Call her Clark
Many of us do it - men, women, liberals, conservatives, - in the media, over coffee, at work. We call her Christy.
We call her Christy. We call her Hilary. We call her Sheila. We call women politicians by their first names, rarely by their last names or full names, and even more rarely by their titles.
I assume that, for must of us, this is not an intentional slight at women’s competence or leadership capabilities. Still, when we speak about one group of candidates so informally, and distinctly from their male counterparts, we effectively undermine any semblance of power or authority they had.
We don’t call him Adrian. We don’t call him Steve. We don’t ask him where he bought his shoes, or if he considers himself physically attractive. Generally speaking, the only times Canadians refer to male politicians by their first names is when blatantly mocking them, or perhaps, speaking about them in an endearing way (i.e. “Jack”).
By consistently referring to women politicians in this way, we either inadvertently mock their leadership abilities, or personify them as softhearted and loving – great characteristics, but not what everyone looks for in a decision maker.
When we speak about female politicians this way, it’s no wonder women in Canada are less likely to put themselves forward as leadership candidates than men are. Improving gender equality in government means first increasing the pool of qualified female candidates. Unfortunately, as is argued in the documentary Miss Representation, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.
Without many female leaders to look towards, Canadian women and girls have a tough time envisioning themselves as leaders in government. And by speaking about those few examples they do have so flippantly, we hardly give their imagination much to work with.
Putting my (and their) political leanings aside, I’d like to propose that we change the way we talk about female politicians. That we talk about women in politics with the same level respect we tend to grant their male counterparts. Because whether or not it’s intentional, many of us are guilty of belittling or slighting women politicians simply by virtue of the way we reference them.
So whether or not you vote for her, I’m asking that you call her Clark.
Author Jackie Pichette is the Research and Communications Officer at SFU Public Square