Women in American Democracy Conference Panel Descriptions/Topics

Panel 1: Historical Overview of Women’s Contributions to the Development of American Democracy

Paula Baker
A Historical Look at Women’s Part in the Shifting Meanings of Democracy and Citizenship in America

Historical connections between women and democracy in the United States are necessarily complicated and subject to revision.  My talk will use the period from the founding through the ratification of the 19th Amendment to illustrate the shifting meanings of democracy and citizenship and the parts women had in advancing and impeding what we might now consider democratic practices.

Susan Hartmann
Extending the Right to Economic Security to Women

Feminist Congresswomen in the 1960s and 1970s led efforts to extend to women the right to economic security that the New Deal guaranteed to white men.  I will discuss those efforts and the material bases of mainstream feminism, the redefinition of New Deal liberalism to include women, and the coalescence of women across divides of race, ethnicity, and class on behalf of reforms that expanded economic justice for disadvantaged groups.

Felice Batlan
How American Women Influenced the Meaning of Justice for the Poor

Putting legal history and women’s history in dialogue, I demonstrate that nineteenth-century women’s organizations first offered free legal assistance to the poor and that middle-class women acting as lay lawyers, provided such assistance.  By the early twentieth century, male lawyers created their own legal aid societies. These new legal aid lawyers created an imagined history of legal aid and a blueprint for its future in which women played no role and their accomplishments were intentionally omitted. In response, women social workers offered harsh criticisms of legal aid leaders and developed a more robust social work model of legal aid. These different models produced conflicting understandings of expertise, professionalism, the rule of law, and ultimately the meaning of justice for the poor.

Panel 2: Women in Elected Office: Stories from Ohio

Panelists, who are women elected officials who have run campaigns in Ohio and serve or have served in office, will talk about their experiences in political office, campaigning, being a woman leader in government, and the challenges and opportunities women face as they continue to influence the transformation of American democracy into the future. Veteran political news reporter Karen Kasler will facilitate.

Panel 3: Mobilizing Women of Color in Electoral Politics: Shifting from Voters to Candidates?

Wendy Smooth
When Intersectionality Really Matters: African American Women from Voters to Candidates

For scholars of electoral politics, voters, pundits and practitioners alike, we are realizing the salience of intersectionality for understanding the electorate. Now more than ever, we are coming to understand the power and impact of women of color as voters and increasingly see these voters as a distinct voting bloc. In this talk, I will contextualize the rise in interests regarding women of color voters, including their political salience in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. While we are coming to an appreciation of the political power of women of color as voters, there is less emphasis in moving women of color from voters to candidates. Focusing specifically on African American women in electoral office, I argue that given the current terrain of American politics, democratic inclusion and representation for communities of color hinges on women of color converting their power in the voting booth to running for office.

Christina Bejarano
The Growing Power of Latinas in U.S. Politics

There is now evidence of the growing political influence of Latinos in politics, as well as the growing distinctiveness of Latinas in their partisanship and participation rates.  In addition, Latinas are wielding increased political influence in their communities, at the ballot box, and in leading various Latino national organizations.  As a result, Latino political organizations and the major political parties are devising strategies to highlight Latinas’ role as catalysts of political change in the Latino community.  In my current research project, I examine current efforts to build the Latina leadership and electoral pipeline, which includes new mobilization efforts specifically targeting Latinas.  The new efforts include the ‘LatinasRepresent initiative’, which is a coalition of diverse groups working towards increasing the national dialogue on Latina representation and supporting Latina leadership and political representation.  My research project examines this new group behavior and the pool of eligible Latina political candidates that are fostered from the ‘LatinasRepresent’ efforts.

Glynda C. Carr
#BlackWomenLead from the Voting Booth to Elected Representation

Political representation – from voting booths to elected office – is critical to changing policies that negatively impact our communities and our nation. The late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm once said, “At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.” This statement rings true today and Black women have a pivotal role to play.

During this session  we will explore the growing economic, electoral, and online influence of Black women and efforts to harness that power to elevate Black women’s voices, support and elect Black women and impact elections in a significant way.  This work will require a long-term strategy to analyze, expand and support a leadership pipeline for Black women at all levels and to strengthen their civic participation leading up to and beyond just Election Day.

Dan Tokaji
Sex, Power, and the Constitution

Equal protection doctrine traditionally views a group’s political power as an indicator of whether heightened scrutiny should apply to laws disadvantaging it.  The theory is that judicial intervention on behalf of a group is more justified when the ordinary political process can’t be relied upon to protect its interests.  Recent empirical research suggests that there’s good reason for the heightened scrutiny long accorded to sex-based classifications, at least those disadvantaging women.   Women do not seem to enjoy political power commensurate with their numbers, as measured by election officials’ responsiveness to the respective policy preferences of men and women.  I’ll consider various possible explanations for women’s relative lack of political power, including disparities in descriptive representation, influence within political parties, access to campaign money, and lobbying/interest group strength.  I’ll also consider possible legal remedies.  Whatever the causes of women’s relative lack of political power, constitutional law’s conventional approach – intermediate scrutiny for sex-based classifications – isn’t an effective means of redressing it.  That’s because settled equal protection doctrine only accords heightened scrutiny to facial or intentional discrimination, offering no help for those whose grievance arises from the effects of government action or inaction.  Because constitutional intervention at the back end of the political process won’t help much, we should focus instead on front-end interventions that will help women achieve political power commensurate with their numbers in the population and the electorate.

Carrie Davis
Voter Turnout Trends: From Population Shifts to Election Law Changes, What Impacts the Demographic Make-up of the Electorate

As the state director for the nonpartisan League of Women Voters in the battleground state of Ohio, I spend a lot of time digging into voter participation trends. My talk will include an overview of voter participation rates by race, ethnicity, and gender; projected voter participation shifts in 2016 and future cycles; and note the striking differences when we compare voting strength of women and women of color to the number of women and women of color currently holding political office. Then we will look at key factors that affect voter turnout rates, including the demographic impact of voter suppression and voter mobilization tactics. It is especially noteworthy that 2016 will be the first presidential election since the US Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, paving the way for states to implement a host of voter suppression laws that have been shown to have a disparate impact on women and people of color.

Panel 4: Gender Dynamics of the Campaign Trail: Stereotypes, Messages, & Communication

Kristina Horn Sheeler
The Wagon Train to Nowhere: The Pioneer Frame as Constraint for Women Political Candidates

The Pioneer frame which has been applied to each woman candidate for the U.S. presidency since the nineteenth century undermines the credibility of their campaigns, underscoring the transgressive and oxymoronic quality of all woman presidential candidates. Although political women have benefited from the efforts of their predecessors, the Pioneer metaphor obscures women’s progress in the political sphere. Women’s presidential bids will gain traction only when one or more female presidential candidates is able to displace the Pioneer narrative and replace it with a story that places women at the center of U.S. political leadership, rather than at its periphery. This paper on which this presentation is based begins by establishing the Pioneer frame as a salient narrative for each major female candidate running for the presidency and explores the announcement speeches of key female political figures from Victoria Woodhull to Hillary Clinton, assessing the extent to which they embrace, resist, or recast the Pioneer metaphor.

Dianne Bystrom
Gendered Frames: Media Coverage of Women Presidential Candidates from 2008 to 2016

Although the media coverage of female and male political candidates running for governor and the U.S. Congress has become more equitable in the 21st century, women seeking the Democratic or Republican nomination for president have received coverage that differs from their male opponents, including gendered frames of their viability, appearance, demeanor, and other image attributes. My presentation will focus on the results of studies examining the media coverage of Hillary Clinton, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, and that of Michele Bachmann, who campaigned in the Republican presidential primary in 2012. In addition, the coverage to date of Clinton’s campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president as well as Carly Fiorina’s now-ended campaign for the Republican Party nomination will be examined. Finally, Clinton’s 2008 coverage will be compared her coverage, to date, in the 2016 election cycle to show how gender has played a role in both campaigns.

Kathleen A. Dolan
Stereotypes are not Evaluations: How Do Voters Really Evaluate Candidates?

There is an extensive literature that demonstrates the gender stereotypes that people hold about women and men who run for office in the United States.  But what we know less about is whether and how those stereotypes might matter to the most important evaluations of candidates – vote choice decisions. Presenting survey data, I outline the minor role that stereotypes play in determining the electoral fate of women candidates.

Kelly Dittmar
Playing the Gender Card? How Candidates Navigate Campaigns’ Gendered Terrain and Why it Matters

Research demonstrates minimal effects of gender stereotypes on vote choice or electoral outcomes. However, candidate and campaign professionals’ perceptions of gender stereotypes shape strategic decision-making in ways that can inform both electoral and institutional outcomes. In the strategies and tactics they adopt to prevent direct gender effects at the ballot box, campaigns have the potential to replicate or disrupt stereotypes of gender and candidacy, shaping gender power dynamics of campaign institutions for future candidates – men and women alike. How are men and women candidates navigating the gendered terrain of political campaigns in 2016? And what are implications of these strategic and tactical decisions for candidate success and institutional change? In addition to outlining theoretical claims and empirical findings from my work on gender and campaign strategy in previous statewide campaigns, I will analyze the gender dynamics evident in 2016 campaigns. Comparing Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016 provides a particularly valuable illumination of the extent to which a woman candidate for the most masculine office adheres to or alters existing gender norms of campaigns and campaigning. I will describe the ways in which her 2016 campaign has mainstreamed gender, as well as noting persistent constraints to gender disruption. I argue that disrupting gender power dynamics is necessary so that more women and men can run on their own terms instead of adhering to the masculine terms of engagement that have dominated electoral politics to date.

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