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US Politics – Women in Congress

3. Descriptive Representation

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About this Lecture


In this module we explore the concept of descriptive representation, focusing in particular on: (i) Hanna Pitkin’s conception of “substantive” and “descriptive” political representation; (ii) reasons why some believe that descriptive representation matters in politics, including the role model, justice, trust, legitimacy, and overlooked interests arguments; (iii) how we can complicate these discussions by highlighting the fact that women are not necessarily a homogeneous group defined by shared interests and experiences.


In this course, Dr Tessa Ditonto (Durham University) explores the representation of women in the United States Congress. In the first module, we explore women’s representation in the US Congress, focusing in particular on the history of women’s representation in the US Congress and statistics on women presently serving in Congress as of 2022. Then, in the second module, we explore the various potential causes of women’s underrepresentation in the US Congress, focusing primarily on structural factors, the candidate emergence process, and the role of voter biases and stereotypes on the numbers of women serving in Congress. Finally, in the third module, we explore Hanna Pitkin’s concept of descriptive representation, and outline arguments for increasing the descriptive representation of women in the US Congress. This course is relevant to both the US Politics and Non-Core Political Ideas: Feminism sections of the AQA and Edexcel A Level Politics specifications.


Dr. Ditonto is an associate professor in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University. Her research interests include gender and politics, political psychology, American politics, and voting behaviour. Her work focuses in particular on perceptions of female political candidates, the role of stereotypes and prejudice in voter decision-making, and the effects of information and cognition on political behaviour. She recently wrote the entry for 'Voting and Gender' for The Sage Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender.

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APA style

Ditonto, T. (2022, August 25). US Politics – Women in Congress - Descriptive Representation [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ditonto, T. "US Politics – Women in Congress – Descriptive Representation." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 25 Aug 2022,

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