feminism, democracy, and gender equality

women in congress

Fem­i­nism, Democ­racy and the ‘War on Women’

Food for thought– should women who are emo­tion­ally and/​or eco­nom­i­cally invested in second-​class sta­tus have the power to shape laws that effect other women?

Tracy Hig­gins explained in 1997 why courts should review and some­times even reverse demo­c­ra­tic out­comes in order to ensure equal pro­tec­tion on the basis of gen­der. Con­sti­tu­tional the­ory pre­sumes an autonomous, self-​defining indi­vid­ual and thus jus­ti­fies “state action as the legit­i­mate expres­sion of pop­u­lar will.” Fem­i­nists have coun­tered that this lib­eral view of indi­vid­ual agency does not cap­ture women’s expe­ri­ences under patri­archy. Instead, people’s pref­er­ences are socially con­structed, such that “women’s choices should be under­stood as nei­ther fully free nor com­pletely deter­mined.” In other words, “[h]ow can a cit­i­zen mean­ing­fully con­sent if her nature and beliefs are them-​selves a prod­uct of the sys­tem to which she con­sents?” Sit­u­ated within cer­tain cul­tural norms of “lan­guage, law, myth,[and] cus­tom” some “indi­vid­u­als may not be the best judges of their own inter­ests or those of the com­mu­nity.” This is a con­tro­ver­sial view of agency. An alter­nate view is that women gay sup­port poli­cies that are not in the strate­gic inter­est of their gen­der because changes “could threaten the short-​term prac­ti­cal inter­ests of some women, or entail a cost in the loss of forms of pro­tec­tion which are not then com­pen­sated for in some way.” How­ever, under either con­cep­tion of agency, the fail­ure of demo­c­ra­tic processes to ensure gen­der equal­ity means that judi­cial review can be nec­es­sary to check major­ity outcomes.