Kristin Goss Featured on “New Books in Political Science”

by Phillip Witteveen on March 24, 2014

Kristin Goss recently appeared on the New Books in Political Science podcast, where she discussed her book The Paradox of Gender Equality. Her monograph is an examination of “women’s civic place” during 120 years of historical change. From the late 19th century, to the present day, Goss considers the evolution of women’s public interests—and the parallel evolution of “women’s presence on Capitol Hill”.

“You didn’t pull off a little project,” says host Heath Brown, “this is a big project.”

To break it down, Goss recounted two stories from Paradoxwhich capture the main argument of the book. The first took place in the wake of the Second World War.

“This is 1947,” says Goss. “Congress is holding hearings on the Marshall Plan, the post-war reconstruction plan for Europe.”

In fact, the Marshall Plan still forms the groundwork for our modern foreign aid programs. At the time, though, it was unfinished, and for some of the first times in American history, American women were becoming involved in the public response to serious, lasting legislation.

“The kinds of groups that are up there are middle class groups, women’s clubs, labor union women, peace activists, different ethnic women—you’ve got a real cross-section of the female population.”

In this first case, the issue these women were campaigning for was not just a “women’s issue”, but rather one of a more general interest.

“Flash forward to the early 1990s,” says Goss, “when Congress was considering another landmark foreign aid bill.”

This aid bill was called the “Foreign Affairs Reform and Reconstruction Act”, an act widely agreed to be “very, very important” by policy experts. Essentially, what it did was reform the bureaucracy distributing foreign aid—how exactly the actual payments would work; how the broader, legislated plan would actually be executed. Women involved in these hearings were testifying on more specific issues “on things like human trafficking—which has to do with women’s rights, women’s protection, and on discrimination in the foreign service.”

Goss sees these two cases—the Marshall Plan, and later bureaucratic reforms—as “emblematic” of the larger 120-year-long trend in women’s organizations. These organizations went from having huge policy agendas (not necessarily particular to women’s issues, such as discrimination)—to much more focused platforms built around “women’s rights, women’s status and women’s well-being.” The women actually composing these groups changed as well. By the 90s, the mass membership behind the generic agendas of the earlier 20th century—”carrying a huge amount of water for women”—had polarized: women had either disengaged from the movement, or had become more politically active.

You can listen to the full interview here to learn more about Goss’s “interesting and nuanced take” on the larger paradox at work in women’s public interests. Originally published in hardcover and named a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, and one of the Huffington Post’s Best Political Science Books of 2013, The Paradox of Gender Equality was recently released in paperback.



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