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Rethinking the role of women in politics

November 20, 2013
Andrea Radasanu

Andrea Radasanu

What is the appropriate role of women in political life?

Are women fundamentally different than men? How does “femininity” qualify or disqualify women from political participation?

These questions have been debated for millennia, going back to Plato and the ancient Greeks. But award-winning NIU Department of Political Science professor Andrea Radasanu says the topic has never been more relevant.

Radasanu recently won a highly competitive $25,000 grant from the Enduring Questions Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop a course examining the role of women in an ideal society (POLS 494). Registration is open for the new seminar, which will be offered this coming spring and in the spring of 2015.

“The course will encourage lively debate around questions that have always been and will likely continue to be at the center of humanistic inquiry,” Radasanu says.

Typically, only about 10 percent of NEH Enduring Questions grant proposals are approved for funding. The program supports faculty in the teaching and development of courses that foster intellectual community through the study of questions that have been debated throughout history. Examples include: What is good government? Can war be just? What is evil?

An expert on the history of political thought, Radasanu has long had an interest in the historical views related to the role of women in politics and society. The last century, of course, has seen an unprecedented rise of female political leaders worldwide.

Graphic: Rethinking the role of women in politics

The U.S. Congress now boasts more women than ever, with 20 female senators and 82 female representatives. Yet, those numbers don’t nearly approach 50 percent of congressional membership. Women remain dramatically underrepresented in politics, both nationally and abroad, and U.S. voters have never elected a female president.

“There is still a lot of disparity between women and men participating as representatives in democratic institutions worldwide,” Radasanu says. “Yet, it is the norm to think women should be equally represented, and this is a new way of thinking when you look at women in politics over the past 2,500 years.”

Students taking the new course will study texts from antiquity to the present, including works by such influential thinkers as Plato, Niccolò Machiavelli and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

“In other courses, I’ve had students study themes that are relevant today, such as the justice of war, through historical lenses from antiquity onward,” says Radasanu, who won NIU’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2012.

“I like presenting the viewpoints of history’s great thinkers who maybe we don’t agree with or who might hold completely different points of view from our own, because then students will interrogate their own views in ways they normally wouldn’t,” she says.

“Throughout classical literature and philosophy, we see all these views of women participating in politics that didn’t reflect the outside world,” she adds. “Because there’s still a disjuncture between theory and practice today, we see institutions trying to figure out ways to institutionalize the equality.”

Radasanu says the course will be “rigorous but fun,” and will incorporate events such as a movie night and speakers. It is geared for any students interested in the topic, and there are no prerequisites.

For more information, see the course website or contact Radasanu at [email protected].