October 14-17, 1999

Feminist political theorists have long debated -- on an abstract plane -- the problems and possibilities posed for women's political participation by the democratic traditions born in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Such research has enabled an acute understanding of the operation of gender inclusion and exclusion in the past, and of how such practices bear upon present efforts to achieve gender equity in the political sphere. What this discussion has been less successful at providing, however, is a concrete account of the varieties of women's political participation, from grassroots to religious organizations, the academy, and formal political participation. Such omissions indicate a lacuna in our understanding of women's political rights and representation, and raise timely questions about the dynamics of women's political participation at the present time. How do women perceive their political role in the late 20th century, and what are the conditions governing women's participation or non-participation in the contemporary political sphere?

Our first Midwest Faculty Seminar of 1999-2000, co-sponsored with The University of Chicago's Committee on Gender Studies, will pursue that reflection and debate more concretely, discussing the varying places of women in three principal democratic regimes -- the United States, South Africa, and France -- of the late 20th century. Our seminar will ask questions relevant to these individual countries as well as to feminism considered comparatively and globally. How do political structures limit or enable women's participation, and how and when do such structures change as a result of women's participation? To what extent has concentrated international attention (and pressure) in politics and the media influenced the gendering of politics abroad? And what is the relationship between the different ways gender issues are brought to bear on governments -- through grass roots movements, diplomacy, religious organizations, and the academy itself -- throughout the world?

We have selected these polities for particular focus both for the saliency and urgency of the issues they raise individually, and because their histories and practices of gender equity, inclusion, and exclusion differ and coincide in interesting and important ways. A discussion of women's political participation in America, for instance, will give us the opportunity to explore several pressing issues at the century's end, including the relative weakness of women's formal political power given the historical strength of both feminist movements and feminist interventions in the university. The relation of racial to gender justice will be a topic of consideration in several of our national cases, both that of America and of South Africa, where, since the end of the regime of apartheid, the primary concern has been quite obviously racial justice rather than gender parity.

Our discussion of gender in relation to other under-represented groups will be extended to France as well, where despite the fact that affirmative action in any domain has been vociferously opposed by politicians of whatever stripe, there is now strong movement to mandate that one-half of all elected positions be occupied by women. Outbursts in France over the right of Muslim girls to wear head-coverings to school will raise additional issues of religion, gender, and politics, and thus pose an interesting parallel case to that of America, where women have long used religious organizations to further their political goals. Central to our inquiry throughout will be the relations of grass-roots, academic, and formal political participation, both locally and on the international stage.

Calling on a distinguished group of feminist scholars and activists, our seminar will investigate the forces behind women's political participation and non-participation at the end of the millennium. Speakers include: Thenjiwe Mntinso (Deputy Secretary of the ANC), Jane Masbridge (Harvard University), Karen Bird (McMaster University), Brent Bauer (Universite de Montreal), Linda Kirber (University of Iowa), Cathi Albertyn speaking on the South African constitution, Todd Shepard (Rutgers University), Georgia Duerst-Lahti (Beloit College), Audrey Ducoulombier (Nottingham Trent University), Sean Cahill (NGLTF Policy Institute), Shireen Hassim (University of the Witwatersrand), Gay Seidman (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Barbara Burrell (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Robert Bailey (Rutgers University), Elaine Salo (Emory University/Western Cape), Andrea Simpson (University of Washington), Miriam Ticktin (Stanford University), Chris Riddiough (Democratic Socialists of America), Cathy Cohen (Yale University), Andrea Simpson (University of Washington), Virginia Sapiro (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Michael Selmi (George Washington University Law School), Sheila Meintjes (University of the Witwatersrand), Anne-Maria Boitumelo Makhulu (University of Chicago), and Melissa Williams (University of Toronto).