Women in Politics

There was a lot of talk this weekend on the twitterverse on the lack of representation of women in the House of Commons. Paul Dewar, who is running in the NDP leadership race, released his policy paper on more equal gender representation in our democratic institutions by having women fill at least half of Cabinet, tying public funding to the number of women candidates political parties attract and making the Status of Women as a full government department.

This segment between Sam and Ainsley on the West Wing sums up a lot of my feelings on this topic:

By having quotas or affirmative action, we’re dealing with symptoms of the problem and not the root cause. And unfortunately, sometimes a turnover of a generation is needed to make large strides in an issue like women’s rights. My sisters and I are incredibly lucky to tread the paths that were blazed by our foremothers, and we do have it better. When we choose to stay at home and be the primary parent, its a choice that we make for our families rather than a default that is expected of us. When we’re in the boardroom, we don’t need to be aggressive for others to take us seriously but would rather be using our natural talent for compromise to get consensus and can be assertive without being called a bitch.

I know a lot of my  friends will disagree with the second half of this sentence but for me, being a woman is like being of Indian descent- I was born that way and don’t deserve any different treatment (positive or negative) because of these traits. I would much rather you like me or not based on who I am and judge me based on what I’ve done. As a woman interested in politics, I have seen the way women candidates get treated and the comments made in backrooms, which can fill the spectrum from insipid to insulting. Some of these are by other women. Sometimes it makes me happy that these women don’t think of womanhood as one big exclusive sorority party in which we all have to stand together. By playing the gender card less often, people get judged based on ability and not by the stereotype developed around their gender identity.

Glass ceilings are cracking and women are running countries as well as Fortune 500s. Let’s not chalk this up to being from a woman, but rather because these people have been gifted, insightful and hard-working. Let’s get closer to the day when our daughters and sons will be incredulous that people were judged on anything but the inside…

Note: The reason this post more or less took the whole weekend to write was because I got distracted by family dinners and the Superbowl…  Woah, fulfilling both gender steorotypes FTW!

One thought on “Women in Politics

  1. I don’t know, I think quotas or affirmative action have their place. There are two main reasons I would bring up. First, the fact that women still make up an extremely small proportion of positions of power (political, economic, and even academic) is in fact a barrier to keeping more women out of these positions. There are a bunch of reasons for this, the top two in my opinion being that people tend subconsciously or otherwise to hire people who are like them, so men tend to hire men. And second, and perhaps more importantly, the qualities that are seen as important for being in these positions (often ruthless competitiveness combined with the desire and ability to work unreasonably long hours) are not qualities that women are typically brought up to demonstrate (whether by nature or nurture). Whether these qualities are in fact necessary to hold these positions is debatable, but by only hiring people who have these characteristics, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And second, there is evidence (from a paper about gender quotas in municipal or local-level political positions in India – I can’t find the damn paper, and yes, I did try to do research to post a comment on your blog) that the very fact of having women in power changes peoples’ opinions about whether women make good leaders. In this particular case, villagers were asked about whether they thought a woman would make a good leader before they’d ever had a woman elected in their village, and then after. Of course beforehand they all thought women would be terrible at the job, and then when the women had actually done a good job, suddenly everyone changed their mind. This is particular to countries with more overt sexism (where a majority of people, men and women, will actually come out and say something like “a woman can’t make a good leader”). But I believe these ideas are still pretty firmly implanted in Western societies too, although they manifest themselves much more subtly. I this is indeed part of the “root of the cause,” as you say.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating some kind of mandatory 50% quota everywhere in politics, business, and academia. I’m just saying I don’t think some measure of affirmative action is a bad idea.

    Ok, this comment is inappropriately long 🙂 Sorry about that. I might have to write my own blog post about it…

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