Negotiating Gendered Institutions

Sarah L Childs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Parliaments are increasingly regarded as gendered institutions. Accordingly, women representatives are acknowledged to be entering into and acting within political institutions which are structured by, privilege, and constitute the practices and norms of, dominant masculinity. For women representatives who perceive or experience gendered differentiation and marginalization within particular political institutions, parliamentary friendship with other women can constitute a potential political resource, one that might enable them to better negotiate their gendered political environment. For this reason, gender and politics scholars of Parliaments need to know rather a lot more about women representatives’ friendships in politics. What is the basis for, and the determinants of, such friendships? What forms do they take? In studying a specific group of women political actors - Labour women MPs in the UK House of Commons - this article provides ‘fine grained description’ of women’s lived experiences within a specific institution (Lovenduski 2010). It is based in part upon interviews undertaken in 2009 with women MPs who were first elected to Westminster in 1997 and who remained in Parliament until at least 2010. These show that a women’s parliamentary friendship amongst Labour women MPs was, in their view at least, very much in play. Theirs was a friendship that had both a personal and a political dimension, and one which very much reflected the MPs’ experience of British party and parliamentary politics. In light of their accounts, women’s parliamentary friendship is conceptualized as a practice that seeks to counter, even as it reflects, women MPs’ experiences of such gendered institutions. A second research strategy - analysis of media representations of the women’s friendship – was undertaken to enable consideration of the appropriateness or otherwise of women’s friendship in politics. Representations that belittle, ridicule, question or condemn women’s friendships in politics likely constrain the potential of friendship to be a resource for women MPs. In so doing, it likely mediates women’s parliamentary friendships as a dynamic of institutional change.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitics and Gender
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

Keywords

  • women
  • gender
  • political friendship
  • UK parliament
  • legislature

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