Can I call you Belinda?


 

Sylvia Bashevkin talks about her new book, women in politics and this government’s attitude toward women.

“So we see this pattern of speech where we often speak about women in those leadership positions using their first names. … We find this pattern of dissecting their appearance, their clothing, their hair, their style of speech, their personal lives. This is probably not just trivializing the women who may seek to run for top office but it also serves to discourage individuals from trying out those careers. It tends to dampen the supply of women as well as men who are willing to submit to that kind of public microscopic examination so part of it is the stakes that are involved.

“There is high stakes in all fields but very few of them are as exposed, stark, public inspection as public political leadership. … So therefore, we tend to see women who become party leaders, leading parties that are really very weak and then blaming them when the party in fact turn in weak results in an election, which is entirely consistent with the fact that the party was in a weak position.”

The first name basis on which we seem to be with most female politicians is an interesting point. Part of it probably has to do with little more than the fact that the lack of women in positions of political power makes female names all the more singular—you know who is being discussed when someone mentions Belinda or Ruby, there’d be more possibility of confusion if we talked about Michael or Stephen.

None of which gets around the fact that the use of first names in this context is almost always implicitly diminishing.


 

Can I call you Belinda?

  1. "None of which gets around the fact that the use of first names in this context is almost always implicitly diminishing."

    Indeed. A bad habit all round, though hardly one confined to male discourse. I was just reading a biography of Jane Austen and the (female) author referred to her through as "Jane." I understand that Austen's readers feel a particular affection for her, but it seems to me that one of the top 100 novelists of all time deserves a bit more respect.

    Perhaps it's that male voters sometimes regard female politicians with unfortunate condescension, while female voters sometimes regard them with unfortunate sisterly solidarity. That is not always the case, however: Margaret Thatcher is never "Margaret."

    • If anything she's Hildegarde.

    • I think you've got it, Jack. May I call you Jack?

      I'd never examined the female "sisterly" angle before, but I shamefully put up my hand.

    • Margaret Thatcher is never "Margaret."

      True, though she's often "Maggie."

      • Iron Lady?

  2. think we tend to use first names to describe these politicians to highlight the absurdity of the things they have done or said. Belinda, Ruby and Sheila, aren't exactly innocent bystanders in the way they
    have been covered. They have done extremely dramatic and rediculous things to make points and get media attention and have lost respect because of it (you too Helena). They also have kinda unique names.

    However, there are many women who have avoided this kind of coverage and retained their respect. We don't go around referring to Anne (McLellan), Lucienne (Robilliard), Elizabeth (Witmer), Deb (Grey) and Carole (Lavallée).

    That said I don't disagree with the fundamental point that women are trivialized in politics.

  3. I think the first-name branding, when applied by others, is more about negative spin than gender (i.e our county's "Stock" episode; "Joe Who", "Presto" (Manning) etc.). The part about appearance, clothing, hair, style of speech, and personal lives strikes me as pretty spot on, though.

    But on the name issue, I think it's just as interesting to look at the dismal track record of those who've branded themselves by their first names on purpose.

    Belinda chose that brand for her leadership campaign, and we all know how that worked out. More recently, Bob Rae tried real hard to run as "Bob," and also came up short. As for election campaigns, I remember every single PC candidate in '93 following Kim Campbell's lead and using their given names as the brand for every poster, flier, pin, etc. The payoff? Worst. Election. Result. Ever.

    Moral of the story: both names = gravitas = electable

  4. Um, haven't a whole bunch of female politicians done precisely this to themselves? Remember "Kim!" And have we already forgotten "Hillary"? And, if memory serves, didn't a certain female politician of brief tenure, dubious partisan allegiance, and fabulous fashion sense identify herself on posters and buttons with something zestier than "Stronach"?

  5. This is just another excuse for inept females to explain their failures. Did Thatcher sit around moaning about how she was called Maggie and not Mrs Thatcher. No, no she didn't. She kicked ass and took names later.

    And first names give you a more familiar persona so I am not certain why that's considered a negative. Don't pols want everyone to think they are friends? Mr this and Mr that is very cold while Belinda this and Ruby that is more friendly.

  6. This is just another excuse for inept females to explain their failures. Did Thatcher sit around moaning about how she was called Maggie and not Mrs Thatcher. No, no she didn't. She kicked arse and took names later.

    And first names give you a more familiar persona so I am not certain why that's considered a negative. Don't pols want everyone to think they are friends? Mr this and Mr that is very cold while Belinda this and Ruby that is more friendly.

    • I don't know you from Adam, but I do know Professor Bashevkin, and I can assure you that she is just about the furthest thing from an "inept female" you could find.

      But don't let that get in the way of all the good fun your having wallowing in your dime store-misogyny.

      Git.

  7. I call my MP, Dr Fry.

    I would guess that calling a woman by her powerful father's last name could also be seen as patriarchal. When I think Stronach, I definately don't think of Belinda first. Sort of the same reason we had to call Bush II, W.

    • I'm sure you could tell the difference between Ms. Stronach and Mr. Stronach, though.

  8. I never really stopped to think about it before. As a male I must admit that the point is right … Iggy, Harper though for some reason I use Jack and gilles – I wonder hmmm there is more here than meets the eye.

  9. I suspect that in Stronach and Clinton's cases they actively promoted their image on a first name basis as a way to differentiate themselves from their more famous male relatives. Which kinda makes sense in a way.

    I remember noticing when Clinton ran for the NY Senate seat that all her signs said "Hillary" and not "Clinton" – of course at the time her husband was an impeached adulterer…so maybe she was on to something there ;)

  10. I've thought about the fact that we tend to call females by their first names whereas men are referred to by both names or the last name. On the one hand, there is the issue of respect. On the other hand, one could say that using the first name is more familiar and perhaps more equalizing?

    Interestingly though, last election at the candidates debate in my riding, the speaker (a student) referred to Elizabeth May as Dr. May (emphasis on the Dr.) and my first two thoughts were 1) this guy is a Green and 2) he's trying to intimidate the other candidates

    I doubt I was the only one thinking that. Titles do still carry weight, it seems

  11. As mentioned above, is there not a tendency for some politicians, both male and female, to try to make themselves more "of the people" by using the first name in the brand? Before we blame society for this (and I immediately agree with the stupidity of both male and female commentators going after the clothing and hairstyle nonsense), is it possible to do a little research on candidates' self-selected choice of promoting first vs. last names?

  12. Five of the most prominent women in U.S. politics:

    Hillary Clinton
    Sarah Palin
    Nancy Pelosi
    Diane Feinstein
    Sonia Sotomayor

    Only one was principally called by her first name — for obvious reasons (plus she self-identified that way).

    I bet Obama is referred to Barack more often than Pelosi is referred to at Nancy.

    Maybe this is just about how interesting your first name is?

    On the clothing thing: It does seem sexist and often is. However, what are they going to say about men: In an astonishing turn of events, Prime Minister Harper opted for a dark suit and bland tie — what WILL he wear tomorrow?

    Aside: Males who often get called by their first name: Rush, Newt, Dalton, Barack, Rudy, Jeb, Saddam (list randomly generated).

  13. belinda stronach is a fraud that's why she's called BS!! Don't believe it check out goof in Police files North America wide. Watch the street videos from across Canada and in the our Canadian Parliment buildings. Why do you think the liberals went belly up. People who brag up "Buffy The Minnesota Hooker" are really questionable.