I am in week 2 of my course about women in politics in Canada. One of the texts which we are reading is “Women, Power, Politics” by Sylvia Bashevkin. It is an easy read which focuses on the thesis that ‘women plus power equals discomfort’.
As a Canadian citizen, what might be one of the first thoughts when one hears the words women, power, and politics? Kim Campbell easily comes to mind. She became PM after winning the leadership campaign for the Progressive Conservative party after Mulroney retired because of declining popularity. An election was called soon after, and the failure of the PCs was attributed to Campbell.
When men hold a title of power, their gender is not blamed for the reason of their loss. Imagine if Michael Ignatieff’s historic loss for the Liberals was attributed to his gender – how ridiculous! Campbell was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because she was a woman she took extra heat from the press and media.
‘Women plus power equals discomfort’ rings true. I even fall victim to this line of thought. I love seeing strong, powerful women because it helps give me the confidence that I can make something of myself no matter my background. Women in power remind me of the strong women in my family, and the way they take no shit from no one. At times I feel as if I am missing this inherited trait, but as I grow older I feel more comfortable in myself and the alluring take no prisoners attitude.
When I see few lone women in Parliament, I begin to think that their presence is striking in a negative way. Questions pop into my mind, like:
- What did this woman have to sacrifice to make her mark? Her family? Friends? Sexuality?
- What did she do to get where she is? Instances of casting room couch? Money?
- Who is her family connected to?
- Did she marry into money? Is her family wealthy?
- What is wrong with her?
To be fair, the questions can be applied to men as well (which I often do – maybe because I am just a nosy person and want to know a person’s background). But it sickens me that I do often think of these questions when I see women in power and I hope that by reading more into the difficulties women face when entering politics that this ingrained behavior of mine will change.
The first step is to stop and critically analyze why I am thinking a certain way – what prejudices do I hold and why? The not-so-funny thing is that if women did have a 50% representation in politics, I would not see women in power as such a foreign concept. It would be normal. But since women comprise about a 1/4 of elected MPs, then they will always be seen as the Other.
Women in power threaten others. Is it because of competition for those few spots where women feel most comfortable? I.e. Not wanting to be an MP because of Question Period, instead opting to work in other government jobs which do not involve such intense debate and uncertainty.
Women in power sometimes make me feel inadequate that I can never live up to such high standards. This may be a personal feeling, but I have begun to rid myself of that thought by reminding myself that I should not compare myself to others. I am only 23 years old with my whole life ahead of me. I face different difficulties than others which I have to overcome, so my path may be a bit more long but I will get there. I must not give up.