27 December 2011

Making the world safe for sexism #cdnpoli #nlpoli

Year-end political columns and features do nothing if not go for the easy and predictable when it comes to picking the top political story.

Jeff Simpson, for example, known to many as the poor man’s George Will, picked women in politics to lead off his Christmas Eve column:

This being Christmas weekend, let’s give thanks for some encouraging developments in Canada in 2011.

First off, women in politics. Three women became premiers – Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland and Labrador, Alison Redford in Alberta and Christy Clark in British Columbia.

The venerable Canadian Press ran a story on women in politics as well for Christmas week.  Surely this is something not seen since maybe the 1970s.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak looks forward to a shift in dynamics when provincial and territorial leaders gather next month in Victoria.

For the first time ever, three other women will join her at the male-dominated meeting: Kathy Dunderdale of Newfoundland and Labrador, Alison Redford of Alberta and Christy Clark of British Columbia.

“The three seas are guarded by women,” Aariak said with a laugh.

Flip around the newspapers and broadcast media and you are likely to find more examples.  These two just stood out for being among the the firs.

And not long after those comments both Jeff and CP went to exactly the same spot..

Canadian Press:

“I think it will be very exciting to come together as a group with more women at the table,” she said in an interview. “And I think they will contribute valuable information.”

[Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy] Dunderdale agreed.

“I know it’s going to be different because women do approach it differently,” she said in an interview.

Women simply don’t experience life the same way as men, Dunderdale said.

“So that gives you a certain insight, a certain perspective.

“And certain issues that are extremely important to you.”

And Jeff:

… women often have a nose for issues that men miss, or they see the same things through a different prism, and that difference is useful and important. Political life is better with more women running or helping to run the show.

Women see issues men don’t see.  They see all issues “differently”.  As Dunderdale put it “certain issues” are extremely import.  She then chose employment insurance and how it is unfair to some types of workers, incidentally, but more on that later. Yes friends, women are more socially aware.  They focus on the softer issues.

And, darn it all,  politics is just “better” with women in it.

The only thing missing from these insightful journalistic comments is the open admission that the offices smell better,  that the chicks make great coffee when you ask them to bring you a cup and cabinet meetings are better because sometimes the babes will even bring cookies they baked themselves.  The boys will have to watch their waist lines and their cholesterol counts now that women are in higher places.

So let’s deal with the obvious. 

Women do see the world somewhat differently from the way men do.  Then again, so do black men and women, aboriginal people, and immigrants.  White middle-class men from St. John’s will have a different experience than their counterparts from Quebec or Edmonton. 

But when you get beyond these most general of generalizations, so what?

Well, not much.  The differences in politicians come now as they always have, in the individuals themselves.  Women – as a group - are not inherently any better at politics or any more sensitive to certain issues than are men. 

Kathy Dunderdale, for example, hasn’t been any better at promoting a more civilized, inclusive, and open form of politics than any of her male predecessors.  She is every bit as arrogant and condescending as her predecessor ever was. She just has less than a tenth the reason to behave so ignorantly.

Dunderdale may see issues differently than someone like Jerome Kennedy – a man – but that is because she seems to have difficulty grasping many of them, very much unlike Kennedy. That doesn’t come from the fact that Dunderdale is a woman and Kennedy a man. Finance minister Tom Marshall  seems to have as limited a grasp on public finance as Dunderdale does and, as you likely concluded from his name, Tom is one of the guys in the room.

Kathy Dunderdale is certainly just as committed to secrecy and keeping the legislature as dysfunctional as her predecessor.  Dunderdale’s had a year in office. Most people in Newfoundland and Labrador who read that CP article are likely dumfounded to find out that Dunderdale has some sort of personal stake in employment insurance reform. 

So far she hasn’t said much of anything about it beyond a news release issued last summer.  Eight years in politics and not a peep other than mentioning that people who receive regular benefits need fewer hours to qualify for parental leave benefits under the Employment Insurance system than others.

What has actually been remarkable about women premiers is that the average Canadian doesn’t seem to have noticed at all.  You just did not see letters to the editor and calls to open line shows gushing about the historic first of Kathy Dunderdale, the first woman premier of her province.  A few reporters and Dunderdale supporters have tried to play it up, but for the most part Dunderdale as the first elected woman premier is a non-issue.

Not an issue.

Sure people noticed.

They couldn’t help but notice, especially if they followed Dunderdale’s staged campaign events that posed her as the Great Nan, heir to the Great Dan.

But the ordinary Joes and Janes didn’t play up the “first woman” angle themselves beyond maybe a comment or two in passing. 

24 hours tops, after the election.


Part of that may well be due to the fact that people are a wee bit more evolved that the crowd in newsrooms these days.  They understand that it was only a matter of time before we had women premiers.  It’s a numbers game.  Get more women in politics over a longer time, eventually one of them gets the top job.

A goodly chunk of the reaction in Newfoundland and Labrador likely had to do with the fact that Dunderdale slid into her job a year ago. People are used to her.  The novelty of her chromosomal structure wore off long ago.  And to be brutally frank, it was never an issue anyway.

If someone wanted to make an issue, they might note that Dunderdale  got her job on a man’s coattails, hand-picked by a man to succeed him.  What’s more, the provincial Tories could have run a cardboard cut-out and they would have been swept back into power. They sure didn’t run their campaign as if she made a difference.  The “Dunderdale2011” thing was more about cutting and pasting than the use of a campaign built around the party’s strongest marketing appeal. 

The Tories do Big Giant Head campaigns so naturally they ran lots of shots of a Big Giant Head.  But they ran a stealth campaign with Dunderdale:  a photo op here and there and not much beyond it. There was no wave of Dundermania.

Truth be told Kathy could have frigged off to Florida with Susan Sullivan and no one would have wondered where Kathy went.  That’s what actually happened after the election, incidentally, and – you guessed it – no one cared.

Unlike reporters and political pundits, Canadians apparently don’t really give a toss about whether their politicians are women or men.  People are just interested in how well the politicians do their jobs.

That’s pretty much how it should be.

- srbp -