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College Quarterly
Spring 2015 - Volume 18 Number 2
Femocratic Administration: Gender, Governance and Democracy in Ontario
By Tammy Findlay
Femocratic Administration: Gender, Governance and Democracy in Ontario
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015
Reviewed by Diane Meaghan

Those who are interested in feminism and political economy should find Tammy Findlay's, Femocratic Administration: Gender, Governance and Democracy in Ontario a useful resource. Political scientists and feminist scholars have debated the effects of institutionalization concerning the prospect of achieving equity and social justice. Findlay has joined the discourse with a thoughtful review of state policy in Ontario that offers a theory of feminist political economy (FPE) to achieve procedural and substantive equality within a "liberal" democracy. In an introduction, four chapters and a conclusion, the author illustrates the work of FPE proponents within the state and advocates of the women's movements, demonstrating how ideology, praxis of power and regimes of governance promote and detract from attaining equality and democracy.

In the introduction, the author utilizes theoretical issues and empirical findings from interviews and informal discussions with women in the Ontario Women's Directorate (OWD) between 1985 and 2000. Readers are provided with valuable insights as to the numerous forms and locations of institutional barriers in the advancement of women and minorities. Utilizing FPE as a theoretical framework, Findlay compares femocratic administration under Liberal, New Democratic Party (NDP) and Conservative government regimes. She views the role of "femocrats" as advocating for equity policy positions in the public service, thus promoting greater representation and participation in the process of governance. Since she posits that social democratic models of governance come closest to her proposed FPE model, her later concentration on policy innovations under the NDP is central to her theme of achieving equality.

In  chapter one, entitled "A Feminist Political Economy of Representation," Findlay observes that the Canadian state has simultaneously been critiqued as a key site of unequal power relations and a significant force in advancing equality for women. She is cognizant of the continued feminist ambivalence concerning the state in her acknowledgement of the risks of incorporation, co-optation and marginalization. Findlay calls for a dialogue with feminist advocates of New Institutionalism (NI), who explore the origin and outcomes of institutionalism which display an insensitivity to feminist policy change. She conjectures that the shortcomings of NI are a failure to recognize that the state does not always oppress women. She further observes that there is a need to delineate a theory of men's power, a concern to address the bias in norms of bureaucratic neutrality and a necessity to acknowledge the weakness in dealing with agency. Findlay highlights problems in introducing and sustaining a feminist agenda in government with discursive shifts, partisan changes of government and funding cuts that reflect and reproduce patterns of inequality. FPE advocates, on the other hand, investigate the links between social change and public policy by providing an analysis of state institutions with respect to structural inequality, social reproduction and intersectionality. FPE also offers an examination of family, household and labour markets while accounting for restructuring initiatives associated with globalization and restructuring. However, as Findlay notes, FPE theory in Canada is not well developed, nor has it addressed state institutions and governance.

In chapter two, "Gender Regimes of Public Administration", Findlay makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of issues of power relations in political institutions by offering a critique of the Weberian model of governance. In providing a feminist critique of Max Weber's notions of bureaucracy with an emphasis on procedural democracy, she sets out the characteristics of this mode of governance which values scientific expertise, hierarchy, neutrality, rationality, professionalism and a division of labour. Far from neutral and rational, she points out that Weberian governance advocates for a capitalist system and powerful interests while evidencing hostility to advocacy. Demonstrating how unequal relations of power are maintained through the implementation of forms of Weberian bureaucracy, Findlay makes the case that this type of administration is value laden and encourages a social order that subordinates women by designating the public domain as masculine while assigning the feminine to the domestic domain.

Findlay further demonstrates how neoliberal theories, which supplanted Weberian governance during the 1980s and the 1990s in Ontario, curtailed social expenditures, lowered taxes and encouraged privatization, deregulation, deficit reduction and the promotion of free trade. This later approach was adopted by New Public Management (NPM) practitioners in the creation of provincial public policy. Findlay evaluates such practices which further undermined democracy by concentrating power at the top of a hierarchy, as well as lowering costs through competition and efficiency. The result advantaged the powerful in governance and disadvantaged those who were marginalized, while assigning the burden of social care to the private realm (i.e., read females). NPM introduced an expanded range of managerial systems committed to the advancement of an economic and a business agenda, including drastic cuts in public expenditures, Total Quality Management (TQM), Performance Indicators (PI), public-private partnerships and an entrepreneurial spirit to public service. In contrast, a feminist political economic agenda that advocates for the decentralization of power and the levelling of hierarchies is presented as addressing intersecting experiences of oppression, based on gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, and age. Findlay ends this chapter by noting that an FPE approach to representation and participation in governance can enrich democratic administration.

In the third chapter of "Experiments with State Feminism in the Weberian Gender Regimes", Findlay observes how women's organizations worked with femocratic administrators within the OWD to challenge Weberian policies during the years that the NDP was in power (1990-1995). She details how feminists, who characteristically protested activities of the state, supported feminist goals and practices to an usual degree that became partially institutionalized in Ontario government policies and practices. The centerpiece of her analysis rests on twelve interviews with staff in the OWD and two members of the legislature within the NDP government of that era. She makes a compelling case not previously advanced by political scientists, with findings and arguments of the OWD, concerning the positive nature of the relationship between the state and women's advocacy organizations. The ministerial work of Marion Boyd was particularly highlighted with the minister's priorities placed on public education and making government more diverse and representative. With significant budgets and considerable access made available for OWD personnel to many government departments both provincially and nationally, femocrats had a substantive impact on instituting policies addressing issues of employment and pay equity, affirmative action, child care, family violence and justice.

And in the fourth chapter, "Gendered Governance and the New Public Management Regime", Findlay further explores challenges to democracy which emerged with new forms of governance during the 1990s-2000s. Her investigation maps the ideological shift to NPM policies and changes within the OWD under Diane Cunningham, women's minister for the Conservative government, that had detrimental effects on both procedural and substantive democracy. By 1995, cooperation with government officials and resources provided by the Conservative government had substantially diminished, and OWD members were no longer permitted to advocate on behalf of "special interest" groups. Findlay notes that the shift to neoliberal policies of state administration considerably contributed to non-democratic modes of state organization, concentrating on the reduction of the debt, the range of state programs and the size of government, while eliminating labour protection and employment equity laws. Business, finance and entrepreneurship became focal areas for governance that resulted in a loss of autonomy for state feminists, as well as budget and staff cuts within the OWD and to women's advocacy agencies in the community. According to Findlay's findings, this government created "huge" problems and their representatives "hated women and women's issues", replacing gender-based analysis with a law-and-order agenda. Although the Liberal government which followed had a more moderate public face, the results were a continuation of market-oriented policies, accountability measures and an emphasis on vocationalism and technology as core policy goals. Findlay contends that the emphasis of the Liberal government on individualism without an accompanying discussion of inequities of power and economic status among individuals resulted in a "limit to the policy voice of unions, social equity movements and anti-poverty activists." This section of the text complements scholarship concerning the persistent barriers women and other underrepresented groups faced in that era, leading Findlay to suggest other avenues such as community work through which the representation of the marginalized could be achieved (Banaszak, 2010; Strolovitch, 2007; Weldon 2001).

In conclusion, Findlay contributes to the growing literature regarding a theoretical understanding of feminism, democratic theory and public administration. There is much to like about this book that takes seriously a study of the way government policy is produced and reproduced in the social relations of power, and offers an original and inclusive approach to the study of discrimination within Canadian governance practices. She contends that state administration is crucial to the feminist transformation of governance. As she observes, however, governments founded on norm-based practices are neither unitary nor monolithic and they often present serious limitations for feminist state activism. And as she also notes, mainstream economic theory is the dominant paradigm of contemporary public policy, and so-called neutral government policies are deeply androcentric. Also problematic concerning women's participation in state governance is the fact that men overwhelmingly dominate in decision-making positions. Findlay's compelling and nuanced understanding of the constraints of marginalization and the routinization of collective action prove this point; therefore, it remains a central challenge of a feminist agenda to establish gender inclusive policies and gender mainstreaming in government (Chappell, 2002; McClung et. al, 2003; Sawer, 2007).

As Findlay notes, there has been a shift in a neoliberal globalized era to more formal and hierarchical governance models; as True (2013) contends, the consequence has increasingly been a movement away from legislation by the state towards the utilization of a range of private sector practices. With the few gains of a Weberian model of governance swept aside as a result of an even greater quandary presented by neoliberal ideas of NPM in governance, one might have expected Findlay to also call for contesting social injustice and a lack of democratic ideals through electoral politics. Although similar to state apparatuses where agendas and policies are controlled and power and privilege are reinforced from above, a critical mass of elected women may allow for the decentralization of authority and democratic forms of service delivery rather than, as Findlay advocates, for "overburdened and underfunded" women's groups to educate femocrats and civil servants to "actively recruit women from diverse communities" to transform the state.

Although Findlay emphasizes that state administration matters for public policy, the cultural context of governance is also important in successfully establishing gender-based policy analysis and budgets. By way of an example of a feminist, inclusionary model of governance, Sweden developed comprehensive legislation of gender equality polices and devotes € 40 million each year to gender mainstreaming with the support of the community. The Swedish government's  "action plans" call for achievements to initiate gender equality in the labour market and in schools and higher education to combat men's violence and human trafficking, to promote women's professional development, to support equality among national minorities, women's organizations, women's cultural activities and women's organizations in the community and within parliamentary parties, to encourage gender mainstreaming in government agencies and at the local and regional levels, as well as to provide equality bonuses (parental leave) and bonuses for household-related services (Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality, 2009). Contrast these initiatives with the fifty-year-old struggle in Ontario to address gender wage gaps, and we see substantial cultural differences which shape the political approach of governments to antidiscrimination legislation (MacEwen, 2014).

Australia is cited by Findlay in the development of a unique model of feminist policy within a state apparatus. Gender policy analysis and femocratic administration were encouraged with the commitment of Gough Whitlam's Labour government, as well as the long-standing support of feminists in and outside of the state, to ensure that affirmative action policies (including quota systems) had measurable goals and targets. Nonetheless, the United Nations has recently publicized the decline in gender balance and equity initiatives in jurisdictions such as Australia and New Zealand in a quest to promote economic growth, minimal government and competition. And as Himani Bannerji (2011) reminds us, an egalitarian perspective of gender, ethnicity and class relations is epistemologically impossible within patriarchal, colonial and capitalist structures and institutions.

There is a methodological shortcoming in Findlay's work. Although a growing norm in some contemporary doctoral dissertations in Ontario universities to utilize is small sample sizes, Findlay's empirical results seem deficient based on twelve interviews conducted in a single agency of the Ontario government. This would particularly seem to be the case since not all OWD members interviewed  shared a vision of feminist advocacy, all but two of the interviews were undertaken with staff who at best  shape the implementation of policy, and there was a heavy reliance upon the analysis of one ministerial government representative. The reader is therefore left to think about the complicated intersections constituting representation, participation and democracy in governance, and how equity and social justice can be achieved in a contemporary, neoliberal political economic context.


Andrew, M. (2010). Women's movement institutionalization: The need for new approaches. Politics and Gender 6(4), 609-612.

Banaszak, L. (2010). Women's movement inside and outside the state, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bannerji, H. (2001). Demography and democracy: Essays on nationalism, gender and ideology. Toronto, Canada: Canadian Scholars' Press.

Chappell, L. (2002). Gendering government: Feminist engagement with the state in Australia and Canada. Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press.

McClung Mueller, C., & J. McCarthy (2003). Cultural continuity and structural change: The logic of adaptation by radical, liberal and socialist feminists to state reconfiguration. In L. Banaszek, K. Beckwith & D. Rucht, [Eds.]. Women's movement facing the reconfigured state. New York,NY: Cambridge University Press, 219-41.

Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality. (2009). Gender equality in Sweden. Stockholm, Sweden: Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved April 1, 2015 from

MacEwen, A. (2014, April 20). Women’s work and the systemic reasons behind the gender pay gap. Retrieved May 9, 2015 from

Sawer, M. (2007). The fall of the femocrat. In Changing state feminism, Eds. J. Teghtsoonian & J. Kantola. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 20-40.

Strolovitch, D. (2007). Affirmative advocacy: Race, class and gender in interest group politics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

True, J. (2013). Counting women and balancing gender: Increasing women's participation in governance. Politics and Gender, 9(3), 35157.

Weldon, S. L. (2011). When protest makes policy: How social movements represent disadvantaged groups. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Dr. Diane Meaghan, retired from teaching Sociology and Women’s Studies at Seneca College and is currently completing a major SSHRC-funded study of college education with Dr. Linda Muzzin, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She can be reached at