If you’re male, between the ages of 16 and 90, you can stop reading now and move on to the sports page. This column is not for you.
I want to address the female population of the province about the events of this past week, especially the resignation of our first female premier.
My message? Don’t let it get you down.
Just after Kathy Dunderdale announced she was leaving the top job to make way for a leadership convention, tongues started wagging. I heard one fellow declare in a coffee shop that Dunderdale had set back the political ambitions of women by at least 20 years. That’s Neanderthal thinking, but a lot of those within earshot seemed to nod in agreement. My verbal protest did little to change that attitude.
How strange that in such an enlightened age, where equality among races, religions and genders is a bedrock value of Canadian life, we can still hear such mutterings.
When then premier Brian Tobin talked to his mountain and vacated the eighth floor at Confederation Building to head for Ottawa, I never heard anyone say he had set back the political ambitions of men.
But women in politics are measured by different standards, and because women are still relatively new to the blood sport, any fumble or mistake is met with more biting criticism than is deserved.
For centuries, politics was the exclusive purview of men and it has taken a long time for the fairer sex to catch up.
Their battle for the right to vote and to stand for public office is well recorded. I find it hard to imagine there was a time when women were not recognized as persons in Canada; instead, they were considered property. How sick is that?
Today, women enjoy all the rights and freedoms of men in this country.
They can vote, run for office, they can win and they can fail — just like the guys.
Like it or not, Dunderdale’s premiership is being chalked up as a political failure.
Her slide in the polls over the last two years and her destructive communications style did little to attract voter support.
She made a number of mistakes. Recent interviews and public appearances left people feeling as if she wasn’t in touch with them or their needs.
But her successes, her failures and her eventual resignation had nothing to do with her gender. This is the thrust and parry of politics, and gender shouldn’t count.
My fear is that her perceived failure will be viewed by women as a good reason to stay out of the fray; that a lot of ambitious women interested in political life will look at the Dunderdale experience and say, “That’s not for me.”
Why would any self-respecting woman put herself through the torture of being second-guessed at every turn and judged, not on her policies but on what she wears or how she does her hair?
I can appreciate the anger and angst over such superficial silliness.
Sadly, the double standard that exists in politics will be around for a long time yet. There is only one way to change it.
So this is no time to get gun-shy.
Women with dreams of public service, ambitions as burning as that of any man — and a hide to match — must stand up and fight even harder for a voice at the political tables and in the boardrooms of the nation.
I would like to think that women will view Dunderdale’s time in the premier’s chair as advancing the cause of women in politics, not setting it back.
The first female mayor of Ottawa, Charlotte Whitton, once said, “To succeed in politics a woman has to work twice as hard as a man, twice as long as a man and do twice as much as a man, in half the time, to be considered equal. Fortunately, this is not difficult.”
Whitton was a trailblazer.
So was Dunderdale.
Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.