Guy talk: Why are the Conservatives' latest ads so male-dominated? -

Guy talk: Why are the Conservatives’ latest ads so male-dominated?

Why do men do most of the most of the talking in the new Tory campaign ads, while women sit quietly by?

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks to supporters as a Korean choir looks on while campaigning Tuesday, September 15, 2015  in North Vancouver. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks to supporters as a Korean choir looks on while campaigning Tuesday, September 15, 2015 in North Vancouver. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

“Of course I worry about the economy,” a middle-aged woman says. Then, the men take over the Conservative party ad. An elderly man with an Irish lilt calls the cost of NDP promises, “huge.” A younger man worries about following the downward slide of other countries.  A similar male voice suggests his job “will be under attack.” Then another fellow’s slight East Coast accent predicts it would be “disastrous.” And then it’s back to the Irish lilt, reminiscing grimly about life under NDP government.

Finally, a younger woman says her family can’t afford the NDP—a neat segue to the ad’s tagline as the spare piano and strings play out with a cymbal roll.

If you weren’t looking at the screen while this attack ad was on, simply listening, this is how the gender balance would have seemed. But women were in every shot. A white-haired woman doesn’t flinch as her Irish-Canadian partner leans in to inveigh, the second bespectacled man’s spouse has an emoticon-esque straight line across her face, a brunette bounces her infant next to the unemployment-fearing dad and the fourth man’s companion looks up at his warning and then away. Another wordless moment from the white-haired woman, this time with a light shudder, as the infant-bouncing woman worries for her little one.

This is part of a series of five recent Conservative ads, which have largely drawn attention for the recurring line about Harper not being perfect. But within this unsubtle message about the risky opposition is something more subtle: hushed women. Of the 33 different scenes across the ad series, women do the talking in 12 of them, including a senior’s line about how Harper is “not perfect, but we can depend on him.”

The disparity is more glaring in the many scenes where a man and woman appear together: 13 times the guy talks, and only twice does his female companion. “There’s a common stream in advertising literature—it’s an old one—that women are often used as decoration, a supplement to an authoritative speaker, and it’s most often male,” says Kathleen Searles, assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University. To her, it could reflect campaign strategy: “They think men are more authoritative, that men have the ultimate voice; they think men have the expertise on the economy and that people will find them more credible and trustworthy.”

Searles wrote an academic article earlier this year on women’s and men’s voices in political ads, but focused on voiceovers. Males were far more commonly heard in 2010 and 2012 U.S. congressional races, especially when talking about energy or finances, she found. Female voiceover tended to come up on more “feminine” issues like health care or education, or were often used to narrate negative ads, perhaps to “soften” the attack,” Searles says.

In the Conservative ads, one of the women sitting next to a man—the lone non-white person depicted in any of the spots—asks a question about who will provide leadership. Another frets about her family. Men tend to have more to answer.

“The women are speaking from the private sphere, domestic sphere or speaking about emotions or impressions, whereas the men are speaking about their impressions of the economy or the job market,” says Linda Trimble, a University of Alberta political scientist who specializes in gender and media representations. “I don’t think it’s that overt, but it just reinforces the idea of the men as the official knowers about politics and the economy.”

The nuclear family doesn’t much exist anymore, says brand strategist Tony Chapman. But in a storyline where protecting families from a teetering economy is the key theme, a male leader can convey comfort. “It’s very far from what the truth is nowadays but it’s something people are comfortable with,” Chapman says.

The Conservative party is loath to discuss strategy while it’s unfolding, and would not comment for this story. The characters are neither actors nor campaign volunteers, spokeswoman Meagan Murdoch says.

Harper’s party is famously meticulous in ads and marketing, with a winning streak to back them up. Remember those 2006 election ads, which ended with a street billboard saying “Stand up for Canada” and a passing car’s horn? The beep-beep was intended to punctuate the ad in viewers’ memory, according to Susan Delacourt, aToronto Star writer and author of Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them.

The New Democrats are no strangers to subtext. Their latest attack ad parodying the Conservatives’ resumé-appraisal commercials tear down Harper and then praise Tom Mulcair. And if the back-atcha closing quip “nice hair, though” and the rest of the ad remind viewers of the Conservatives’ heavy-rotation hit on Justin Trudeau? Well, that’s convenient.

That NDP ad features two bantering men, two women. The Liberals’ latest one-minute spot showcases 10 male candidates speaking up for their leader, and six women.

The Conservatives have another gender imbalance: polls show them performing much better among males than females. “The economy is not owned by either gender; it is an issue that’s of interest to both males and females,” Searle says. It’s unclear how these paid displays of mansplaining the election campaign will help the party on this score, if that is indeed one of these commercials’ aims.


Guy talk: Why are the Conservatives’ latest ads so male-dominated?

  1. Men are more likely to be conservative and women progressive. Shocking news.

    Next up “Incontrovertible evidence of the wetness of water.”

  2. I will try this again, because my last comment was not posted. The reason Harper and the cons are such a male-dominated party is because they don’t have the IQ or the capacity to understand womens issues from a womens point of view or prospective, narrow minded, known as tunnel vision. The only reason women are in a Conservative party, is for the purpose ornaments, window dressing. They are a part of the conservative machine, known as the ‘Apparatus’, a part of the machinery. They also use minorities as props, again a part of the ‘Apparatus’ that pumps out the message of Steve Harper.

    • Ahhh, the classic “you don’t share my political views, ergo you aren’t intelligent” line from progressives.

      That attitude is why the Conservatives are leading the pack and heading towards a majority. People don’t like being condescended to.

      • Which is precisely why that condescending SOB Harper is on his way out!

    • As a woman, I beg to differ. I think your analysis stems directly from your own myopic view of the political arena. Now since you are so quick to determine that Conservatives have a low IQ which makes them incapable of grasping women’s isuses, how would you like it if I did a similar mindless rendering of women voters — who are taken in by Liberals because of Justin’s superficial public persona. That would be unfair, would it not. Can we respect that both sides of the political spectrum think carefully about issues and that no one side as a lock on the truth. As a woman I am pretty happy with what Conservatives have been doing — including their increasing Status of Women funding AND making sure it is not all earmarked for already privileged academics, but that some actually gets spent in communities on projects that can make a real difference.

  3. This time it isn’t a routine election…’s a possible culture choice.

    A switch-over from the old days……farmers

    And farming was white christian males…..while the little woman had kids and fed the chickens. ‘Prairie Muffins.’

    Canada is 80% urban these days…..but riding gerrymandering has favored the ole white guys.

    The farmer-mentality is causing us tremendous damage……so I hope it finally flips this time.

  4. An interesting article – and fits Harper’s unwillingness to discuss women’s issues.

    You only touch on another interesting shift in the ads: Earlier ads were more heterogeneous in terms of race. These latest are a real Caucasian-fest. Tying in nicely with the “old stock” reference and the determinedly anti-niqab stance.

    Harper seems intent on abandoning all but the white male vote.

    • As a white male in my late twenties this will be the first time I will have been inclined to vote in a federal election. I will be voting for Harper. I strongly dislike him, but not nearly as much as his opposition; I will in reality not be voting for anyone, but against those who openly work against my interests, and wear their prejudice as a badge of honour with the implication that you can’t be racist to white people, nor sexist towards men.

      The world, particularly the part I live in, has gone insane with over-the-top feminism, political correctness, and white/male shaming. Just think about what you’re insinuating when you say “Caucasian-fest” and “the white male vote” in such a context – as if white people aren’t still the large majority in Canada, and as if white men aren’t still the primary drivers of the economy who keep this country afloat.

      If Harper is the only one left who has the guts to look out for me in a world where openly caring about white males’ interests is enough to have you labeled a Nazi or a misogynist, then he has my vote all the way. If Harper is making a silent stand against the discriminatory, hateful dogma that is modern day feminism, then I wish I could vote twice.

      • No one is blaming anything on women here. A very important point that you don’t seem to understand is that feminism does not represent women. Most women do not agree with modern feminist values. When I criticize feminism, I am not criticizing women; I am criticizing a disgusting, hateful dogma that not only attacks men/masculinity, but also victimizes, scares, and weakens women. No one with any sense actually believes that feminism is about equality or female empowerment these days.

      • JF…’re mansplaining, dude. LOL

        Don’t tell a woman what ‘feminism’ represents

        It is not a dogma, and was never anti-male. You make that up to feel like a victim.

        Feminism is the radical notion that women are people

        That’s it, that’s all

      • Why is it that liberals/feminists are incapable of engaging in discussion about serious issues without petty personal insults and condescension? I suppose a feces flinging match is a better alternative to admitting how reality-defying and intellectually bankrupt your views are.

        My grandpa lived behind the Iron Curtain and could tell you a thing or two about calling those who disagree with your ideological beliefs mentally ill. I’d be willing to bet you complain about stigmas surrounding mental illness in the same breath, in self-unaware liberal fashion.

        • J.F., you sound like a smart kid. Emily has been spewing her venom here for years, and her ability to formulate a logical argument isn’t exactly improving with age (70 now is it?). Other than the occasional drive-by insult directed her way for pure fun, I tend to ignore her.

      • Wow – only in your twenties and such a chip! Bet you belong to one of those male rights groups.

        I’m also a white male, in my 50s. Grew up in pretty much all-white NL. I currently live in Brampton ON where there is no majority – whites are the biggest minority, but no one makes up 50% of the population. I’m not threatened by those not like me. I don’t feel any entitlement because I’m white. Or male.

        But thanks for your comment. Your little rant – and your voting for Harper – proves my argument. You ARE his target voter. And he has certainly reeled you in.

        • I’d love to play poker with you some day. Male rights activists and feminists are two sides of the same coin.

          I grew up in Scarborough and have no issue with minorities whatsoever, I’m not sure what gave you a different impression. Is it necessary, in your mind, that one must dislike other ethnic groups in order to care about their own?

          You don’t feel entitlement, and this is exactly the problem with the left. Everyone is entitled to fair treatment, regardless of race or gender. That includes white men (I know, what a radical notion!)

          • I agree with you that everyone is entitled to fair treatment. Harper doesn’t. He has already created two classes of Canadians and is now busy playing the politics of hate and division.

            I can’t say I’ve seen much discrimination against white males. Sure, I have seen some. I’ve been discriminated against more because of my NL heritage, though, than for being white or male. And it all pales in comparison to what people of colour face. We white males don’t need sympathy.

          • @KEITHBRAM
            Our society is not yet at a point where white men are heavily discriminated against. The key word there is yet. While society does not currently reflect radical leftist rhetoric, it is quickly moving in that direction, and systemic biases against men are becoming apparent.

            The suggestion that because *you* don’t experience discrimination in your every day life means that such discrimination doesn’t exist is no different than a woman proclaiming that domestic violence doesn’t exist because her husband doesn’t beat her. Look up gender disparities in elementary school grades versus standardized testing; look up university graduation rates by gender; look up STEM gender hiring biases; look up prison sentence gender biases; look up divorce/custody gender biases.

            With that said, the longer we sit around and do nothing about this paradigm shift for fear of being called racists and misogynists (the single easiest way to shut down a modern white “man”), the quicker those biases will turn into full blown, normalized discrimination.

            This culture of white-guilt and testosterone-shaming is irrational and sickening. We need to grow some dignity and hold our own interests at least as high as we hold the interests of others. Neither the Liberals nor NDP seem up to the task on that, and so my hand is forced.

          • Yeah white men are so brutalized, oppressed and ignored. I can’t help but feel sorry for them. LOL

          • J.F. – until I got to really know non-whites, I thought much like you. I’m in a relationship with a black woman with a disability. I’ve seen enough, through her and through our non-white friends / family, to know what discrimination looks like. Anything you’ve experienced is minor by comparison. Get over yourself and grow a pair.

        • “I’m not threatened by those not like me. I don’t feel any entitlement because I’m white. Or male.” I don’t think he stated that he feels entitled because he is white of threated by those who are different. He is looking for a balanced social arena and things have definitely become a bit unbalanced in favour of the most vocal minorities. Unfortunately, leftist parties have no trouble catering to these.

      • Yer a newbie here. LOL

    • “Harper’s unwillingness to discuss women’s issues.” Harper’s alleged “unwillingness” to discuss women’s issues has more to do with the hostile leftist context in which he was being invited to express his views than to indifference to the plight of women. The Harper government has been not at all negligent about women’s issues. They have spent considerably more on women’s issues than was being spent by previous governments (both Status of Women and initiatives such as the Mother and Child Health initiative). In my view, their approach has been thoughtful and balanced and is aimed at attempting to prevent women from being exploited — as prostitutes, as chattels to their husbands and as victims of crime (victim’s rights). Even ensuring that human rights legislation was made to apply on reserves was a direct attempt to protect women from abuse. It is simply ignorant to not recognize how many Harper government initiatives support and protect women. But go ahead — clearly words speak louder than actions in your world, so complain about Harper’s failure to participate in that misguided and poorly orchestrated “debate” on women’s issues.

  5. I’m sorry, but Herr Harper is the most dangerous candidate – I normally lean to the conservative side, but I CANNOT support that ‘man’. He has been systematically destroying and Americanizing Canada since he got in. We have to dethrone this egomaniac before he finishes the job and Canada becomes completely unsalvageable. I’ll probably vote conservative again once they oust that wanna-be dictator.