The essay below was written at the suggestion of Campbell Wallace. It is meant as an attempt to recruit feminists to the cause of sortition. As an aside, it is worth mentioning, I think, that while, of course, men could be feminists, and some are, it is still somewhat embarrassing that all of the regular writers on Equality-by-Lot are men (I believe).
Almost 100 years ago, as the suffragist struggle in the US was approaching its successful culmination with the 19th Amendment, the feminist-anarchist activist Emma Goldman wrote her essay “Woman Suffrage”. It opens so:
We boast of the age of advancement, of science, and progress. Is it not strange, then, that we still believe in fetich [sic] worship? True, our fetiches have different form and substance, yet in their power over the human mind they are still as disastrous as were those of old. Our modern fetich is universal suffrage. Those who have not yet achieved that goal fight bloody revolutions to obtain it, and those who have enjoyed its reign bring heavy sacrifice to the altar of this omnipotent deity. Woe to the heretic who dare question that divinity!
There is no reason whatever to assume that woman, in her climb to emancipation, has been, or will be, helped by the ballot.
The veracity of Goldman’s opening statements has not diminished by the passage of time. Indeed, “electoral fetish” is a two-word description of most of the political discourse of the last 100 years, both public and academic. As for Goldman’s last assertion, it may be considered somewhat extreme, but what is clear is that 100 years of women’s suffrage have not brought women anywhere near equality with men. If attaining suffrage was a tool of emancipation (rather than merely the milestone it surely was), then it is evident that this tool was not nearly as powerful as its most ardent promoters believed it would be1.
In 2013 women still make a small minority in almost every high powered elected political body. In the US congress less than 20% are women, while in US statewide elective positions and in state legislatures they make less than 25%2. The situation in Europe is somewhat better, but still no European country has a majority of women in Parliament and only in 3 countries the share of women is over 40%3.
Much more important than the lack of equal share in elected office is the fact that a century of voting has failed to equalize women’s power and status in all aspects and activities in Western society. Women are poorer than men4, they hold lower status occupations and lower positions in government, business, the military, and powerful organizations5.
The fact that women’s suffrage has failed to produce the promised equality would not have surprised Goldman. As she pointed out, since voting men of the 19th and early 20th century did not manage to exert power against the elites, the expectation that women would be able to wield power through suffrage was unrealistic. Voters, then as now, men as women, have a very limited influence in politics. The electoral system is not a channel for expressing the interests, ideas and world view of the voters. It is merely a way to arbitrate power among a small pre-selected set of options.
In other words, whether the suffrage is limited to property holding white men, or to all men, or open to all people, the electoral system is not a democratic system – it is an oligarchical system. It is a system that maintains power in the hands of an elite. The electoral elite is a system of people and organizations. The organizations are mechanisms for attaining and exerting power – political parties, mass media channels, large businesses and related organizations. Those organizations cooperate and compete for power. Vote getting is one of the activities of those organizations.
The members of the elite are men and women with characteristics that are distinct from those of the bulk of the population. They constitute a stable caste which changes very gradually over decades and centuries. The fact that this elite is still dominated by men is just one aspect of the nature of the electoral mechanism. A more crucial aspect is that the women who are elected are very atypical women (in the same way, of course, that elected men are atypical men) – they are older, richer, more educated, more ambitious, more widely known and better connected, etc. They therefore do not – cannot – represent the average woman any more than elected men represent the average man.
The voting record of U.S. congresswomen shows that as a group they are barely distinguishable from their male colleagues6. Thus while women suffer the brunt of economic inequality, elected women play their part in perpetuating and accentuating income disparities and undermining economic safety. And consistent differences in public opinion between women and men, such as greater aversion to war and heightened concern for the environment, do not get reflected in the policy making impact of elected women.
The feminist alternative: sortition
Goldman’s skepticism about suffrage proved well justified, then, but the weakness of her message is obvious: Goldman did not offer an alternative to suffrage as a way for exerting political power. Power requires organization, and if the electoral system is rejected as being inherently undemocratic, an alternative must be offered or the struggle is forfeit at the outset.
The democratic alternative to elections is sortition. Sortition is the practice of selecting decision makers as a random statistical sample of the population. This ancient mechanism still survives in a somewhat degenerate form in jury selection, but the same mechanism can be used to select political officers, and in particular, members of the legislature.
A statistically representative legislature will fulfill the ideal of being, “in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large”7. A legislature selected by sortition can be expected to contain members of every subgroup in the population according to its prevalence. In particular, about half of the members of a legislature selected by sortition will be women. But much more important than the aggregate proportion of women in government would be the fact that those women would be truly representative of the population of women (as the men would of the population of men). Not only would the legislators’ situation in life be representative – ages, income levels, family sizes, educational levels, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, etc. – but ideas, beliefs, and world-views would be represented in the legislature according to their proportion in the population.
Such a representation can be expected to legislate in a way that promotes the interests of the population rather than in a way that promotes the interests of a political elite and its allies. This can be expected to improve the condition of under-privileged groups in general, but in the case of women the advantages of sortition are clearest, due to the fact that unlike many other under-privileged groups, women are not a minority in the population. Women, therefore, do not need to rely on coalition with similarly minded groups in order to assert their positions and set public policy accordingly. Due to their numbers women merely need to be represented faithfully in decision making bodies in order to exercise their power. As Goldman knew a hundred years ago, elections cannot deliver faithful representation. Sortition, on the other hand, promises to do just that.
 Susan B. Anthony: The Status of Women, Past, Present and Future, 1897.
“With the advantages already obtained, with the great liberalizing of public sentiment, and with the actual proof that the results of enlarged opportunities for women have been for the betterment of society, the next decade ought to see the completion of the struggle for the equality of the sexes. The hardest of the battles have been fought, and, while there is still need for both generals and soldiers, the greatest necessity is for the body of women to take possession and hold the ground that has been gained. [...]
There will be a gradual yielding of the laws in recognition of woman’s improved position in all departments, but here also there will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect law-makers. In view of this indisputable fact, the advanced thinkers are agreed that the strongest efforts should be concentrated upon this point. [...]
It may be delayed longer than we think; it may be here sooner than we expect; but the day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside but in the councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.”
 Center for American Women and Politics, Women in Elective Offices 2013.
 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2012 data, The three countries with over 40% women in parliament are Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.
 30% of single women live in poverty as opposed to 15% of single men. U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012, table 4. In all OECD countries median wages for men are higher than those for women. The average difference is more than 15% and only in two countries (New Zealand and Belgium) it is less than 10%. Women and Men in OECD Countries, p. 15.
 In the OECD 7% of men and 4% of women hold managerial positions. Women and Men in OECD Countries, p. 23. Women make 17% of S&P 500 directors, and 4% of S&P 500 CEOs.
 E.g., Men and Women’s Support For War: Accounting for the gender gap in public opinion (2012), Ben Clements; Elaborating on Gender Differences in Environmentalism (2000), Lynnette C. Zelezny, Poh-Pheng Chua, Christina Aldrich.
 “Thoughts on Government” (1776), John Adams.