Electing more women to city council

The other day, I wrote about the announcement by Emilie Taman that she would be running for city council in Capital Ward. It’s too early to make any grand pronouncements on her candidacy. The campaign hasn’t officially started, so she’s not technically running yet, and we’ll still need to see a platform and hear what she (and any other candidates) has to say.

One thing I did note, though, is that it’d be good to elect a woman, all things being equal.

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years (and earlier) about the dearth of women running and winning political office. After the last election, we went from a paltry six woman on council (out of 24 members, mayor included) down to four. Groups like Equal Voice have been working to change that, but this is going to be a long struggle.

I made a decision a while ago, and I’m going to share it now. If presented with two candidates of roughly similar merit, one a man and one a woman, I’m voting for the woman.

In 2014, such a commitment would have meant choosing Michelle Reimer over Jeff Leiper in Kitchissippi, Catherine Fortin-LeFaivre in Rideau-Vanier and Catherine McKenney over the field in Somerset. It would have meant Laura Dudas over Jody Mitic in Innes (well, Dudas was clearly the better candidate, anyway). It probably would have meant choosing Kim Sheldrick in Osgoode, and either Sheila Perry or Penny Thompson in Rideau-Rockliffe (I’m hedging on these ones, because I can’t really remember the races as well…give me a break; it was four years ago).

This isn’t about tokenism. It’s not about getting women elected purely for the sake of electing women. There are important reasons to do this.

First, the experiences of woman and men tend to be different, and, too often, public policy is tilted towards the needs of men, as they’re the ones making the decisions. This can present itself in rather obvious ways (say, taxing tampons because they’re a “luxury” good), or it can be far more insidious. Stockholm recently instituted a gender-equal snow plowing policy. Studies showed that women were more likely to walk, whereas driving was dominated by men. So, city government shifted their priorities to ensure that sidewalks, bus lanes and bike lanes got cleared first.

Now, this isn’t to say that all women have the same experiences, certainly not. But, the more women we get on council, the more likely it will be that the needs of women are given equal priority to the needs of men.

Second, representation matters, beyond specific policy. It is important that all members of the population are able to feel properly represented by council. It’s important for everyone to feel that people like them have access to political power.

Finally, I’m doing this to combat any latent biases I have. I’d like to think that I always and forever judge everyone fairly, but I know that, as a society, we judge women differently, and it would arrogant of me to feel that I’m magically above all this. Last time ’round, I caught myself falling into this sort of trap while watching a Kitchissippi debate. Here’s what I wrote:

I was quite interested to see how Reimer was to fair. At first, I wasn’t too impressed. She didn’t jump into the back-and-forth as much. She wasn’t getting her message across, and she seemed tentative, almost as if she just didn’t have enough of a grasp of the issues or solutions to hold her own against Hobbs and Leiper.

Then I caught myself.

It was Reimer’s tone and style that undermined her candidacy, not her actual arguments or policies. I realized that Reimer was speaking in a manner that society often conditions women to speak. If a woman is too assertive, she can be labelled as bossy. Strong women, who wear their strength on their sleeve, will either be undermined or demeaned, or they’ll be ignored or mocked for not knowing their place. Politics is still very much a man’s world–that’s obvious in this municipal race, and obviously a problem, too–and a female candidate has a fine line to walk. You have to play the game and stand up to men. If you don’t, you’re not strong enough to do the job. However, if you play the game too well, you’ll be cast a bitch.

So part way through the debate, I started listening to Reimer with this firmly at the front of mind. I noticed that she was polite and deferential. She demonstrated humility and acknowledged, implicitly, that others had valid perspectives to offer. I had to ignore these aspects of her performance to properly judge the candidate and the platform.

Her arguments were just as strong as the other candidates, more or less, and she displayed the intelligence and wisdom that we should all want in a civic leader. Her primary failing was that she too perfectly played the role that society tends to impose upon women. That’s absolutely no mark against her; it’s a mark against us.

This is the biggest reason why, if presented with two roughly equal candidates, I will select the woman: it is quite possible that I will be subconsciously discounting her candidacy; if I think the two are roughly equal, then there is a good chance she is the significantly better candidate.

So, no, a move to elect more women to council isn’t about tokenism; it’s about finally giving women something close to a fair shot at winning (putting aside all the reasons why women may be deterred from running in the first place).

Now, I think you could read all of this and say, what about other marginalized people, will you do the same thing? Pretty much everything I wrote would apply to other under-represented members of our city, so, yes, I think  I will


2 thoughts on “Electing more women to city council

  1. Pingback: “Why are you running?” | Steps from the Canal

  2. Pingback: Alta Vista Endorsement (for real, this time) | Steps from the Canal

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