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The News Media’s Troubled Relationship with Canadian Women

Jarrah Hodge at the Women's Forum 2013 podiumby Jarrah Hodge

I had the honour of speaking at Niki Ashton’s second Women’s Forum des Femmes in Ottawa on Tuesday. I was part of an afternoon session on inequality in the media and was tasked with providing a big picture look at some overarching problems.

Rabble supported the forum and has posted audio of much of the day. I’m embedding the audio of my presentation in case anyone would like to listen to the entire thing, but I’ll also summarize below.

My talk was entitled “The News Media’s Troubled Relationship with Canadian Women”. I started off talking about a study that came out earlier this year from the UK, which found that Canadian women (as well as women in the other countries surveyed) consumed less news and were therefore less informed than Canadian men.

I pointed out the important critiques raised at that time by Equal Voice, which argued the study doesn’t necessarily capture engagement, only knowledge of specific “hard news” facts. But I also noted quotes from some reporters and commentators speculating on the study, including these:

Margaret Wente: “Men keep track of batting averages. Women keep track of weddings. Men are interested in facts, systems, sports, competition, status and keeping score. They use the common ground of sports and politics to bond with other men. Women are interested in relationships, gossip, health, education and their kids. They use the common ground of social information and mutual support to bond with other women.”

Shelley Fralic: “On the day the women-versus-news study was widely reported, the four newspapers in my purview — The Vancouver, Sun, The Province, National Post and The Globe and Mail — provided a glaring example of that masculine point of view, a veritable font of off-putting language, with headline after headline shrieking words like bomb, terrorism, plot, death, radicalization, ultimatum, defiant, pariah, risk, reforms, protests, shocking, target, hate-filled, killing, thwarted, turf, showdown, damage, embattled, savagery, casualties, battle, crisis, sex offences.” (I did note that other than this quote, the rest of the article was ok)

It won’t surprise you I don’t think the problem is women being too preoccupied with wedding news to pay attention. Nor do I think women can’t handle words like “death” and “reforms” (try writing headlines on almost anything without using words in Fralic’s list and you end up with something like “Local Man Gets Bad Boo Boo after Not Nice Encounter With Bus”).

But if women are tuning out the news, maybe part of it is they aren’t being well-represented. As the Vancouver Observer pointed out, women still aren’t equally represented in management of our major media corporations. And 2011 research found women who reach the upper levels are still paid less.

That may or may not be related to the fact that women still don’t get quoted in the news as much as men. Part of this is due to pressures to cut-costs and meet the demands of a new reading public that wants news online and up-to-the minute. This means it’s tempting for reporters to turn to the same sources again and again to save time, even if it’s the same pool of men.

But that doesn’t explain why, when women are quoted, it’s often in different contexts. For example, a 2012 report by Guardian editor Jane Martinson found within the context of front-page newspaper and tabloid stories in Britain, 79% of women were referred to as “victims”, while three-quarters of men were interviewed in the role of “expert”.

Three particular areas of problematic coverage I singled out were women in politics, women in sports, and violence against women.

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

Harper’s Gendered Attack on Justin Trudeau

Recent print attack ad against Justin Trudeau by the Conservatives.

Recent print attack ad against Justin Trudeau by the Conservatives.

by Matt Moir

Michelle Rempel rolled her eyes and paused, choosing her words carefully.

Standing in the lobby outside the House of Commons, the Conservative MP for Calgary Centre had just been informed that she had been voted Sexiest Female MP in an Ottawa newspaper’s annual poll.

“I get the opportunity to speak to a lot of women’s groups about encouraging women to run for office, and about women’s leadership issues and the number one thing I always say is women should be judged and evaluated by their merit.”

If only her boss would heed her message.

Her Conservative Party’s negative ad campaign against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau may, as some have claimed, be successfully rallying the Tory base, and thus helping the party fill its coffers. But it’s also alienating a section of the electorate vital to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chances of winning another majority government: female voters.

Trudeau’s poll numbers are overwhelmingly positive among women. A recent Harris/Decima poll found that 61% of Canadian women view Trudeau favorably, whereas Harper is viewed favorably by only 37% of women.

Some commentators attribute this support for Trudeau to the fact that women in Canada traditionally are more supportive of left-leaning politicians than conservative ones.

Others say that women are drawn to the Liberal leader’s charisma and good looks- he was, after all, voted sexiest MP in The Hill Times’ annual survey.

What shouldn’t be discounted, though – and what probably should be explored further – is that Canadian women might be able to identify with the young MP, and the nature of the personal attack ads he’s had to endure.

Immediately after Trudeau won his party’s leadership race, the Tories unleashed a torrent of ads attacking the newly minted Liberal leader. This is nothing new, of course. The Conservatives are well versed in the art of the political takedown; just ask Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. But what makes the ‘Justin’ ads different is the unseemly gender baiting aspect to them. Read more

Posted on by Matt Moir in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

Are Canadian Women Politicians “Having a Moment”?

Wynne1

New Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

By Megan Stanley

A brief scan of the headlines of various news stories over the past month suggests Canadian women are having quite a moment in politics. Largely prompted by the recent election of Kathleen Wynne in January as leader of the Ontario Liberal party, almost every national media outlet has produced a piece contributing to the growing public discussion on the representation of women in Canadian politics.

Even former Prime Minister Kim Campbell chimed in with an op-ed in the Globe & Mail calling for the establishment of gender parity in Parliament. According to the narrative created by these media stories, women politicians represent a new wave of game-changers on the Canadian political scene and their recent successes may signify shifts in our society’s attitudes toward gender and politics. Not too shabby.

With each story, the current state of the nation’s political affairs is reiterated: Canada currently boasts six female Premiers, some of whom govern provinces that are seen as key “have” regions in the Canadian economy. The recent Ontario Liberal leadership race, a critical election for the province, was dominated by two women candidates. The current federal Liberal leadership race features four accomplished women out of the total nine candidates seeking to change the face and direction of the party.

However, even considering these recent accomplishments, women remain vastly underrepresented in Parliament and provincial/territorial legislatures. Women comprise only 25% of MPs in Canada’s Parliament as of 2011, falling short of the critical mass (defined by the UN as 30%) needed to have a visible influence on legislation and political culture.

These facts and figures are consistently cited in both public and academic discussions, highlighting the dismal state of affairs for women in politics and calling for gender parity in all levels of government.

So, what’s the problem? Isn’t it a positive step forward for the Canadian public to recognize and respond to the need for a national discussion on women’s political underrepresentation? If gender parity in legislative bodies is the ultimate goal, doesn’t recognition and discussion of the problem help to reach it? Read more

Posted on by Megan Stanley in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

BC Federation of Labour Women’s Rights Forum

Linda McQuaig, Veronica Strong-Boag and Me

by Jarrah Hodge

On Monday night I was honoured to be part of a panel at the BC Federation of Labour’s women’s rights forum during their biennial convention. The panel included Kelly Megyesi, Women’s Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada; UBC Historian Veronica Strong-Boag; and journalist/author Linda McQuaig. The topic was how women have fared economically under our current federal and provincial governments, as well as what the decline in union density means for women.

In addition to being on stage with these amazing women in front of a packed room, earlier in the day during the Women’s Rights Committee report (part of regular convention business), I’d seen so many women come forward to the microphone to share heartfelt and often heartbreaking personal stories on how they, their families, and friends have been affected by BC Liberal policies in particular. I was so moved by their honesty and courage so I went into the panel feeling excited and of course a bit nervous.

I took some notes on the panel, and I’ve also posted the text of the speech I delivered if you wanted to read that entire part.

So we started off with Veronica Strong-Boag, who gave some historical perspective to the situation we’re in today, using some of her own information and others’ research from a site called Women Suffrage and Beyond.

Strong-Boag said that she wanted to address the despair she often sees among feminist activist by telling stories of past women who have reached across boundaries and across difference to form coalitions:

“There are histories of resistance and partnerships and coalitions which I think are needed, in very dark days, to inspire us.”

She highlighted several remarkable Canadian women who have forged those histories, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a black woman born free in the United States who came to Canada to support the underground railroad. She also highlighted Agnes Maule Machar, a Christian socialist who wrote novels like “Roland Graeme: Knight” that tackled pressing social and political issues of the 1890s. Pauline Johnson, Flora Macdonald denison, and labour leader Grace Hartman also made Strong-Boag’s list of women reaching across boundaries. Finally, Strong-Boag cited Judy Rebick as an example of a contemporary feminist working “in this strong tradition of collaboration.”

Next, Kelly Megyesi talked about how federal government cuts are hurting women, drawing on her own experience working at an unemployment office. Megyesi pointed out that more than half of the federal government workers are women, mostly working in admin. With huge layoffs already starting, Megyesi said: “Women are losing good jobs, women are losing pensions and benefits.”

“They have decided to relocate thousands of other jobs – jobs they promised wouldn’t be affected.”

Sadly, Megyesi is one of the workers who’s been hit by that move, told that she could relocate or lose her job, even though most of her work is virtual. She said she doesn’t buy for a minute that the relocations will really save money. Megyesi made the difficult choice to refuse:

“It would have meant breaking up my family and leaving my elderly mother without any support.”

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment