Monday, October 15, 2007

NDP Candidate Makes Sexist Remarks about Women in Politics...

When I finished reading this article written by Abbottsford's NDP candidate, Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, I had to take a moment to breathe. It surprises me how much some people just don't get it. It equally surprises me how willing such people are to put their ignorance into print - especially when they seem quite interested in entering the political realm - under the banner of the women-friendly NDP no less!

But let me put aside discussion about the political viability of Hansen-Carlson's move and analyze what he actually said. He doesn't start off well....



Feminists do more than confuse me - they tick me off.


I am a white male with blonde hair and blue eyes; I suppose it is possible that I could not even begin to understand where feminists are coming from.


But it is sure clear where they want to go.



Apparently, Hansen-Carlson is far more versed in feminist ideologies and desires than I am, because last I checked all feminists didn't want the same thing, nor could they be lumped into one mass movement.

But then what do I know... I'm just an ardent feminist who has been working for women's causes for over 5 years, who founded a magazine about women and politics and who has actually interviewed and talked with women who have been involved in politics (Anne McLellan included). Perhaps he is right when he says that as a white male he doesn't understand 'feminists' at all?



Anne McLellan, a previous Liberal MP, came to Abbotsford last week to breath new life into the Abbotsford Liberal organization. She is an accomplished politician by any measure and this is not because she is a woman.


A fact of the matter is that 52 per cent of Canadians are women while only 21 percent of parliamentarians are female. Sure, a little off-balance, but not warranting a feminist outcry with a man-hating undertone, if you were to ask me.



I can't help but be struck by Hansen-Carlson's emphasis on the need to 'breathe new life' into the Abbotsford Liberal organization. If one recalls the last election, one will note that it was Hansen-Carlson who decimated the Liberal candidate's David Oliver's chances by accusing him of election fraud, a claim which Elections Canada later rejected, prompting both the NDP and Hansen-Carlson to issue this apology and Oliver to file a defamation suit.

But this is besides the point - let's look at his comments about Anne McLellan. Are we to assume that Anne McLellan being a woman had nothing to do with her success as a politician? What I mean is, did Ms. McLellan magically discard her gender when entering office and displace everything that growing up and living as a woman taught her? Isn't 'Anne McLellan' the politician and person inextricably tied up with her identity as a female - so that if she succeeds it is necessarily, at least in some part, because she's a woman?

But Hansen-Carlsen is not trying to get into a metaphysical debate about the nature of identity - what he means is that Anne didn't succeed 'just' because she's female! Because we all know that most women who succeed do so, not because they have the qualifications for the job, but because someone is trying to fill a 'woman' quota.

Ironically, Hansen-Carlson demonstrates in this paragraph why women like McLellan want some sort of quota for women in politics in the first place. After all, no matter how hard women work there will always be those people who think that women are just being promoted as tokens or who believe that one only needs token women in politics.

Indeed, Hansen-Carlson's 52-21 statistics hides the problem. And the fact that 79% (!) of our politicians are men is a bit of a problem. But that's just a 'little off-balance' so it's nothing for 'man-hating' feminists like myself to worry about, is it? I'm so impressed how Hansen-Carlson can simultaneously discount the gender imbalance in politics and perpetuate the very off base idea that feminists hate men. But I guess I should just take another deep breath and move on:


I appreciate the historical struggles that women have overcome. Male leaders in Ottawa are keen to carry out life alongside educated, powerful, influential and visionary women, like Anne McLellan. But what they are not keen to do is to pretend that, by virtue of sex, women are educated, powerful, influential, and visionary.

Wow. There's just so much in this paragraph to chew on... and it all tastes awful. First, let's emphasize Hansen-Carlson's reference to women's struggles as 'historical' and his use of past tense when he talks about women overcoming these struggles. Because, of course, a woman living in our 'enlightened' modern age has no barriers or struggles. Women are liberated so what are the feminists complaining about? I'm so glad that men like Hansen-Carlson who have such a firm grasp on what it's like to be a woman today are running for office so that they can represent our concerns and issues.

I'm also glad that Hansen-Carlson points out that male leaders in Ottawa are 'keen' to work with 'educated, powerful, influential and visionary' women. How kind of these men to be so keen as to 'allow' women to work with them! Too bad some of them define educated, powerful, influential and visionary in a male-centered way that excludes many very accomplished and talented women who would make wonderful politicians. But then isn't there only one definition of these traits? Well, Hansen-Carlson seems to think so.

I would also like to challenge Hansen-Carlson's idea that politics is a realm in which the most 'talented' candidate should win. I don't mean to suggest that one should elect a candidate who is talentless but what I want to emphasize is that our politicians shape the policies of our country and these policies are applied to people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. In order to properly represent the interests of these diverse populations... don't you think one should actually give these populations a voice?

What I mean by this is that, try as we might, there are certain ways in which a white man like Hansen-Carlson or a white woman like myself cannot entirely understand the interests and experiences of a Muslim immigrant in Canada. Neither of us have lived that person's experience and although a good politicians attempts to speak for all of their constituents, there are some facets of one's constituents' experience that one will never truly be able to understand or speak for.

I'm sure a Muslim immigrant to Canada might feel just as alienated as many of the women I have spoken with did when watching a bunch of white men debate abortion in the House of Commons. But this alienation is besides the point in Hansen-Carlson's parliament. After all, he is the type of person who would write something like this:



One per cent of the Canadian population describes themselves as homosexual; 25 per cent are non-white, 55 per cent own dogs and 17 per cent smoke dope. Do we need to draft policy to ensure these quotas in the House of Commons are full, too?


I am certain our quota of homosexual, non-white, dog-owning and dope-smoking politicians is full, but the underlying lack of common sense remains unchanged.


It will never stop.


Because being a woman, living as a woman and experiencing discrimination as a woman is comparable to the experience of owning a dog or smoking dope. And yes, I do happen to think that a parliament SHOULD have homosexuals in it in order to represent their voices and their issues. Perhaps a truly equitable parliament should also have transgender or transsexual... or even intersex people in it (whom Hansen-Carlson calls by the outdated term 'hermaphrodites')? But then... who cares about them, right? Definitely not people like Hansen-Carlson. Shouldn't we all be so glad that educated, powerful, influential and visionary people like him are running for political office!?



Each [party] has stopped short of something that would resemble Ann McLellan's ambition.


Each party provides equal opportunity, an environment where a capable woman is given all the options available to a capable man.


This is enough.


Anyone - male or female - that wades into this debate beyond agreeing we need good politicians is missing the point.


[...]


We have no need for a fulfilled quota of women in the House of Commons if the only thing that brought them there was politically motivated cowgirl.



Here is where the women who are promoting the quota system disagree with Hansen-Carlson entirely. Indeed, to claim that each party provides equal opportunity to capable men and women is to miss the point. If you look at research into women and politics, men are asked by parties to run more than women are... and because of the way in which women are raised and socialized, women actually usually need to be asked to run more times than men do before they will agree to do it.

Why is that? Well, it's definitely not because they aren't 'qualified' for the position. It's because of a lot of things... because women in our society are expected to take on more of the burden of care for children and the elderly, because women aren't taught to take leadership positions or to be comfortable in them, because women have more difficulty in raising campaign funds, because women see the way the media treats female politicians and do not want to be treated in that way, and the list goes on...

But Hansen-Carlson isn't concerned about any of these things. He apparently lives in a vacuum in which society has no bearing on women's lives or decisions and where if women were only 'capable' enough there would be more of them in the House of Commons!

Silly 'cowgirls' like Anne McLellan should just accept the fact that others of her gender are inherently 'incapable' and that she just happens to be a 'capable' exception to the 'women' rule. After all, the motivation behind instituting quotas isn't to have more competent women included in the political discussion who are currently being unjustly excluded... but rather just to get more women in parliament who just can't otherwise cut it against their more capable male peers.

Now, none of this is to say that I even agree with a quota system. However, I must say the more I read about people like Hansen-Carlson, the more I realize where women who advocate for quotas are coming from. There are, after all, some people who refuse to believe that, with the exception of a few stand-outs, women are qualified for politics.

All I know is that if I were a woman in Abbottsford, I would refuse to vote for or work on the campaign of a man like the lovely Hansen-Carlson unless he changed his tune entirely and issued an apology for the trash that he has written. But then... I'm probably one of those 'man-hating feminists' so I'm sure my opinion isn't very valuable.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awesome Post!

skdadl said...

This guy is in the NDP -- seriously? You're kidding me, right?

The NDP just acquired a problem. Me, member since 1965. *rrrrr*

Jumpin' Joan Flash said...

Before forming an opinion, make sure to read the original column, and not this over-emotionalized framing redaction

Patch said...

I did read the original column and I don't think this is an 'over-emotionalized framing redaction'. In fact, the blogger accurately represents what the writer is trying to say explicitly and what he is also saying implicitly.

Berlynn said...

OMFG! And this guy is allowed the privilege of a membership in the NDP??? How do we have him removed?

Kat said...

amazing post. i fully agree that the blog accurately represents the original article, and all of its explicit and implicit messages. i appreciate the point that politicians should not be voted in simply because they are from a prominent demographic, but there are more than enough competent female politicians to ensure that someone qualified gets the position. What do you guys think about quotas for any group underrepresented in parliament?

Feminist Catalyst said...

I just stumbled upon this via "Shameless Sunday" on Feministe. Great work here. I will certainly add you to my list of fantabulous blogs to check out daily.

As for this post, I was also saddened to see a member of team Orange make such misogynistic comments.

Where's Jack and why isn't he giving this kid the boot?!

RP. said...

I've looked, but I can't find proof that he was still a candidate when the article was published. Yes, I'm praying beyond hope that there's some way the NDP can distance itself from this shitbag.