Colleagues, media, criticize women colleagues on personal matters, not issues.
by Jody Dallaire
Lately, New Brunswick Members of Parliament made headlines for their sexist comments.
Take Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield’s comment at a photo op staged after Harperites presented the new federal budget. At the home of a local family, Minister Ashfield sampled the fresh bread baked by Grace Moreno, a high school student. He praised her cooking by saying that she would, “make a wonderful wife for somebody.”
Had Grace Moreno been a young man, would Minister Ashfield have said that he would make someone a wonderful husband someday? Somehow I doubt it. A more appropriate response might have been “you are a talented cook; you might have a career path here.”
At a meeting of the New Brunswick Cities Association, the hosting mayor said that if we female elected officials found the business meeting to tedious and boring that the Farmer’s Market was open – as were the local shopping centres.
In my own experience as an elected official, I have been respected by my male colleagues. But I have witnessed others who were not so fortunate. At one of my first meetings at City Hall in Dieppe, a female colleague said she had a question and a male asked if she wanted to ask for the recipe for the supper that we ate.
Or again: at a meeting of the New Brunswick Cities Association, the hosting mayor said that if we female elected officials found the business meeting too tedious and boring that the Farmer’s Market was open – as were the local shopping centres. I kid you not. This really did happen.
Finally at yet another meeting, a male municipal councillor vigorously berated a long-standing female councillor whom they claim liked all the male attention she received at meetings away from home. When I asked her after the meeting how she could stand it, she responded that she has heard it so often over the years that this sexism does not even register on her radar screen anymore.
Mind you, these instances are more subtle than some in the past. Remember when former New Brunswick Progressive Conservative MLA Margaret Ann Blaney was called Barbie and former Reform Member of Parliament, Debra Grey, was referred to as “more than a slab of bacon.” Belinda Stronach was called “too glamorous” because of the clothes she wore. Alexa McDonough made “Call your dry cleaner” headlines when she wore the same clothes more than once in the same week.
Women are often reluctant to enter politics, and one reason is that they and their families are constantly subjected to public scrutiny — often much more public scrutiny than their male counterparts. This is probably because women are still a rare breed in politics. Another part of the problem is that journalists, commentators and other elected officials think it is fair game to vocalize their views on female representatives’ appearance and voice their sexist views on women’s role in society.
Such overt sexism hurts all of us. First of all, women need to have women’s perspectives brought forward and translated into public policy initiatives. Moreover, having more women in office also has the potential of changing the way politics is done. Women and men typically do not do politics in the same way. We all lose when half of the population is not represented at the decision-making table.© Copyright 2013 Jody Dallaire, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca