I was in my early 20s when Francene Cosman entered provincial politics and won the riding of Bedford-Fall River. I remember seeing her campaign signs on lawns in the area when she ran, and won, in 1993.
So, I enjoyed Jon Tattrie’s profile of Cosman (see profile here). But I was disturbed, too, by what she put up with in her role.
In our cover story, Cosman recalls the sexism in politics then; all female politicians faced the same experience. She says she was once told to go back to the kitchen and bake cookies. As a colleague pointed out, wouldn’t it be absurd to tell a man to go home and mow the lawn?
More than 23 years have passed since Cosman sat in the legislature, but not much has changed for women in politics. Let’s look at a few examples.
On a radio show in 2006, Peter MacKay (then deputy leader of the Conservative party) told New Democrat Alexa McDonough to “stick to her knitting.” He later apologized.
South of the border, during the presidential election, Hillary Clinton had to endure relentless misogyny during the race. It ran the gamut from comments about her physical appearance to phrase “there’s something about her I just don’t like.”
Statistics gathered from Alberta Justice and obtained by the Edmonton Journal show that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has received more threats than any of her predecessors. In June 2016, organizers of a golf tournament in Alberta used an image of Notley’s face as a target for golfers.
I could go on, but you get the point.
And then there are the numbers. There are now only two women councillors on Halifax Regional Council. There are more men named Steve on Council than there are women.
Out of 51 MLAs in Nova Scotia, only 15 are women. And there’s only ever been one female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell (who served for almost six months in 1993). Nova Scotia has never had a female premier.
Recently, I saw a campaign by Elle UK. Its designers took well known political photos from the British House of Commons for example, and Photoshopped out all the men, leaving only a few women in each shot. It was a depressing and stark reminder of how underrepresented women are in every level of politics around the world.
Growing a thicker skin is necessary in politics, and often, in life. But female politicians, like their male counterparts, should be criticized on their policies, politics, spending, and how they run a campaign. Criticism related to gender is irrelevant and uncalled for.
I’m at an age where I thought we’d be over these kinds of issues now and women would, rightfully, have an equal standing in every part of society. It’s been more than 20 years since Cosman sat in the legislature, but women everywhere still face the same sexism. As the saying goes, I can’t believe we still have to fight for this crap.
We’ve got work to do to get women into office. Let’s promote and encourage women to join organizations such as Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada. Nominate women in your community who would be great political candidates. Support women currently running. Speak up against misogynist comments on social media and elsewhere. And let’s teach our children that qualified women and men should be always be encouraged to run for office and their gender should never be a barrier.
I will raise a baked cookie to that.