Crap, I’m Ineligible for Public Office

by | July 18, 2014
filed under Politics

podiumBack in 2005 I ran in a provincial election. Since then I have occasionally been asked if I’m ever going to run again. Today I am announcing my intention not to run in a future election, because I have realized I may be ineligible for public office.

Here are some reasons why:

Me being scandalous in our high school production of Bye Bye Birdie.

Being scandalous in a production of Bye Bye Birdie.

But wait, you say. Sure, some of those things might be dumb. But what does most of that have to do with seeking public office?

Oh, I forgot the operative factor that makes the other things worse, apparently:

For some reason young women candidates keep finding themselves attacked for expressing their sexuality, even though it’s not at all relevant to the office they’re seeking.

The most recent casualty is Trish Kelly, a fabulous activist who had handily won a nomination for Vision Vancouver’s Parks Board slate in the Vancouver municipal elections this fall. A local blogger released a humorous video Kelly made for a Fringe Festival piece, in which she talks about how great masturbation is. Kelly has a great history of sex-positive activism and has always been open about that, so this wasn’t an issue of vetting.

Trish Kelly

Trish Kelly

Here’s what Kelly said in her statement of resignation:

“After 25 years of serving my community, I put my name forward as a Park Board nominee to move my life as a community activist fighting for social justice issues, to claiming a seat at the decision-making table,” Kelly stated. “Unfortunately, my work in theatre and as a sex-positive activist is being sensationalized—and will clearly continue to be—distracting from my efforts in the community and in the election campaign.”

Miranda Nelson at the Georgia Straight implored Kelly to stay on:

“Trish, you had my vote, one hundred percent. You’re open, you’re honest, you’re funny, and you’re unafraid. Those are the sorts of qualities I look for in my civic election candidates. Fearlessness. The ability to laugh at oneself. And the willingness to talk about a woman’s body without a lick of shame.”

Like Nelson, I was really looking forward to voting for Trish Kelly. I also watched the video before it was taken down, and my first reaction was, “This is amazing! I want to vote for her even more now!”

But I don’t doubt that the issue was going to become worse as the campaign went on. The first video was a shot across the bow, but I’ve seen how dirty politics can get, especially municipal politics, and I know how incredibly taxing it is on a person to be subject to intense personal attacks and whisper campaigns. With election day months away, I wouldn’t ask anyone to ride that out without immense support from their party, friends and networks.

I’m not interested in holding any one person or group particularly responsible. This sensationalizing and shaming of women’s sexuality is part of our culture and we all need to take responsibility for changing that, because it’s not only Kelly this has happened to.

When actress (and feminist) Ashley Judd announced she was interested in seeking a state senate seat in Kentucky, one of the big narratives against her was that she had appeared naked or partially-naked in several of her films. This is a particularly good example of how there’s a sexist double standard at work here: check out this Mother Jones article on all the male actors who turned political figures with nary a mention of their film nudity.

In 2010, 28-year-old Democratic candidate for Congress Krystal Ball was pilloried when her opponents dug up and shared private photos of her and her husband having a sexy Christmas party six years earlier. Her comments are really helpful shedding light on why this is so wrong:

How did this happen? How did I end up with private photos of me at 22 with my ex-husband across the entire Internet, and in papers from London to New York to Boston? It’s not because people care about the Congressional race in the first district of Virginia or because of my positions on energy independence, school choice, marriage equality, or pro-growth environmentalism.

[…]

I don’t believe these pictures were posted with a desire to just embarrass me; they wanted me to feel like a whore. They wanted me to collapse in a ball of embarrassment and to hang my head in shame. After all, when you are a woman named Krystal Ball, 28 years old, running for Congress, well, you get the picture. Stripper. Porn star. I’ve heard them all. So, I sat in my husband’s arms and cried. I thought about my little girl. I couldn’t stand the idea that I had somehow damaged the cause of young women running for office. I couldn’t stand the idea that I might shame my family, my friends or my supporters in some way.

I have long felt there will be a point where my generation and younger generations will be the ones filling not only political positions, but the positions of pundits, bloggers, and other opinion leaders. And at that point people will care a lot less about the things that can be dug up online about a woman candidate, because we’ll all have something like that online.

But I’m no longer okay to wait for that cultural change to happen slowly and naturally. We need to have these conversations now. We need to look at all the totally normal, human, awesome things about our sexuality and ask whether we’d think it was fair to be judged like Kelly, Judd, Ball and others have been. We have to call bullshit on those who think something like talking about masturbation or being in a sexy photo is shameful or even relevant to holding the vast majority of public offices.

As Ball said in 2010:

“I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.”


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  • Nicholas Ellan

    This whole episode is just ridiculous. Vancouver is such a collective embarassment sometimes. Anyway, Trish Kelly supporters are tweeting #giveittomeTrish. Count me in!

  • Taylor Lewis

    All very true. Though, call me naive, I think it’s very possible that if you used that list at the beginning of your post in an opening speech announcing your candidacy — “Hi, I’m Jarrah Hodge, here’s what I’ve done” — it could have the effect of turning those things around and getting you the “candidate you’d like to have a beer with” rep, and in some circles an outpouring of support. Like how Obama got a boost when he said “Yes I inhaled, that was the point” — he took a thing right wing pundits would have eviscerated him on and owned it — his critics could only seem like pedants for not laughing with him. Granted, it took the culture around drug use having shifted for his admission to be accepted, just as it would take shifts in our culture for a sexually active woman to be accepted as a political candidate…still, if Obama doesn’t say that publicly, I wonder if that ultimately pushes legalization in Colorado and Washington back a few years.

    (I think I just compared smoking pot to being a woman with a sex life. Wow, the culture we live in).

    Anyway I totally agree on all counts about what young women face in having their sexuality framed in such a way as to disqualify them from public office. It’s a lot of bullshit. And yet, I wonder if it will be an exceptionally savvy female politician who breaks that mould by publicly saying “Look, I’m sexually active, here’s what my critics are going to say about that, no I’m not quitting” that could cause this paradigm to at least shift in the right direction, even if she doesn’t get elected the first time, or even the second.

    I guess I’m saying you’re correct to state that personal history and cultural factors may ultimately disqualify you from public office, but I hope there’s more to your decision not to run again than just that, because we need more trailblazers. I trust in the shit you’ve seen and I’m not naive enough to believe it wouldn’t get slung at you or any woman like you who did run; I also think it’s true that a woman running for office while explicitly and unapologetically saying “Hey, here’s me”, would have the effect of pushing this conversation more into the mainstream, irrespective of the success of that woman’s candidacy. More Trish Kellys, cannon fodder as they will be, will at least make this budge.

    • Thanks, Taylor. I wanted to talk more about the systemic issue than me personally never wanting to run again, and was more using me as an example because I don’t think the kinds of things I’ve done are particularly unusual and I want readers to think about their own pasts and try to empathize with Kelly and others.

      Anyway, I agree that how the candidate responds can matter. In the case of Krystal Ball she talks about how the Women’s Media Centre helped her defend herself and talk about how unfair this was. While ultimately she didn’t win the race she did change the conversation and now is a regular commentator on MSNBC, partly because that was good experience. That said, it’s not like her opposition gave up on the attacks and although I’m glad she made that decision to fight, there was no guarantee it would be worth it.

      I want to make sure people understand this is an issue that goes beyond an individual candidate’s or party’s decision – people shouldn’t have to deal with this crap. The people in the public who are aware of this issue and agree, the harder it will be in future for political opponents to get traction when they put this stuff out. The positive response I’ve had to this piece and the other things I’ve seen in support of Kelly are encouraging – makes me think people in future (in Vancouver at least) might think twice before raising a candidate’s sexuality as an issue.

      • Taylor Lewis

        Word.

  • Taylor Lewis

    Also, LOVE the new design.

  • Pingback: Gender Focus | Why on Earth is Masturbation Still a Taboo Topic?()

  • andre paris

    I challenge you to run in the upcoming civic election as either a park board member or councillor, don’t let your voice be silenced…political mudslinging is par for the course

    • Thanks, Andre. Like I said to Taylor, the main reason I wrote this was to raise awareness of the systemic issues and get other people thinking about what kind of stuff should and shouldn’t be reasonable to dredge up in an elegion, not to say I personally never intend to run again. For now, I’ve got a lot of other stuff on the go and I’m more than happy to keep making my voice heard outside of actually running for office!