More symbolism please!

A monumental Prinsjesdag this year. Because Minister of Finance Sigrid Kaag was the first woman to enter the House of Representatives with the briefcase containing the Budget Memorandum and the national budget. What do we notice about this symbolically important moment?

For political scientists like me who deal with representation, it’s not just the number of women that matters, but what they do next when elected, as well as their symbolic role. Symbolism is a daily practice in politics and beyond, but until now it has been less studied and appreciated than other forms of representation.

Fortunately, political scientists Emanuela Lombardo and Petra Meier show in their book ‘The symbolic representation of gender’ by means of all kinds of examples how symbolism always runs through politics and has such a major impact on our ideas. Through things – such as who is printed on our money and who is not, or flags – but also through bodies, of ministers, for example. Who leads us and what does that say about us?

What does Kaag, as ‘first’, show symbolically? I will explain a number of points from the authors: that who can and cannot be Minister of Finance is just a thought. That some groups are privileged in this, and others marginalized. And that such standards can and should be overthrown. Suddenly Kaag is the first, and the only one.

Now that Kaag’s presence makes it visible that she is the first woman as Minister of Finance, there is no reason to give up – it was actually a festive day. We will reap the benefits of Kaag’s work when today’s young women see that a woman can be Minister of Finance. As a girl I watched Gerrit Zalm for years. Still, the historic moment was not given much attention. At the end of an interview with the NOS, Kaag briefly said something about it when asked: ‘It is not a goal in itself, but I think it is a very nice message to all women and girls to show again in all ways: do something you want to do, there is no glass ceiling for women, and quite a few steps can still be taken in the Netherlands. Break through and do your thing.’

More of this, I’d say. Because Prinsjesdag 2022 was really a moment to mark for gender equality, but due to the many unresolved crises, it has faded into the background. Symbol politics has a bad connotation, but why? All politics is also symbolic politics, it just depends on whether you can decipher the symbolism. For good and for bad. Anyone who paid attention between all the crises has already seen it. More and more, politics is also a place for women. We are on the rise. Let’s hang the garlands ourselves. Cheers to a woman’s first Budget Day as Minister of Finance, and many more years to come!

Zahra Runderkamp (1991) is a gender and politics researcher. She is working on a dissertation in political science on the representation of women and minorities in Dutch local and national politics. She is also a communications officer at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research. Previously, she was president of the European Youth Parliament. At Domestic Governance, she looks at issues about diversity and inclusion from a scientific perspective on a monthly basis.

View all by Zahra Runderkamp

The article is in Dutch

Tags: symbolism

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