Skip to main content

Panel 1 - Ceremony, Ritual and Representation

Rosa Malley

Title: Parliamentary Culture and Inclusiveness: Westminster and the Scottish Parliament


Reflecting the turn to institutions amongst feminist scholars, and an understanding of them as gendered (Lovenduski 1998; Mackay 2011; Franceschet 2011; Kenny 2011), this paper examines parliamentary culture at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament. It takes a novel approach by drawing on literatures within and beyond political science on ceremony, ritual and parliamentary buildings and by drawing upon an underused method in political science, namely, participant observation. Typically dismissed in studies of parliament as ‘cultural sideshow’ (Crewe 2005: 200), this paper demonstrates that these seemingly banal aspects of parliament speak to Westminster and Holyrood’s ‘cultural assumptions’ in terms of gender and class, along with race, age and professional background, and impact upon the belonging of representatives (Duerst-Lahti 2002: 385). Drawing upon participant observation data, collected through ‘shadowing’ MPs and MSPs, and over seventy qualitative interviews with MPs/MSPs, it finds that Westminster parliamentary culture is perceived, and is experienced, as less inclusionary of its members than the Scottish Parliament. Cultural assumptions in Westminster’s ceremonies, buildings and ritualised behaviour, contribute to the process through which some members feel included in parliament, while others are reminded of their marginalised status, primarily in terms of gender and class, but also race and professional background (Puwar 2004). In contrast the Scottish Parliament looks to be experienced as more inclusive by its members – MSPs are mostly positive about their parliament, arguing it represents founding commitments to accessibility and equality. Using political buildings, ceremony and ritualised behaviour as analytical lenses captures the subtle, and difficult to measure, ways in which institutions are ‘lived’ by their representatives; thought to be necessary for understanding the context in which the substantive representation of women occurs (Mackay 2008: 132). They therefore speak to, and build upon, feminist institutionalist approaches in offering new avenues for studying the ways in which institutions are gendered.

Listen to the podcast


Prof Sarah Childs

Title: Parliamentary Sororal Friendships: When Labour Women are Under Attack


Even whilst Westminster remained resolutely male, the general election of 1997 saw the number of women MPs double overnight. Of the 120 women MPs, 101 were labour members. They entered an institution, famed for its historic ceremonies, rituals, practices and norms, many of which are opaque to those without the Palace. Framed by the media as Blair Babes Labour’s women MPs were repeatedly criticized through the Parliaments that followed for being supine, spineless and substandard. When the two Cabinet Ministers Estelle Morris and Claire Short resigned in 2002 and 2003 respectively, there was much agreement that this proved that both were not “up to the job”. The distinction between the male-politician-norm and female-politician-pretender was never more stark. The media coverage of Short’s resignation critically noted, moreover, that the Government benches surrounding her were populated by her parliamentary sisters: “the sisterhood is in a strop”; wrote Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail. Based on interviews with new Labour women MPs in 2009, and media coverage of Ministerial resignations under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, this paper examines the practice of parliamentary friendship amongst Labour’s women MPs. It does so within a context of an emerging literature on feminist/gendered institutionalism, that suggests that masculinised gender is imbued in the practices and norms of political institutions established by men. The paper also considers whether sororal friendships might be considered a ritualized practice that reflects and seeks to counter women MPs’ experiences of gendered marginalization in Parliament.


Dr Faith Armitage

Title: Symbolic Speakers? Women, Parties and Parliaments

Co-authored Dr Rachel Johnson and Dr Carole Spary


The paper compares the circumstances under which three national legislatures elected their first female Speakers: Betty Boothroyd in the UK in 1992; Frene Ginwala in South African in 1994; and Meira Kumar in India in 2009. The role, significance and meaning of a Speaker are unique to each representative assembly. Moreover, the norms and rules for selecting the Speaker in each institution differ, and are shaped by the party-political, electoral and parliamentary circumstances of each country. Nevertheless, there is evidence of parallels between the three cases in that each woman appears to have been promoted by her party as a candidate for the Speakership in an effort to feminise politics in general and parliament in particular, though they did not necessarily formulate it in those terms. Boothroyd, Ginwala and Kumar were positioned by their parties (and others) as symbolic representatives of women. The rhetoric and reporting around these women’s elections suggests that in each party, there was a desire genuinely to promote women’s interests through promoting a prominent female parliamentarian to the Speaker’s chair. There is also evidence that the internal party management of different groups and identities within each woman’s party can be linked to their promotion as candidates for the chair. Finally, and unsurprisingly, pragmatic electoral considerations also seem to have been part of the picture of motivations and considerations behind each woman’s rise.
Faith Armitage House of Lords