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Though the number of women elected to the U.S. state legislatures has grown substantially in the last forty years, researchers still struggle to connect women's presence in the legislature to public policy outcomes that affect women. One reason for this struggle is that we lack a complete understanding of how political parties modify the relationship between women legislators' interests in representing women and the creation of public policies affecting women. In How Women Represent Women: Political Parties, Gender and Representation in the State Legislatures, Tracy L. Osborn examines the two avenues through which political parties fundamentally affect the ways in which partisan women legislators pursue women's issues policies.
She argues that political parties structure representation in two ways. First, women's party identities shape the types of policy alternatives they offer to solve women's policy problems. Second, parties organize the legislative process by holding majority control, to varying degrees, over agenda setting and policy creation, promoting some women legislators' policy proposals over others. Osborn tests these two avenues of influence by comparing partisan women's legislative behavior toward the creation of women's issues policies across different party environments in the U.S. state legislatures. She uses original election, sponsorship, and roll call data in nearly all ninety-nine state legislative chambers in 1999-2000. She concludes that Republican and Democratic women offer different solutions to women's policy problems based on their party identities. Depending on which party controls the legislative process and how strongly they do so, this party control promotes one set of partisan policy alternatives over the other. Thus, political parties determine which women's issues policies become law. Ultimately, this book demonstrates how essential parties are to understanding how women elected to public office translate their interest in women's issues into substantive public policy.