Female politicians aren’t “cute”

I’ve had the chance to do some pretty extensive journalism, which has been both enrapturing and informative. Some of the stories I have been able to hear, and some of the people I’ve met impress me still to this day. Some on the other hand, leave me reeling.

We live in a nation with some of the best policies, some of the best ideas and some of the greatest people. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave us immune to scathing comments, participation in regretful events, and ideas that can be second-guessed by the international community and ourselves.

For me, March 13, was a day of conversing with politicians, although luckily, not about politics. The basis of my political interviews was really more about the person behind the title, which is just as informative. In the morning I had the chance to meet with Dave Levac, MPP for  Brant County, as well as the current speaker of Legislative Assembly of Ontario. We had the chance to chat about the Ukrainian Holodomor (extermination by hunger) genocide of 1932 and 1933, concluding the meeting with conversation about the interview I had lined up for later that evening; one with Sheila Copps, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada (under the Chrétien government).

Saying that the Copps family is well known in Hamilton is an understatement. Younger generations in Hamilton may look to the Copps Coliseum Sports and Entertainment Centre, and think that to be the extent of the name, yet older generations know the names Sheila, and her father, Victor. Victor had a fourteen-year (the second longest), tenure as mayor of the city, from the early sixties to the late seventies. Sheila recalls, as a little girl, traveling with her father to bingo halls across the city; passing out fliers, while he gave speeches to those playing their game. These first memories of politics stuck in the mind of the young girl. It was something she clung to through her political career, through her battle being a female in politics; back when that wasn’t well heard of, and now in her retirement from politics.

Copps was a Member of Parliament for Hamilton East for twenty years, as well as  the Environment Minister and eventually the Minister of Heritage (while still an MP). She also became the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada. There was even some indirect offers to become Canada’s ambassador to UNESCO.

While in the former role of Deputy Prime Minister, she had approximately thirty-two hours of meetings a week before even seeing someone outside of the party, which added on another round of meetings and interactions. Personally, I’m shocked that at the things she was well known for like, “being the first person to have a baby in office.” I’m also shocked by the degrading comments she received by male counterparts when she would get passionate about an issue including: shrill, cute and perky. This shouldn’t be allowed.

Unbeknown to several Canadians, there are some words that have been deemed unparliamentarily and therefore not allowed anymore in the House of Commons. This list includes such things as A trained seal, Canadian Mussolini, pompous ass, piece of shit (used by Justin Trudeau) and fuddle duddle (used by his father). Yes, fuddle duddle (the Pierre Trudeau fuddle duddle incident is worth a read) but in my mind, the words directed at Copps were in fact unparliamentarily.

Copps stated to me that this was another one of the challenges of being a woman entering a man’s world (of Canadian politics). Now, we have six female Premiers spread across the provinces and territories (just under half of the total). But, when Copps was starting out, there was really only the short-lived Prime Minister Kim Campbell before her, so the idea of a strong female voice was unique.

The fact that our elected members of parliament were openly sexist, as recently as in my lifetime, is simply disgusting. I thought we were a nation of open minds and cultural diversity; a nation of the famous five, who asked the government of Canada: “Does the word persons in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?” This would allow women to run for Senate. Canada answered no. This was contested eventually, and the persons case won. Personally, I thought our nation would have moved on from this behavior after sixty-two years–apparently not.

As a nation, we are only 146 years old. We are a comparatively young country, but this still is the 21st Century. Therefore, immaturity and discrimination should be habits of the past in our so-called mosaic of a nation. For the past forty days, we’ve had an openly lesbian Premier in this province. Kathleen Wynne shares a hurdle with Sheila Copps, but also has a new one to face. I honestly wonder if our nation will be mature enough to view the person behind the gender and behind the sexuality.

It’s only been seventeen years since Copps left her role has the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada. Only one new generation has had the chance to reach voting age since the comments made to her. So, I really don’t know how personalities such as Kathleen Wynne or even Eva Aariak, the Premier of Nunavut, will be treated in the House of Commons. I just hope my male counterparts will be respectful, and restrain from categorizing them with the derogatory term cute.

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