Taking my seat: Gerry Ritz says Barbie, I say empowering female leader

We need to talk about the words we use for women in politics

Image supplied by: Supplied via Wikipedia
Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna. 

Causing controversy in the Twittersphere on September 19, Conservative Canadian Member of Parliament Gerry Ritz referred to Catherine McKenna, Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, as “our climate Barbie.”

We should hold our elected government officials to the highest of standards, right?

Yet Ritz uses this reference of the famous fashion doll to exert power over a female who is objectively more powerful than him. While I don’t completely understand what he was trying to get at, his intention seems demeaning and insulting.

Do you use that sexist language about your daughter, mother, sister? We need more women in politics. Your sexist comments won’t stop us. https://t.co/WVMnm7EyEY

— Catherine McKenna (@cathmckenna) September 20, 2017

Using inappropriate language to identify and describe women is happening everywhere across the globe. As I continued to research ‘sexism in politics’ and ‘sexism in the media,’ I felt like I was going into a deeper and darker black hole. I even opened an article — somewhat regrettably — titled “Donald Trump Sexism Tracker.” This article was lengthy and had a timeline that started in the 1980s — it’s safe to say this issue isn’t new to the political world.

As I continued down the rabbit hole, I found more disturbing cases of sexism in politics, such as a European Member of Parliament opposing equal pay because he believes women are weak, small and unintelligent. Close to home, Michelle Rempel’s National Post article talks about the frequent sexism she and her female colleagues experience as women working in the government.

Why do we talk about women like this? During my time at Queen’s, I can remember a day where I had the opportunity to be the only female on a panel discussing the impact Queen’s students have in the Kingston community aside three other males. I was really proud of myself. I think it took some guts and definitely a lot of confidence to speak on a panel with only older and distinguished men.

But then at the end of the discussion, a male colleague came up to me and said matter-of-factly, “you talked really forcefully.”

Right… so I spoke with conviction? Power? Is this something I have to accept into my career – criticism for my confidence? Do I have to quiet my voice to be respected around the table? For my opinions to not only be heard but also listened to?

I thought we were past this.

What really worries me is that we continue electing people who don’t view women as being equal to men. Because of this, sexism in politics and the media has almost become normalized.

When Trump was elected, I honestly thought while this was an incredible setback, his election and decisions during his first few months of office would serve as a wake-up call for Americans and the world.

Instead, I think it has legitimized a lot of his values. Now we know you can freely use derogatory terms to describe women on platforms like Twitter and still be viewed by many as a suitable option to serve the highest honour as President of the United States.

So what do we do? We elect women. We elect feminists. We hold people like Gerry Ritz accountable for his words. We stand up and demand more from people who we should always hold to the highest standard.

There is immeasurable work we still need to do to change the way women are spoken about in politics, but at least we have a clear path of where we need to go from here.


Canadian politics, Politics, sexism

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