But one researcher is taking this logic and flipping it on its head, arguing that the real problem isn’t that women are underrepresented, but rather that men are overrepresented. Rainbow Murray, an associate professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, proposes that governments move away from implicit quotas for women, which frame women as outsiders and men as the norm, and toward explicit quotas for men—weeding out the male politicians who are perhaps not all that well qualified. “We cannot automatically assume that men are present in these proportions because they were the best representatives available,” Murray said. “Anthony Weiner? Todd Akin? Did those guys really get elected because they were the best society had to offer?”
Akin and Weiner notwithstanding, it’s almost impossible to imagine such a system working in the United States. Countries with parliamentary systems are able to implement quotas with relative ease, since political parties have much greater control over the selection of candidates, but in the U.S., mandatory quotas at the party level would likely be unconstitutional. But Murray’s argument is as much a call to reconsider the way society thinks about political exclusion as it is a proposal to actually change electoral laws.
And Murray’s case, laid out in a recent article in the American Political Science Review, makes for a rich thought experiment. A quota for men would establish a ceiling on the share of male representatives, theoretically driving up the quality of representation for both men and women by making the electoral process more competitive and meritocratic. The current arrangement, in which wealthy, ethnic-majority men dominate as representatives, does not serve the interest of the full range of men in society—and therefore, Murray argues, men have an “enlightened self-interest” in supporting quotas for men. Quotas alone would not necessarily result in a more representative sample of men in office. Murray’s argument requires a certain amount of optimism about the attitudes of voters themselves, since even with a more diverse slate of candidates, inherited beliefs about who is fit to go into politics are unlikely to evaporate.