February 20, 2018
As one political science professor says: “Men have pretty much monopolized things for a heck of a long time.”
How the #MeToo women’s movement is changing politics
Some Progressive Conservatives shopping for a leader say they want someone with no “skeletons in the closet.”
“With everything that’s happening right now with the sexual misconduct (allegations) and all that kind of stuff, it’s really about having someone that does not have to worry about that,” Debbie Salmons said at a recent campaign event for Caroline Mulroney, who’s making a bid to lead Ontario’s official opposition and compete for the premier’s seat in the June election.
Being a woman doesn’t automatically diminish someone’s potential to engage in harassment, but Salmons is among those who think it’s time for one to take the helm in part because Brown initially stepped down in a #MeToo moment over allegations of sexual misconduct that he denies.
The movement — which encourages women to speak out about harassment and show solidarity with each other — has sparked calls to get more women in politics, something that may already be happening south of the border. But advocates are skeptical that alone will lead to meaningful change.
In a dramatic turn of events Friday, Brown, the MPP for Simcoe North, was booted from the PC caucus and then entered the leadership race he himself triggered, with hours to go before the deadline to sign up.
If the party approves his candidacy, Brown will face off against Mulroney, ex-MPP Christine Elliott, anti-sex-ed champion Tanya Granic Allen and former Toronto councillor Doug Ford — a self-branded political outsider.
That three of the candidates are women mirrors a trend south of the border, where an unprecedented number of women are seeking to run for office, including Rachel Crooks, who had accused President Donald Trump of kissing her against her will and is now vying to join Ohio’s state legislature.
Since Trump was elected in 2016, more than 30,000 women have contacted Emily’s List, an organization dedicated to electing more Democratic women, about making a political bid.
Many link the surge to #MeToo and the 2017 Women’s March.
“(Brown’s original ouster) would seem a very natural occasion for men aspiring to leadership positions, men generally and of course for women, to think enough is enough, and we need more women to run for political office,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson.
He said a democracy should be a level playing field for all voices, and as #MeToo sheds light on how the scales may tip away from young women in particular, “it’s understandable in this climate there would be a sense that men should take one or more steps back.”
“Men have pretty much monopolized things for a heck of a long time,” Siemiatycki said.
But advocates say it’s not enough to just elect more female leaders.
“I don’t necessarily believe that adding more women to politics will change anything unless those women are willing to challenge the status quo,” said Arezoo Najibzadeh, who runs Young Women Lead, a civic engagement group that’s drafting a guidebook for dealing with harassment on the stump.
Meaningful change requires a shift in culture and policy, she said, noting the leaders of the other two major parties are women, yet Queen’s Park still lacks wholly non-partisan mechanisms to support survivors.
“There a disconnect between what the survivors say they need in order for that culture change and that support to become available, and what the parties are willing to provide,” Najibzadeh said.
“A lot of times when there is politicized and partisan approaches to addressing sexual violence, it focuses on punitive behaviour . . . and really making sure the party is saving face.”
Regan Preszcator, co-founder of Story of a Tory — a blog by “young, Conservative, feminist women who are trying to bust myths about our ideology and our party” — isn’t partial to a woman taking over solely because of #MeToo, and is personally backing Mulroney.
She said the movement is going through “growing pains” and is concerned that the slew of women speaking out and dominating in the headlines will create backlash from those who might think it’s gone too far.
“As more women start to come forward and talk about what happened to them, we see it’s kind of become divisive among members of the parties or public,” Preszcator said. “But we’re optimistic as this conversation continues it’s going to strengthen our democratic system.”
That division may also propel Ford’s camp.
Ford brands himself as the anti-establishment candidate and first-time supporter John Barnard said that’s why he’s the right person to tackle harassment. Barnard’s general impression is that party “elites” protect each other and perpetuate so-called bad behaviour.
“Politicians have their own circle of friends,” the Mississauga resident said at a recent campaign rally. “You need somebody from the outside who’s going to get in there, shake things up, and for the people.”
Ford could also appeal to people who think #MeToo has swung the pendulum too far.
Cultural and economic insecurities — including resentment toward feminism and the rich and powerful, respectively — are what’s fanning populist sentiment in Ontario, said Michael Adams, president of Environics and author of Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit.
Because #MeToo exposes how that privilege has played out and seeks to put things on an even keel, it can create “status anxiety” among some, usually white men.
That includes “everybody who’s kind of swallowed the egalitarian pill and is now asserting equality and think somebody’s losing here. In every case it’s white heterosexual men who used to have the privilege of being a white heterosexual male,” Adams said.
People experiencing status anxiety helped elect Trump to the White House.
Closer to home, Ontarians feeling similar uncertainty would likely back Ford for premier should he secure the Tory leadership next month, Adams said.
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