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Thursday, October 12, 2006

leaf is a good cause.

Yesterday morning at 7:30am, I attended the 21st Annual Person's Day Breakfast put on by the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF). It was a really well attended event with what I would guess as over 200 guests.

The Guest Speaker was former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and the topic was "why aren't more women running for elected office." It was a really interesting talk about the societal, cultural, and structural reasons why women can't seem to break the 20%-25% involvement in electoral politics in Canada, along with some solutions on how to change this.

Other notable folks in attendance include blogging-types Sam, Nicole Martel, Ken Chapman, and many political types including Liberal MLA's Laurie Blakeman (Edmonton Centre), Dan Backs (Edmonton Manning), Bill Bonko (Edmonton Decore), Tory MLA Dave Hancock (Edmonton Whitemud), and NDP MLA want-to-be Rachel Notley (candidate in Edmonton Strathcona). City Councillors Jane Batty, Michael Phair, Karen Leibovici, and Linda Sloan were also in attendance.


Olaf said...


Why aren't more women running for office? I'd like to know.

One of the most unpopular reasons is the simplistic "women just aren't interested in politics". On the surface, this is sexist, bigoted, maleopic, etc.

But to be honest, I've always been curious about this, and somewhat skeptical about the "society tells them they can't be politicians" explaination.

As such, I have asked a lot of my female friends who aren't interested in politics that very question, and almost to a woman, they responded "I don't know, I'm just not interested in it". Now, I'm sure that this reaction itself can be explained by societal factors (what can't nowadays?), but I'd like to read a post by someone who knows, or thinks they know, "why more women don't run for office?"


Sam said...

You're not going to be super impressed with my answer if you're skeptical of the "society tells them they can't be politicians" argument. I'll give a few reasons as to why I think that is the reason.
Currently women are rarely seen in leadership positions, simply because the system has historically been dominated by men. Women are not only lacking in politics, but in leadership positions in companies and on boards of directors. We all have subconscious expectations and stereotypes of what leadership is and when you ask someone to define leadership the qualities put forward will more likely fit the definition of a white male than any female.
This is obviously slowly changing as the generations move forward more women become involved in post-secondary, university education, leadership roles in companies.
So the first barrier is simply society's expectations of leadership, and that women do not fit that traditional defintion.
The other factors include supports. Since women are under represented political parties must make extra efforts to get them involved. I know a recruiter for a provincial party who would actively attempt to recruit women before men, and that it took twice the effort to convince women they were capable of the job with the same qualifications as the men being approached.
The other supports include necessary child care and social services. It's often the case that women are more closely associated with the family. For those who saw the documentary on the Alexa McDonough campaign in Nova Scotia, she was practically villified for leaving her family. Her sons low grades at school were connected to her leaving the home.
For me personally it's always disappointing to hear my fellow female students talk about their futures, and inevitably it includes leaving their career to have children. Not that that's not a legitimate choice, but it definitely shows the consideration women have to have if they do want to pursue higher level careers, they have to time everything perfectly to make it work. I rarely hear men talk about their future decisions in the same way.
Anyway, the answer is obviously very complex, and can't be covered in one little comment section, but that's the beginning of some of the issues I believe lead to fewer women in politics.

Alicia Roode said...

Well, I was a Sheila Copps supporter back in the leadership contest that never was, but I must reluctantly admit that both Sheila and Ms. McLellan, despite setting a personal example, failed to achieve anything for women working in the Liberal Party. We're still too often behind the scenes rather than the public faces, and too many female liberals are still being run in unwinnable ridings. I would like to do something along the lines of what the NDP does for affirmative action money for women, what do other libs think of that?

Alicia Roode said...

Also Daveberta, to be equal, fair, and all that I must add that I saw Edmonton Calder NDP MLA Dave Eggen there as well...

Anonymous said...

Sam Power for PM. Linda Trimble for Premier.

Women don't run because politics is conflict oriented. Society - oh god, here I go with the "S" word, next thing I'll be voting NDP - still has an expectation that women be quiet, friendly consensus builders rather than loud, pushy, divisive meglomaniacs. The only way for women to succeed in politics is to adopt the worst characteristics of men, otherwise the old boys eat them alive. (Sheila Harper and Anne MacLellan were both known for being shrill and pushy, no?) But the public/media doesn't like its women pushy and loud, so there's a reaction against women who take on the behavioural characterstics we expect of men in politics. They're damned if they do, and damned if they don't. Either they act like men and get criticized for being loud-mouthed bitches who don't know their place, or they act like women and get criticized for being too quiet and nice to be cut out for the hard-nosed game of politics.

This is some confused reasoning, but somewhere in there there's a valid point, I think.

I don't know what the solution is, but then, I don't know what the problem is either, because I like both "loud and pushy" and "quiet and nice women." My boat is floated either way.

I'll just go be creepy over here now.

Olaf said...


That's a great response, I think.

Although I must say I disagree with the whole "not enough leadership roles" line of reasoning. I mean, how many does it take? There's been a woman PM, a number of high ranking women cabinet ministers, etc. and internationally there have been many women heads of state.

If we're gonna say that leadership roles have to be evenly distributed, in order for women to believe in their abilities enough to make up those leadership positions, than we're running in circles (which is fun on occassion, I admit).

I mean, look at professional sports. Black/Hispanic men were not allowed into any major professional sports until the late 1940s to the late 1950s. However, soon there after, those players came to either a close parity with, or greatly dwarfed the numbers of their white collegues. So, whats the difference?

How many female heads of state, cabinet ministers, party leaders and public figures are enough to provide the requisite rolemodelship for women to believe that they have what it takes?

Otherwise, I see what you're saying, and I'm sure that there is some credibility in the majority of it (by the way, that's pretty appalling about Alexa... I had no idea, and if people wouldn't level the same criticism (or even consider it) in the case of a male politician, then that's a problem). And as you said, it's extremely complicated, and surely a combination of many different things.

Here's a question: do you think that it would be insulting for those women who worked so hard to reach such high level leadership positions, for other women to think (conciously or otherwise) that they're not good enough?

WillBlog said...

This subject is something that I am giving increasing thought. The recruitment of female candidates remains inordinately difficult, and even once recruitment is finished, there is the actual election part, which is also difficult. I find it hard reconcilling the concept of equality with the concept of democracy, either you achieve equality by appointing a candidate, hence eliminating democracy, or you run a democratic nomination, which often times will eliminate equality.

Tough choices.

Berlynn said...

Why are there not enough women running for office?

Because party politics is stupid. Because, ultimately, every political party is run by a handful of the old guard. Because women have better ways of spending their time. Because women love their families and social networks and would rather be with them than at the Legislature or Parliament. Because young men turn into old boys. Because politics is dominated by men's ways of working. Because men are not truly open to women's ways of working. Because men do not want to give up their privilege. Because women get tired of banging their heads against brick walls. Because people are afraid to take risks on unknowns. Because women believe that the personal is political. Because women change the world one person at a time. Because women prefer to work in their gardens, where growth is visible.

Oh, I could go on and on, but it's late and I need sleep.

Dr. Calberta said...

As a woman, having been in public office while raising a family, I have the requisite experience to add to this conversation.

As much as the feminists would like to show that there are social inequalities based on gender within the political sphere, there just isn't enough evidence to back it up. I think most women who get involved in the grassroots political organizations put pressure on themselves to live up to what other women are doing and resign themselves to volunteer for jobs and tasks that could be classified as "women's work" (ie. minute-taking, social planning, volunteer coordination, etc.). Rather than identify with each person in the organization on a personal level, women dupe themselves into thinking that they should be taking on certain roles in order to fit in.

In the elected world, it is not so much a matter of gender as it is of age. If given a choice between an intelligent, respectable woman of 45 and an intelligent, respectable man of 19, most voters would chose the former.

In my opinion, women are fulfilling their own prophecies when it comes to under-representation.

BTW, the reason that I left elected life (I still participate in politics behind the scenes) was two-fold.

Firstly, the needs of my family did outweigh the desire to do good for the community, but that doesn't mean I will never consider a return. Women can "have-it-all", but it's usually best not to have it all at the same time. As my mother used to say: Everything in moderation.

The second reason that I left was because the pay and benefits were horrible. While it's nice to think that people enter public service solely for the betterment of society, a the end of the day, there are still bills to pay, groceries to buy and for those with families, babysitters to hire.

This all leaves a bigger question:
Perhaps the electorate deserves representation from all facets of society, including those that represent varying economic factions. It seems to me that the majority of politicians have better financial footing than the majority of the population they tend to represent. And how can anyone effectively stand up for working families and citizens on fixed incomes when their net individual salary is higher than the average gross family income?

berlynn said...

What a crock of crap you fill this comment section with, Dr. C. You may have the requisite experience, but you display contempt for the feminism that got you the vote and elected.

Furthermore, you are blaming women for the challenges we face...women dupe themselves. What kind of argument is that?

You do eventually get to the point, that women's economic disadvantage is surely a reason women are not running for election. But what a weird way of getting there, sister.

Olaf said...

I kinda liked Dr. C's comment, Berlynn,

The difference between her argument and yours was that she actually had experience in the system and thoughtfully commented on that experience, while you seemed unsure of which argument you most agreed with as to why women are so oppressed, and so you just chose them all. Its almost as if you came to a conclusion, and then went looking for arguments to support it, and then listed them all. You didn't try to show evidence for any of your claims, because they are just so self evidently tru.

you display contempt for the feminism that got you the vote and elected.

Also, I think this line is quite telling. Draw your own conclusions, but I'm quite sure that Dr. C got herself elected, not feminism. And if it was feminism which got her elected, why didn't it get more women elected?

berlynn said...

You, Olaf, have little clue about what feminism is or has meant to the society and culture of Canada if you don't think it was feminist activism in the first and second waves that got women elected to Parliament and various legislatures.

Furthermore, that I don't adhere to some predefined, male sense of how arguments should be layed forth says nothing about the import of each and everyone of those arguments. You can be sure that I, as a political activist, have spent time considering each and every point I mentioned.

Also, your attitude reeks of chauvinism and is precisely what the women of Canada are up against. Who wants to deal with attitudes like yours, exponentially, and in the public eye, no less, as a politician? Good luck to us!

Finally, to your final question, see my first comment.