Gender Representation or Transformation?

This week someone asked me what I thought about the article, Iceland Closes Gender Gap but Violence Against Women Remains. There are various complex things going on to explain such a paradox, but the first thing that came to mind is the idea that you can have gender representation or transformation, but not necessarily both. What does this mean?

A good deal of progressive gender politics is focused on women’s “equality,” whether it be in the workplace or holding positions of political power. There is an assumption that women’s equality makes everything “better.” For example, the argument goes that if we have more female political leaders, politics will somehow be more caring. However, I can see no evidence of this: whenever women are in positions of political power they tend to perform the Same Old. Nor can we expect female politicians to be more progressive: just look at the female heads of state in the UK and Germany, and the “far right” female leaders in France and Germany.

What we can conclude from this is that women’s representation needs to be framed as a good thing only in terms of fair representation within the political status quo. But it is fundamentally wrong to assume that representation within the status quo transforms the status quo (whether in terms of gender politics or geopolitics). Indeed, it could be argued that representation within the status quo actually consolidates the status quo, which suggests that feminist goals of “equality” are not just short-sighted but part of the problem.

So next time you think about equality, ask yourself: what do you really want? Representation or transformation?