Politics from Mars - Macleans.ca

Politics from Mars


Hannah Cooper considers the lack of women in our politics.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that 51 per cent of any population would be so homogeneous about their choice of issues and interests. As a young professional woman I am naturally concerned about taxation and economic matters. Unbalanced budgets make me nervous. Though affordable daycare may be of concern to me in the future, for now I’d rather focus on the economy.

This brings me to my second point: perhaps the reason that women aren’t interested in politics is that there are no women in politics. Though this seems like an overstatement, Canada currently ranks 49th of all countries worldwide in the percentage of women in the lower or single House of Representatives. We’re behind Rwanda, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Argentina, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates to name a few.

An extended discussion ensues, including a cameo from Martha Hall Findlay.


Politics from Mars

  1. Chicken – egg – chicken.
    Women – politics – women

    On that note… let's get cracking ladies.

  2. Ah yes, Rwanda, Mozambique, Angola, United Arab Emirates… august company indeed.

    • Sorry Bill, can't tell if you're saying this like it's a good thing we're worse than these people or not.

  3. "This brings me to my second point: perhaps the reason that women aren't interested in politics is that there are no women in politics."

    Yes, since politics only merits interest when we share physical characteristics with large numbers of political representatives. That's also why redheads, residents of PEI, the disabled, and the tremendously fit have no interest in politics.

    Let's stop making pathetic excuses, shall we? The fact that there is less political interest among Canadian women than men says something about Canadian women and men, not about Canadian politics.

    • Thank you. I don't think most women do think about things this way – just some of the ones who are interested enough in politics to theorize about why more women aren't interested in politics.

      My interest in politics is related to the issues that affect me, not the gender of our politicians.

    • Thank you for pointing out the obvious.

      When women muse about women not being interested in politics because they don't see "people like them" in politics, I am ashamed for my gender.

      • They don't muse about it at all generally. All they have to do is try it, and they discover for themselves why there aren't, with minor exceptions, more women in politics.

  4. '',,,including a cameo from Martha Hall Findlay."

    Shades of the 2006 Liberal leadership race.

    "Oh no!," said the Liberal backroom boys. "We can't have a leadership race with no women as candidates. Quick, let's get Martha Hall Findlay to run as our token woman."

    • If that was the case, it would be disappointing. Do you have any evidence to that effect?

      Martha Hall-Findlay was the best of the lot, in my opinion, and I thought she bought a lot more intellect and substance than some of the boys.

    • I am not sure anyone of any import was trying to encourage Ms. Findlay to run. If I were feeling really uncharitable, I might posit her long-term goal is to become influential enough that she can be bought off with a judgeship, rather than actually getting a big political role.

  5. "We need to be equally represented primarily because we're equally affected." says Findlay, echoing Edward I in 1295 when he said ' "What touches all, should be approved of all, and it is also clear that common dangers should be met by measures agreed upon in common."

  6. Here's what I don't get: Cooper lists several reasons why she's become disenchanted with politics (and lo, that reflect lots of studies on what turns people off). None of them have anything to do with looking in the political mirror and not seeing herself in it.

    So why in the Easter Bunny's name does she bring up mirroring as a reason why women don't participate in politics?

    Has she looked into why PTAs have more women members, while federal politics doesn't?

    • Women are acceptable at the PTA. It's considered part of their 'natural' interest-field.

      They still aren't 'acceptable' at the federal level with only token exceptions.

      • Not as a challenge, rather, a curiosity: What makes you say that?

        • Parliament was originally begun as an all-male institution, so over the ensuing centuries everything about it has become male-oriented. From it's schedules to it's behavior to it's rules and traditions.

          As I said in a previous thread, the aisle is 2 swordlengths wide. We have a mace, a 'gentleman usher of the black rod', a throne speech, a confrontational system of making decisions after 'fighting' an election, and 'winning' power.

          Just like war. In fact it is said politics is war by other means.

          And suddenly, into this war-like, centuries-old model of parliament, imported from the UK with only a few tweaks…there are women. And women aren't seen as fitting in.

          • I think you're still dancing around the crux of the issue, which is the argument (that everyone is afraid to articulate) that women are seen to be non-confrontational and ill-equipped for the "war" that is politics.

          • ??? Actually I believe I just said that.

            That's exactly how women are seen in what has always been a war-like setting.

          • My point is that you didn't make it explicit, though it was implied. And, that you wouldn't be the first.

            Many, many people try to make the argument (that women are ill-equipped) without actually saying that women are ill-equipped. I'm not sure if it's a self-censorship thing, or a denial that, in a world where we proclaim equality, people might still think differently.

            Until we get at those beliefs, address them, and dispel them, women won't "fit in" to politics. And in order to get at those beliefs, people have to articulate them, not hide from them.

          • Why not change the politics to reflect women's priorities? It's not that women are ill-equipped, it's that the politicial system is dysfunctional.

          • You phrase it like it's one or the other – it's not. The political system can still be dysfunctional whether or not women (or men, for that matter) are equipped to manage it.

            But my first reaction is to say that I don't think men's and women's priorities, pound for pound, age for age, income for income, are all that different. I think socioeconomic status has a greater impact on individuals' priorities than their gender alone.

            But in addition to that, health care and education (the "important" issues that women are always more likely to cite) are on government priority lists. I'd argue that, taking up at least 40% of a province's program budget and rising every year, health care is THE priority. So let's not go there.

            Want to change a dysfunctional system? Change the attitudes of the people in it. Change the attitudes of the people observing it. That's what it's going to take. Quotas won't do anything but breed resentment, in this day and age.

  7. I agree the problem is at the nomination end, and while I'm not keen on quotas it's often the only way to change things.

    Eventually they won't be needed.

    • "…while I'm not keen on quotas it's often the only way to change things. Eventually they won't be needed."

      Well, I hate to say it but "eventually the quotas won't be needed" just isn't too comforting to me in this context. To me, saying "We'll only need a quota system for our legislatures for a little while, eventually we'll be able to abandon it" is akin to saying "Well only need to suspend democracy for a little while, eventually we'll go back to choosing our representatives based on the results of democratic elections". To me, any attempt to place quotas on the composition of a democratically elected legislature is an affront to democracy. At the very least, it's saying that we're going to hit "pause" on democracy for a little while.

      It's just not acceptable.

  8. I'd very much like it if we could all come to some sort of agreement as to what type of equality is our ultimate goal – equality of opportunity, or equality of outcome.

    If equality of outcome is the ultimate goal, then yeah, a quota system is the simplest (though probably not the best) option. If equality of opportunity is the ultimate goal, then we need to examine the processes of politics – such as, as you suggest LKO, the nomination process – and ensure that we're headed in the right direction.

    All this being said, I'm going to throw a few things out there:
    1. I elect a representative who I think best reflects my views, not just as a woman, not just as a yuppie, but as a political being. If the person on the ballot who I think best reflects my views happens to be a man, that's neither here nor there to me.
    2. How many women, would we suppose, perceive politics to be a viable career choice?

  9. You betcha. You are absolutely right. Example – Hillary Clinton was asked her position on the 3 issues and was absolutely attacked – and, called bitch.

    Her counterparts from other countries (all male) said the same thing, not much said about it.

  10. I agree that women have less success at the highest levels of politics – that's obvious – but I'm not convinced that your explanation involving the press's double standard is the cause.

    Pelosi, for example, is not targeted by the media. She's the most powerful woman in the US, and the second most powerful person. She's treated (by the press) as neither a Hillary nor a Palin. And no one goes after her family in any way, just as no one went after Hillary's. That "slime them and their family by any means possible" mentality displayed by the press had to do with Palin's politics more than her gender. The reason they went after her family was because she was a pro-life politician with a Down's Syndrome kid whom she had chosen not to abort – this was rightly perceived as a threat to the tightly-adhered-to press narrative that successful women are pro-choice feminists, so she and her family had to be destroyed in the public eye. And so they were.

    • None of that explain the disparity in coverage between Palin and Huckabee; between Palin's family and Bush's family.

      I think the reason for it applying less to Pelosi is that the US media is far, far more interested in the executive branch than the legislative one, probably due to the press focus on horse-race news and the fact that the Presidential election is more important than any one House election.

      • Bush's family wasn't a direct threat to the "abortion and small families are essential for women to succeed" narrative, as Palin's was. Same for Huckabee (who never made it on the ticket anyway).

        It's not gender, it's politics. Just look at the portrayals of the last several competitors in the US Presidential election:
        McCain: senile and irascible
        Palin: stupid and ignorant
        Obama: smart and cool
        Biden: experienced and suave
        Bush Jr: stupid and ignorant
        Cheney: evil
        Kerry: smart and courageous
        Edwards: smart and principled
        Gore: smart and erudite
        Lieberman: experienced and principled (until 2003….of course….)

        • You seem to be forgetting that the media picked up and carried the false narrative about Kerry created by the Swift Boaters; that Gore got more negative coverage in the 2000 election than did Bush (as per Pew Charitable Trusts Project for Excellence in Journalism); that Biden was mainly discussed in terms of him being a gaffe-machine; the time the media spent discussing conspiracy theories like the one around Obama's birth certificate; etc. Or the amounts of air time that they're giving to tea parties and Michelle Bachman and "death panels" as opposed to discussing actual facts about health reform. No, they aren't actually nicer to liberals than conservatives.

          Maybe, people see Cheney as evil because he advocated and carried out a systematic program of torture, which the media ignored for years until it was pushed in their faces. Maybe, they see Palin as ignorant because she couldn't actually put together a coherent policy statement aside from garbled talking points on any major issue.

          I didn't come here to debate with tea partiers. I live in the real world, not Bizarro World, so I'm necessarily at a disadvantage in such a debate.

          • "I didn't come here to debate with tea partiers. I live in the real world, not Bizarro World, so I'm necessarily at a disadvantage in such a debate."

            Well then, seeing as how I'm just a resident of "Bizarro World" who can only dream of someday achieving your manifest wisdom, I'll stop wasting your valuable time. But I am glad that you had the courtesy to refer to those lowly not-debate-worthy Bizarro-world-inhabiting tea partiers as tea partiers, rather than the conservative-favouring media's preferred term "tea baggers" accompanied by tasteless sexual slurs.

    • I agree that the press' double standard is not the cause of fewer women actually participating in politics, but I most certainly do think that there are patterns with regard to how women in office are described that contrast with how men are described (all other things being equal). What's more, I think there are patterns in acceptance of particular descriptors of women ("shrill", "shrew", "diva" and "bitch" come to mind) while fewer take them seriously if applied to men.

      There most certainly are differences in what we expect of women, as a gender, and of men, as a gender, that have been socially conditioned – even in such an "egalitarian" society as ours – for generations. So to discount gender entirely isn't the answer.

      But pointing at gender alone and saying "fix gender inequality and we will fix the inability of government to address women's issues" is equally foolish.

  11. Two questions:

    1. Where does Canada rank if we exclude any country with a gender quota rule in their political system?

    2. Why is it inherently a bad thing if some professions happen to attract more of one gender than the other, as long as both genders are equally allowed to participate?

    • Perhaps because it's not entirely due to happenstance, but rather (and I can't believe I'm saying this) societal norms and pressures that dictate what men and women should pursue as target occupations.

    • For this particular profession it's important because politics is the act of sorting out the compromises necessary for a large society to function. Doing that with representatives suggests that it would be best if we had representatives that.. well.. represent.. the general makeup of the population.

      I think it's fairly safe to say that women have a number of concerns that men don't, and vice versa. How can we determine the best compromise for society if those concerns aren't adequately represented in the arena where those compromises are decided?

      • Politicians decide how to spend taxpayers' money. The Government of Harper decided to cut funding to Status of Women Canada. They cut funding for women's shelters. They cut funding to Kairos, which was helping women in the Congo who had been raped. They cut funding to Planned Parenthood. They destroyed a national daycare plan. Their EconomicAction Plan benefits men disproportionately. Their cuts to social spending harm women and children disproportionately.

        DAMN RIGHT WE NEED MORE WOMEN AS POLITICIANS TO FIGHT THE STUPID DECISIONS MADE BY MEN. We should insist that only women be appointed to the Senate until 51% of Senators are women. We should have affirmative action to plans to fund, nominate and elect women at all levels of government. Each governmental body which achieves 51% or more women can then drop its affirmative action plan.

        • So Holly Stick believes the great blow to Women`s Equality happened when Harper cut funding to the Status of Women Canada. Does that mean it was Utopia for women before the cuts ?
          I`m not even sure if Harper cut funding to Status of Women and I certainly don`t see that women have suffered if there was cuts to it. Maybe someone can tell me how Status of Women advanced the cause of women in politics since it`s inception, other than those who were lucky enough to be employed by the organization.

          • Cuts to SOW probably aren't the best argument to use against Harper on "women's issues".

            I'd posit that stronger arguments would include not pursuing the greatest talent in candidate nominations or cabinet posts, shutting the door on any sort of abortion debate (and a fulsome definition of maternal health), scrapping daycare programs ("choice" my left ear,) and shoving pay equity programs to the back burner.

            I'm not going to argue that things were so hunky-dory before him – there's always room for improvement – but Harper's made it rather clear that he doesn't give two hoots about "women's issues". Apparently, we're still a second-tier socialist country of the worst kind, in his mind.

          • It's actually SWC; the misogynistic rightwingers like to call feminists sows, though.

            common man, it was not utopia, but the government of Harper has made it worse, not better.

            "I certainly don`t see that women have suffered " as if you would be apt to notice or care.

          • Holly Stick: since you have nominated yourself as someone who " would be more apt to notice or care " Could you explain how the women of Canada have suffered since these drastic cutbacks to SoWC ? Or maybe you`re afraid that women will do just fine without a patronizing group like SoWC.

          • I suspect that Harper is well aware that women in Canada are more than capable of doing well in most areas of the workforce. They don`t need a pandering PM.

            Look at our universities and colleges; a larger percentage of enrollement is female as well as a higher caliber of graduate than male. The complete equality of women will be gained by better access to education and a free market that will want the best person for the job.

            Organizations like Status of Women are not useful. I can`t imagine how the average young woman would identify with the bitterness and entitlement there.

          • Except the problem seems to be that the free market has determined that part of what makes a person "the best person" for jobs like these communications and being able to work deals with the "old boys club" that already exists and that, lets face it, does as many deals in strip clubs and on the golf-course as in boardrooms and meetings — and yeah, the women can attend those, but lets be honest here as well.. the men are uncomfortable with them doing so.

            Until the old boys club is cracked and those practices cease, it'll be hard to crack it, no matter what the education level or capability of the women are.

          • I would also add "doesn't take 6 or 9 or 12 months off to raise a baby" to your list, Thwim. Otherwise, I agree.

          • Fortunately, that latter point is starting to be addressed by parental leave applying equally to both sexes now — and males starting to place increased importance on a more balanced lifestyle.

        • Because no Canadian woman could possibly achieve anything without a hand-out from the government, right?

          And perhaps we should have affirmative action plans to get more men into nursing, education, and the hospitality industry? Why are women over represented at our universities? We should BAN all women from Universities until the student body achieves 51% or more of men. Right?

  12. Windy excuses, more like. When men get to make the decisions, women suffer the consequences.

    • Yes, you're right, women are such a homogeneous bunch that women political leaders are invariably better for the average or median women, as regards "women's issues", or general well-being. Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Sara Palin, Edith Cresson, Helena Guergis, etc., were and are all great for women. And those awful old white men, like Tommy Douglas, Alan Blakeney, Ed Schreyer, Bill Davis, David Peterson, Bob Rae, Dalton McGuinty, Robert Bourassa, Claude Ryan, Butler & Gaitskell, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Gerhard Schroeder, etc., were all so terrible for women. None of the social programs and social transformations that have most advanced women's well-being were pioneered and won by men. And women politicians, leaders and businesswomen are invariably more caring and sharing, braver pioneers for equality and social advancement.


    • Why do you hate men?

  13. I certainly agree with the notion of the 51% majority being able to take care of themselves in terms of politics, but PARTY politics is more complicated, and arguably not a level playing field. That said, a quota system would be an absolute affront to democracy. Establishing that a certain percentage of the legislature must be women, regardless of the will of the citizenry as expressed through their votes makes a mockery of representative democracy (not to mention misinterprets what "representative" means in that phrase). A quota establishes that the number of votes a candidate gets is not the sole determining factor in determining who represents me politically, and that a certain number of seats in the House will be determined by anatomy, rather than through participatory democracy.

    Not cool.

    • I'd much rather a contest between remarkably talented and willing candidates, regardless of their gender, than quotas as to how many people of what gender, age, orientation, and race should be in our parliament.

      Lots of men and women in this country make remarkable leaders and have achieved greatness irrespective of what hangs (or doesn't) between their legs. I'd like to see more of them in the nomination contests.

  14. The group ‘women’. What does it mean? Something different in every venue of human endeavour. Group def’ns compete with individual self-conceptions. The writer sees herself as a member of the childless group. Why should the writer even take into account her genderless group identity while saying she is ‘focused’ on the economy?