How Not To Talk To Women
Don't tell women they don't understand numbers or economics or policy. Doug Ford came very close to doing this in the first Ontario election debate when he patronized the sitting premier by telling her that she didn't understand numbers. This was the same debate during which he insisted (with his one term on Toronto City Council) that he was the only one with “government experience.” Huh?
Don't tell women to stop being so emotional or to be rational. Remember UK Labour MP Angela Eagle being told to “calm down, dear” by David Cameron? And Kim Campbell being called hysterical?
Don't talk about their age, their weight, their hair or their looks at all. I don't even know where to begin with this one — but it's not just the Trumps or the Berlusconis (Italy's former PM). Every woman politician in the world has experienced this, whether she occupies the right or the left, whether her party is progressive, anti-colonial or draconian.
The ANC's track record on this in South Africa is appalling, as is pretty much every political party's in India. In 2016, Alberta's health minister, Sarah Hoffman, was derided constantly for her weight — in the legislature, by legislators. At the other end of the political spectrum, BC's then premier Christy Clark was asked, live on air, what it was like to be a “MILF” (mother I'd like to f*%k). Michelle Bachelet, then president of Chile, was called “mi gordi” (my fat one) by her finance minister. U.S Democrat Maxine Waters was mocked live on air by Bill O'Reilly of Fox News: he said he didn't listen to a word she said, because he was looking at “her James Brown wig.”
DON'T CALL WOMEN DOLLS OR BABES
Don't call women dolls or babes or anything remotely like that. Gerry Ritz, you can disagree with fellow MP Catherine McKenna's politics without calling her “climate Barbie.” Believe me, she's my MP, and I disagree with her politics.
Don't land on looks as the way to compliment women in politics. Yes, even Obama had to apologize for calling Kamala Harris, then California attorney-general, the “best-looking attorney-general in the country.” Every woman who has ever been a politician, or run for office, or worked in politics has stories to tell about such backhanded “compliments.” Yes, every single one.
Do not, ever, talk about which woman politician you'd sleep with or which one you think is attractive. I've already mentioned Trump and Berlusconi, haven't I? So many Republicans talked about their attraction, or lack thereof, to Hillary Clinton, that her looks became one of the main reasons to not vote for her. When Dilma Rousseff was impeached along partisan lines in Brazil, the opposition yelled “Tchau querida” (bye, lover).
Don't feel like you have to share your opinion on women's marital status. Or their children. Or their lack of children. You don't have to like Kim Campbell or her party politics (although she's pretty funny on Twitter!) to believe she shouldn't have regularly been called unstable, simply because she was divorced. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard could write books about all the ways in which men have parsed her choice to not have children.
Also, don't opine about women's pregnancies. Or that they may become pregnant at some point in their careers. New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, often compared glowingly to Canada's own Justin Trudeau, as beacons of progressivism in this age of Trump, had to deal with question after question about her ability to have a child while being PM. Funny how men in high office who have children simply get to smile and graciously accept the congratulations of the world. Does anyone remember how many children John F. and Robert Kennedy had while president and attorney-general?
Do not, ever, talk about the looks of women's children. Rush Limbaugh and his dig at a 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton should be forever scarred into every politician's memory as a “what not to do” moment.
DON'T COMMENT ON WOMEN'S SMILES
Don't comment on women's smiles, or lack thereof. Doug Ford, that one's for you. But, of course it's not just him. Think of all the times you've heard men in politics and in the media tell Hillary Clinton to “smile.”
Don't ever, ever, ever, talk about women as witches. Don't talk about women as animals — especially those of the female persuasion. It's no more flattering to be called a tigress than a bitch.
Don't talk about sexual acts of any kind in relation to anyone. Rob Ford, no surprise, did it. But so did a whole string of Liberal, Conservative and NDP politicians, provincially and federally. There are too many to list.
Don't compare women to food, even as a “joke.” An Australian MP once held a fundraising dinner featuring “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail — small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.” And I can't believe I have to even say this but do NOT EVER threaten women: that means no using their images for target practice (Rachel Notley and Hillary Clinton and Wendy Davis and and and. . .). That means no leading or tolerating chants of “Lock Her Up” — looking at you, Chris Alexander.
I haven't even touched upon the reams of blatant racism, especially against Indigenous folks and Black folks, or the homophobia and transphobia that people experience on a daily basis. Stay tuned for a follow-up commentary that chronicles the travails of trying to do politics when you are not white and/or not straight and heteronormative.
Archana Rampure now lives and works in Ottawa. She was born in India, lived with her parents in Saudi Arabia and in the United Arab Emirates and immigrated to Canada as a teenager.