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The Lack of Women in Politics: Focus on the Obstacles

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Last night, the Toronto Star published an article that asked: "Where are the female provincial candidates?"

The writer, Tanya Talaga, often writes about the lack of women in Canadian politics and I applaud her for taking on this fight. I don't, however, agree that we should focus on party nominations. We need to address the reasons why women don't want to run for office in the first place, without being pursued by political parties.

I believe that equal political representation is incredibly important. I'm an activist. I care about my city and its people and there is much I'd like to improve. People tell me that I would make an excellent political candidate because of my passion, but when I think about the combative, dirty-pool, public-scrutiny-all-the-time, men's club that is Canadian politics, I cringe.

No one is exempt from media attacks, misrepresentation, and the shockingly popular appeal of prying into political candidates' sex lives and manufacturing scandals -- R.I.P. Adam Giambrone's very short political career -- but we need to recognize that women face additional obstacles due to sexism and a long history of second-class citizenry and erasure. This is especially important when considering the challenges faced by women of colour, poor women, Aboriginal women, and those from the LGBT community.

While I am both white and cisgendered, which gives me a one-up on many women in this country, I don't possess all of the traits of traditional femininity. I can already envision how I'd be attacked by media and opponents -- based on parts of my life that are unrelated to my ability to get things done -- and that doesn't appeal to me.

Being a politician seems to be more about bashing opposition and maintaining "proper" public image than actually doing things. I'm one of those women who, as Anne McLellan said, wants to "...solve real problems for real people."

Media depictions of women who don't conform to standard puritan ideals continue to be negative. If you don't believe me, read news about sex workers (who are dehumanized) or sexual assault cases (in which victims are often blamed. Let us not forget what happened to Lara Logan).

When it comes to politics, it's no different. In just one of many examples, the Toronto Sun ran a cover that compared Helena Guergis to a black mutt. No matter how outlandish this seems to some of us, the way media represents women stems from actual ideas about women, and how they should be treated and perceived. Scott Alexander Ross wrote about his experience while canvassing door-to-door for Christy Clark in Kelowna, B.C.:

"I entered the garage and saw four men of varying ages and one younger woman around a supped-up quad. I introduced myself, explained why I was there and the importance of joining the B.C. Liberals to vote for their choice for the next premier. I handed out flyers, each having a picture of Christy Clark on them and before I was finished I was interrupted with questions of her relationship status, of her body shape, and other questions of increasing inappropriateness. These soon turned into comments of a similar nature."

As if this wasn't enough to turn me off of politics, there's my lack of money and fundraising skills. There's also the possibility of my reproducing. If I decide to be a mother, I will be presented with few childcare options and unless I find myself in a very fortunate position, I will be saddled with the majority of domestic tasks. I would likely find pursuing a career in politics impossible.

Canada is increasing its number of women in politics, having just elected a record number of women during this past federal election. This is important. According to Equal Voice:

"Polling shows that women care about different issues. The United Nations says that a critical mass of at least 30 per cent women is needed before legislatures produce public policy representing women's concerns and before political institutions begin to change the way they do business."

While it's true that men and women often care about the same things and gendering concerns can be problematic, we mustn't forget that people advocate for causes that affect them directly. I don't think that a 54-year-old man has the same concerns about reproductive rights as I do, and even if he does it's probably not on his list of priorities. This is what makes many voters skeptical of a system with mostly white, male, heterosexual candidates. We want the system to change but when we don't see ourselves represented, it's more difficult to feel comfortable getting involved.

Until we address all the reasons why our political system is unattractive to many women, we won't see a truly representative government, and that is a much larger task than offering incentives and nominations.

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