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Critical Mass Theory Revisited: The Behavior and Success of Token Women in State Legislatures

  • Kathleen A. Bratton (a1)

Research on women and representation has argued that women who serve in “skewed” legislatures—that is, legislatures in which women make up less than 15% of the membership—avoid addressing women's interests and are marginalized by other legislators. I argue that women in such legislatures may actually be encouraged to develop legislative agendas that are distinct from those of their male colleagues, and that they may be as successful as their male counterparts. Analyzing data from three state legislatures in four years, I find that even in extremely skewed state legislatures, women are generally more active than men in sponsoring legislation that focuses on women's interests; indeed, in two of the three states, gender differences narrow as the legislature becomes more gender balanced. Second, I find that women are generally as successful as men in passing the legislation that they sponsor, and that in very homogeneous settings, they are sometimes more successful than men. Moreover, little evidence exists that they are less likely to be appointed to leadership positions. Finally, I find that increasing gender diversity within a legislature is accompanied by a greater overall focus on women's issues. I conclude that a “critical mass” is not necessary for substantive representation on the part of individual female state legislators, but that increased diversity may indeed bring about changes in policy outputs that reflect the interests of women.

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Politics & Gender
  • ISSN: 1743-923X
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