The political representation of women continues to be an important area of study for feminists. Feminist scholars in political science have been concerned with whether women politicians have been able to meet expectations that they will make a substantive difference in the areas of policy and process. The evidence suggests that women have made an impact on policy (the content of politics), but making an impact on how politics 'is done' is proving more difficult. One area of particular interest for scholars studying women's behaviour within Westminster type parliamentary systems has been the impact of women's leadership styles on the political process.
In Australia, feminists expect that women in leadership positions have a greater capacity to make an impact through positional power (access to a higher level of power and influence through position). To date, however, we have little understanding of women's impact on
parliamentary behaviour because the study of women's parliamentary behaviour has been hampered by a lack of women to study at the elite leadership level, and, because political science and its methods are masculinised, appropriate data and methods by which to measure impact. Furthermore, the dilemma for women in leadership positions is that at the same time as we expect them to change the masculinist way that politics is done, we also expect them to continue to operate effectively in a system that traditionally protects the status quo of masculinist politics.
This thesis examines both the institutional impact on women in politics and the impact of women's presence on the masculinised institutional norms, the 'rules of the game' It suggests that women's capacity to make an impact is being adversely affected by institutional constraints, leading to the views that the political system is masculinised in much the same way as political science and its methods, and
that a masculinised system disadvantages women by restricting their capacity to realise 'feminist' goals to construct a different parliamentary style of behaviour.
The study is conducted within the context of the Australian federal parliament and is an attempt to situate the role of woman-as-Minister. The research design is multi-methodological, and informed by a gendered perspective in an attempt to map gender relations in the parliamentary context using traditional methods of studying political behaviour. The data is drawn from interviews conducted with male and female parliamentarians (perceptions), content analyses of situations where women Ministers are under pressure as part of their Ministerial role (the practice), and interviews with the three female subjects of the situational analyses (perceptions of the practice). An important component of the analysis is performance and treatment of women acting out their leadership roles in the parliament. The
thesis attempts to answer questions about whether there is a space/s for women with positional power as Ministers to introduce and use a different behavioural approach in their parliamentary leadership role.
The analysis shows that the realisation of the expectations attached to women changing the normative masculine style of the Westminster system as practiced in the Australian Parliament is influenced by the impact of institutionalised (masculinized) politics on women. The findings show that the practice of politics for women Ministers is gendered by expectations and ambiguities about behaviour and by the dominant masculinist style of their male counterparts' behaviour. Women Ministers recognise the necessity to behave by the rules in order to 'survive' at the same time as they aim to de-masculinise/ change masculinist parliamentary norms. The results show that small windows of opportunity or 'spaces' can be created whereby women politicians can incorporate
a more 'female' leadership style that they feel more comfortable with into the dominant masculinised Australian federal parliament. They continue to aim for a 'better' political environment.