"We'll achieve true equality when it's no longer a curiosity for a woman to
seek any office or any job," said Rep. Senator Patricia Vance.
I think this is an important quote to consider. With all the media buzz surrounding Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Democratic nomination, we're definitely not there yet. What I think is interesting is how Hillary has come to stand for 'Women' in politics with a capital 'W'. It reminds me of what Kim Campbell talked about when I interviewed her, which is that if a man runs for president and fails, nobody says its because men just can't do it, but when a woman does, this is seen as a reflection on the entire competence of her gender. This is exactly what Vance suggests will happen in the US if Hillary does not win:
"Hillary Clinton has very high negatives and I don't think it's because of her gender," Vance said. "But if she is to run (for president) and lose, people will claim that a woman can't get elected president."
This started me thinking about 'tokenism' in politics, and how when there are not every many women, these women are usually seen as tokens. It also made me think of the Liberal Party's new push for more female candidates in the next federal election. Is the party's policy of potentially pushing out male candidates in order to ensure their 33% representation a good idea? How will this interference with the 'democratic' process by which regional committees decide who their representatives are, construct the ways in which these women will be treated and talked about when elected or running for election? What will be said about women in politics if the Liberals lose the next election?
Okay, so maybe I'm playing Devil's Advocate a little here. Those who know me know that I support Dion's plan and admire his very concerted effort to get women into politics. Look at the difference that Dion has made in just this short time! I'm heartened by this article:
Within minutes of the announcement [of Julien's appointment as the Women Candidate Search Coordinator, CVs from interested women started coming through the fax machine," Julien said this week.
"That same evening, on Dec. 13, I was at a pre-Christmas event, a dinner, where I barely had a chance to eat, so many women came up to me to hand me their business card. I could hardly close my purse at the end of the night," Julien added in an interview.
For those who say though that privileging gender in party nominations is problematic, I must say that I agree. This is ultimately not the answer. As Vance says though, we need to stop making women in politics a curiosity, and so I do think that Dion's plan is one very important step towards a solution. What I mean by this is that, it would be unfortunate if this became a permanent method for ensuring proper representation of women and other minorities within elected office, because the ultimate solution, the place where we all want to be is in that utopian equal society in which equality happens naturally without having to impose it.
But what Dion has done is made women in politics a subject for debate, he has made women prominent and he has emphasized how important it is for women to get involved in politics and how much they can and do contribute to the political realm. This is ultimately, a very good thing! My only concern is that in adding more women to the party's electoral rolls, I hope that what does not get effaced is discussion on why women are reluctant to get involved in politics, how we can effectively encourage them and how politics can structurally become more accomodating to women and other minorities.
I do like what Linda Julien points out though about the emphasis on gender in party nomination and how this doesn't put equality over competence:
When the federal Liberals said they might bar men from seeking nomination, they were accused, said Julien, of putting sex equality above competence.
"My response to that," she said, "is that gender and competence are not incompatible."
Most women, Julien said, would not dream of putting themselves forward even if they are drowning in qualifications.
Women with university degrees -- including those with MAs or PhDs -- are still worried they lack the credentials needed for public life.
"With men, it's just about never a concern," Julien said. "There's a provincial politician, a man with Grade 5 education. I'm fascinated to see him."
" A woman with that level of education would never have run for office, but he just gets out there," she said.
I think that shows the ways in which qualified women count themselves out for the job - and I think we really need to address why they do that and how we can fix that.
Finally, and just to give you a little example of the opposition to Dion's plan, this lovely article entitled Women in Politics: What's the Fuss and written by a female Canwest reporter (it is now behind a subsciption page) featured this lovely quote:
I see that we’re not getting closer to having equal numbers of males and females in various elected assemblies. But why am I supposed to care? Why do we “need” women in politics?
Woman at Mile O answers this one:
The female writer argues that if we agree that we should equalize the number of men and women in politics, then why are we not doing the same for ethnic minorities, gay/lesbian persons, etc.? Let’s see…the last time I checked, all minorities, gay/lesbian people are still also….. men and women. Imagine that? What a ridiculous argument for continuing with the status quo. It’s very disheartening to see female members of the media calling down progressive action to advance the cause of including more women in Canadian politics.
Kuddos to her! Although, I believe that women experiencing intersecting positionalities often have very different views than other women, so I believe in a diversity of female and male voices. And I also believe that we should look at how well politics accomodates people of all types and find ways to encourage and support a truly representative representation!