Posts Tagged ‘sexism in politics’

The first debate of the 2010 Winnipeg mayoral campaign, largely a contest between incumbent Sam Katz and his main challenger, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, was aired on CJOB radio and so I tuned in to a station I normally try to avoid, eager to hear Judy take Sam to task. But the most memorable exchange turned out to be unexpected. At one point when Judy was criticizing some point or other of Sam’s, he said in a sarcastic voice “Thanks, mom.”
My hackles immediately went up. This struck me as an extremely sexist comment – highlighting not only Judy’s gender, but also trying to portray her as an old, nagging crone and he as the youthful rebel (this in front of an audience of students at Red River College.) Yet apparently the Winnipeg Sun thinks it is much ado about nothing – just as it also thinks a comment made towards Judy when she was a Member of Parliament that she “can’t balance her chequebook” was a comment on her individual abilities and not sexist at all.
The “thanks, Mom” incident shows that politics is still perilous for women, critically under-represented in the field. Women are scrutinized for appearance, personal life and family ties in ways that men rarely are. I am no fan of Sarah Palin, but I recall that when her campaign for Vice-President was first announced, her youngest son was about five months old and diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, and several commentators questioned her ability to campaign and be a good mother to such a young child with special needs. A new father would be unlikely to be subject to such criticism.
Here in Canada, we have seen the harsh treatment meted out by Stephen Harper to Helena Guergis apparently for nothing more than the sins of her husband. Again, I am no Guergis or Conservative supporter, but it is highly unfair that she was banned from the party completely while Maxime Bernier, for example, was himself reckless with state secrets and is still part of the party. Over the years, we have been subjected to numerous commentary on the attractiveness of the younger women in Parliament such as Ruby Dhalla, Rona Ambrose and Guergis, sometimes to the exclusion of their actual accomplishments.
Then there was the recent episode where Vic Toews called upon Nikki Ashton to vote to scrap the long-gun registry by telling her to “vote like her father did”, and then completely denied any sexist intent to this comment, which totally denied Nikki her own autonomy and conscience, implying that as Daddy’s little girl, she should do as he says.
What would be the effect if Judy had said “Thanks, Dad” to Sam Katz? I doubt it would carry the same negative connotations as “Thanks, Mom.” While our culture generally reveres and respects motherhood, in that context, “Thanks, Mom” means she was nagging. “Thanks, Dad” on the other hand would likely be taken to mean that Sam was wiser and knew best – that he was looking out for our interests and protecting us, just as Steve Ashton, according to Vic Toews, knows what is best for his daughter Nikki, who should just listen to him. It would also degrade Judy herself and place her as a little girl, naïve and uninformed as compared to him.
Judy has been a strong voice for womens’ rights as well as for social justice in general, and she deserves better than being caricatured in this way. Sam on the other hand has shown his sexist ways before – when Cindy Klassen and the rest of the Olympic speed-skating team were honoured at an event in Market Square, he made some silly comment about feeling good with all these good-looking women gathered around him. Let’s say no to sexism in our municipal politics on October 26th!

*Zilla Maria Jones is a third year student at Robson Hall. She works as a research student for Dr. Heckman and will be articling at the Public Interest Law Centre. Zilla is a passionate advocate for a number of important social justice issues.


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