women in politics

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.

Read more

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

Speak Out Against Slapstick Misogyny: A Stern Ethics Rant/Sermon for Hillary Haters

Screen capture from the "Slap Hillary" game, showing a cartoon hand slapping Hillary Clinton's face

Screen capture from the “Slap Hillary” game, showing a cartoon hand slapping Hillary Clinton’s face

by Jessica Mason McFadden

I’m going to take a moment to deliberately not be nice, for the first time on Gender Focus. It’s time to get mad, again, about the archaic scapegoating of women-who-serve-as-public-officials in the guise of slapstick comedy.

If you haven’t already heard, Hillary Clinton is, once again, on the dark side of the news without having done anything to elicit it. A Republican Super PAC, “The Hillary Project,” self-proclaimed as “the only thing standing between Hillary and the White House,” has revived a “Slap Hillary” game that allows “players” to make a Hillary-head speak with the click of a button, and to slap her with another click. These are the only two options in the game. Make her speak and slap her.

The game is simple. Disturbingly so. But there is nothing simple about the message that this game sends about and to women and girls.

Proverbial “slapping” of ambitious women is old, stinky, mothy, moldy hat. Hat with a big hole and fist full of misogyny through it. There is nothing poignant, clever, or funny about it. Anyone who slaps, even virtually, a woman in earnest or in humor has made a cowardly, unfortunate choice. One with many consequences.

Since when is it okay to invoke a visual rhetoric of violence in order to … wait, I’m hard-pressed to even guess as to a motive. It’s certainly not to promote a political position, that’s for sure. As a matter of fact, it has nothing at all to do with governmental politics. Let’s call it what it is: what’s we’re dealing with is the politics of misogyny, plain and simple. Take the donkey vs. elephant element out of this because that’s the guise misogyny’s hiding behind.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and trust in my personal ethics enough to believe that most rational people who read this article will find themselves in agreement. For starters, people should not be slapped for being outspoken and staking a political or intellectual position. Not Palin. Not Clinton. Not your mother. Not your sister. Not your daughter. Not your brother. No one. If you’re truly angry, then find a productive, non-violent, non-bullying way of expressing it. Advance society rather than devolving it. It can’t be that hard to talk about issues rather than slapping people, right?

Sometimes we need to growl that collective growl, and let loose a big: Humanity, get your shit together! Read more

Posted on by Jessica Mason McFadden in Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

The Sexist Treatment of Julia Gillard, Australia’s First Woman PM

Julia Gillard speaks at a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony this past January

Julia Gillard speaks at a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony this past January

by Matilda Branson

Sitting in Nepal, where I live and work, I see what is happening at home in Australia and despair at national politics. As you may have heard, our first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was ousted by Kevin Rudd on Wednesday, who won a Labor party leadership ballot 57-45.

I’m not going to get into the particulars regarding the petty leadership struggles and lack of unity of the Labor party because, well, as a rule politics is never clean or courteous. So I write this as a definite political fence-sitter as I find both major parties – the vaguely “left” Labour Party and the conservative Liberals – equally uninspiring and often depressing. Hence I’m not going to contend with Gillard’s leadership, or Labor policies here.

What really distresses me – and a fair whack of the Australian population, both men and women – has been the downright rude, belittling, disrespectful and sexist treatment of Julia Gillard by political opponents, the media and the general Australian public throughout her time in power.

The first day Gillard came into power, one paper reported that the most Googled search in Australia for the day was, “Does Julia Gillard have a husband/boyfriend?” or “Is Julie Gillard married/have children?”

Sad. And this preoccupation with her gender has continued to plague her throughout her time in power.

In the past few months, the so-called “gender wars” between opposition leader Tony Abbot and Gillard have increased. The media has gone wild, the feminist movement is baffled and split, and the general population is a bit embarrassed and generally disgusted. Sadly, the pettiness of it all has served to put an already disinterested younger generation even further off Australian politics.

Living and working in Kathmandu, Nepal, people are asking me if it is normal how sexist and disrespectful Australia has been towards its PM. Recently the opposition Liberal party was publicly embarrassed about revelations of a fundraising dinner menu in March, featured a dish called “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box”.

In mid-June on a Perth radio program, talkback radio host Howard Sattler had the nerve to ask Gillard whether her live-in partner, Tim Mathieson, was gay. Why? Because Tim Mathieson is also a hairdresser (with three adult children grown), and god forbid a man could be a hairdresser and straight. Would this kind of question have been posed to a male PM as to the sexuality of his wife?  Are we suddenly asking Rudd, the new PM, if his wife Therese is a lesbian?

And I won’t even get onto the deplorable opposition leader Tony Abbot. His views on women and abortion… It’s just too painful and depressing. Look him up yourself. But at least Gillard gave him what-for when he was acting particularly misogynistic in the House of Representatives last year.

Anne Summer’s recent book The Misogyny Factor gives further insight into the sheer amount of offensive and often violent insults Gillard has faced during her time in power.

In Gillard’s resignation speech she mentioned how as Australia’s first female PM, she hopes she that women leaders who come after her will find the road a little easier to navigate. I really hope so, but I have some fears. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism, Politics 7 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

Get Ready to Close the Gender Gap…in 2240


"Canada's gender gap 1993-2012" from "Closing Canada's Gender Gap

“Canada’s gender gap 1993-2012″ from “Closing Canada’s Gender Gap

by Jarrah Hodge

A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has given Canada a reality check: our progress on reducing the economic and political gender gap in the country is stalled to the point that it will take us over two centuries at the current rate to achieve gender equality.

CCPA Research Associate Kate McInturff used a method developed by the World Economic Forum to calculate our score in the areas of health, education, economics and politics. On the plus side, our score on education and health care are nearly perfect, but our scores for economic opportunity and participation and political representation are significantly lower.

It’s a disconnect that might not seem to make sense; you’d think the high levels of women’s educational attainment would mean more political and economic success. However, McInturff points out “ the income gap is actually greater for women with university or college degrees than it is for those with high school diplomas. Having a university degree means a higher level of income overall, yes, but it also means facing a higher level of wage discrimination.”

An even bigger drag on Canada’s overall gender equality score is the lack of women in public office and top corporate management roles. In these areas together, men outnumber women two to one. In the report, McInturff says while the fact that women take on a far greater share of childcare and housework in heterosexual families is a factor, women choosing to stay home with the kids can’t account for the full discrepancy: “Certainly there are women (and men) who are in an economic position to work less in order to spend more time with their families. But the truth is, most Canadian families don’t earn enough to allow one or more family members to choose not to work. And whether by choice or necessity, 70% of all mothers with children under the age of six are working parents.”

So we have a situation where we just don’t have a critical mass of women at the top. Only one of Canada’s top 100 CEOs is a woman and despite our record number of women Premiers, women still make up only about 25% of members in provincial legislatures. The number’s about the same federally, with even fewer women in the government caucus (about 17%). Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

Are Canadian Women Politicians “Having a Moment”?


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

FFFF: Binders Full of Women

More than one video today because there have been a whole bunch of ones recently mocking Mitt Romney’s politics on women’s issues, particularly his recent debate comment around “binders full of women.” That one made Jonathan Mann’s Song of the Day this past Tuesday:

Here’s Slate News on why the comment resonated:

Another musical homage by Eytan and the Embassy:

And finally another great video that’s been going around, not on the binders comment but on Romney’s comment that it’d be easier for him to get elected if he was Latino. Rosie Perez sets Mitt straight:


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, FFFF Leave a comment