation to political power.

As a democrat, I welcome the increased participation of women in political processes as I welcome the increased participation of workers, persons over sixty-five, white ethnics, etc., because the sharing of power is a major political value. With Aristotle and many others, I believe that participation in power enhances the quality of both the citizen and the polity. As a woman I am pleased that some of my sex have participated constructively and with moderate success in power processes. But I do not advocate or support representation of sexual, economic, or age groups. To the contrary, I am convinced that opinion is the only feasible basis for a representative political system. I did not say so in Political Woman because it did not seem to me germane to the inquiry. Perhaps I should have.

Jeane Kirkpatrick
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.



Suzanne R. Weaver writes:

I am aware of Jeane Kirkpatrick’s general position on sexual representation. I fear, however, that there is a distinct discrepancy between that position and the underlying premise of Political Woman, which is inescapably that “woman” is a politically meaningful category (whether or not women hold the same opinions). It will not do to say that the category may be used for studies of “participation” without implying an interest in “representation”; subgroup participation in modern democracies is of interest to political science precisely because participation is a mechanism for, and an index of, the representation of subgroup interests or opinions. In identifying the groups whose participation deserves study, one is, by the nature of the enterprise, identifying the groups whose representation is deemed important.




In James Atlas’s review of The Twenties, by Edmund Wilson [June], the book Travels in Two Democracies was incorrectly identified (page 80).


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