Studying Legislatures at the Intersection of Gender and Race: The View from the 114th Congress

Studying Legislatures at the Intersection of Gender and Race: The View from the 114th Congress

By Kelly Dittmar, Rutgers University–Camden, Catherine Wineinger, Western Washington University and Kira Sanbonmatsu, Rutgers University–New Brunswick

Whereas the racial or gender background of legislators is commonly used to interrogate the representational relationship, research located at the intersection of the two categories is infrequent. Our interviews with women in the US Congress from diverse racial backgrounds revealed (1) the significance for legislative studies of attention to race and gender, and (2) the significance for public policy and American politics broadly of the presence of women of color in legislative office. We were fortunate at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) to have an opportunity to study these relationships with in-person interviews with most of the women serving in the 114th Congress (2015–2017). This research is reported in the CAWP report, Representation Matters: Women in the U.S. Congress (Dittmar et al. 2017), and our book, A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Presence Matters (Dittmar, Sanbonmatsu, and Carroll Dittmar, 2018). This article provides a few examples from our semi-structured interviews that attest to the value of scholarly attention to the ways that gender and race simultaneously shape legislators’ experiences, behavior, and influence. With the rise of women of color serving in Congress (currently 50 of the 144 total women), legislative scholars would be wise to incorporate intersectional analyses in their research agendas

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