The symbolic representation of women: tokens or role models?

Evans Elizabeth

in Women and the Liberal Democrats

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780719083471
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702277 | DOI:
The symbolic representation of women: tokens or role models?

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Symbolic representation is a relatively under-studied concept amongst feminist political scientists. Most existing research on women's symbolic representation in politics has tended to adopt a more wide-ranging approach to analyse the media's representation of women and the impact of women politicians as role models. This chapter illustrates various examples where, in common with both Labour and Conservative women MPs, Liberal Democrat women MPs have been subjected to trivialisation and objectification by the media. It also explores instances of representation where the descriptive and symbolic meet and questions whether the low number of women MPs impacts upon identification of role models. Prior to the 2010 election the Liberal Democrats had the youngest MPs in England, Scotland, and Wales, all of whom are women: this resulted in mixed press coverage. The women MPs had varying attitudes towards the media, some found it hurtful, whilst others identified it as a ‘necessary evil’. The intersection between women's symbolic and descriptive representation peaked during the infamous 2001 debate on the all-women shortlists. The most commonly identified role model was Baroness Shirley Williams.

Keywords: symbolic representation; women MPs; Liberal Democrats; media; descriptive representation; role models; Shirley Williams; all-women shortlists; trivialisation; objectification

Chapter.  7396 words. 

Subjects: UK Politics

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