Sexism is a problem. So, too, is sexism. And the fact that we can openly discuss the one and not the other is doubling down on sexism.


I: THE BATTLE OF THE SEXISM (you are here)




British Columbia is an interesting place in which to study the battle of sexism. As of the most recent election, the ratio of women to men in the legislature, while the highest it has ever been, is still 16% below the 50-50 ratio that one might expect in a sexism-free society. The ongoing disparity has provoked the BC NDP to create a diversity quota that restricts future candidates by gender (as well as race, disability, and sexuality); that is to say, that modern pariah, the white, heterosexual, bi-pedal male should wait at the back of the line before applying. Meanwhile, upon noticing in 2012 that she was less popular with women than she was with men, BC Premier Christy Clark held a women-only meeting. Both policies are discriminatory against men, and yet many feel that they are justified by the gender imbalance in BC politics. I disagree.

Discriminating against anyone, for any reason other than merit in the area to which they are applying, is serious business. Allowing sex or gender to be the deciding distinction between candidates is a dangerous precedent to set, and so before tacitly authorizing political agencies to undertake such a drastic action, we must demand critical study in the area where they claim there is an unnatural disparity.

When considering if intervention is required, we must first establish that there is a likelihood of systemic sexism that is causing the alleged problem. If fewer women are elected to the BC legislature because (or partly because) some of the voters are sexist, then that would not be an example of systemic sexism. Unfortunate as it may be, the rules of democracy are clear: the voters get to decide. We cannot tell the people who to vote for, no matter how egalitarian and well-meaning our intentions.

Personally, for example, I think society would do better with more academics in politics (to the chagrin of Canadian voters who hated intellectuals such as Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, while adoring man-of-the people, Jack Layton, who did his best to hide his academic pedigree). As much as our government may be better served by a more intellectual culture, the people have the right to their prejudice against the erudite among us. This may not be ideal, but the benefits of allowing everyone in on electoral decisions necessitates the unfortunate result that we allow everyone—even bigots—in on the decisions.

If, however, it can be found that there is sexism inherent in the infrastructure of our political process, then that would be antidemocratic, because it would suggest that a few people running the system are influencing the results that represent all of us. The people have a right to be sexist; our institutions do not. And so, given the continuing disparity of women versus men reaching political office (and complaints that women still have an unfair disadvantage), I would favour a nonpartisan, academic investigation into our political framework to see if the intuition that there is a systemic problem can be verified.

Thus far (without such a targeted study cited in my listening), the only potential culprit of systemic sexism I have heard mentioned is that women have a more difficult time becoming candidates because—while the electorate will vote for them—those with the chequebooks to fund political campaigns are less likely to support women than men. It’s possible, of course, that this is a nonsexist discrepancy: it’s conceivable that, if there are general differences in the personalities and aptitudes of the sexes, the style by which men tend to fundraise may happen to resonate more with financial supporters. However, by allowing fundraising success to be a significant factor in determining the candidates for public office, we are inviting a small percentage of people (the wealthy) to have a greater impact on our elections than the rest. Thus, if it turns out that such high-income people tend to be sexist in their decision making, then by a loophole in the democratic process, we would be condoning systemic sexism.

But the solution to systemic sexism is not NDP-style systemic sexism in the opposite direction, which is a blunt instrument that may overcompensate for the problem. Far from combatting systemic sexism, such a policy increases it, while hoping that the offsetting discrimination will create a zero-sum level of sexism.

Instead, then, if we agree that the ability to convince a few wealthy citizens to contribute money to one’s campaign is not a quality that is intrinsically relevant to political office, then we should take such fundraising out of the equation. Political candidates ought to be allotted equal funds by their parties. This may be a major change to our political system, but given that the NDP have successfully imposed a discriminatory policy based on race, gender, and sexuality to choose their candidates (without a major backlash), there is clearly an appetite for a significant adjustment in the name of egalitarianism.

Nevertheless, in spite of that commonsense antidote for possible systemic sexism in political fundraising, the muddy waters in which BC’s discussion of sexism resides have blocked any consideration of it. All sexism is bundled together as one problem that can only be solved by parachuting more women into politics.

Women-in-politics advocacy group, Equal Voice BC, argues for increased female representation by noting that women are more likely to work on important women’s issues, and that, in general, governments that include a critical mass of women tend to accomplish more because they are less combative. In other words, Equal Voice BC supports gender-profiling political candidates. I would say this anti-male argument was despicable if it weren’t so common, and unquestioned in the media.

I have yet to witness a BC commentator acknowledge the distinction between gender representation quotas (where we require a minimum percentage of one or both genders for more balanced gender representation) and gender profiling quotas (where we require an increased percentage of one gender in a particular arena because they are thought to have superior abilities); while gender representation quotas at least have a theoretical basis in fairness, gender profiling quotas are openly claiming that one gender is more valuable than the other. Yet gender profiling quotas are able to ride the coat tails of the perceived fairness contained within gender representation quotas, and thus keep pundits from questioning them.

Moreover, the fact that the gender profiling of candidates is spoken of so freely among advocates (without fear of being branded by pundits as gender-discrimination purveyors) is evidence of a double standard with regard to how the media treats anti-male and anti-female sexism. If advocacy groups were ever to gender-profile in men’s favour, they would be promptly denounced as chauvinistic. That is, if someone suggested that we need a higher percentage of men in an occupation by arguing that there is a critical mass of men that would allow us to achieve a particular goal, that advocate would be wearing tar and feathers within the day (and rightfully so).

It may be the case that more women in politics would cause more work to be done on behalf of causes that benefit women (which may or may not be justified, depending on the society in which such work would happen), as well as generally getting more government tasks accomplished, but ethically, we ought to be asking whether those potential ends justify such discriminatory means.

Gender profiling quotas are a dangerous type of discrimination. Even if it can be established that one sex tends to be superior to the other in a particular trait, the real world disparity in the two sexes’ abilities would never fit the profile quota exactly, and so we would be dismissing qualified people because the group to which they belong happened to generally fare worse in the aptitude we were seeking. Although it is more work, I suggest that—instead of identifying the sex that more often coincides with a desired characteristic—advocacy groups should simply look for people who demonstrate the experience or aptitude in question.

For instance, if a feminist watchdog organization has evidence that a crucial issue is being ignored, they should promote candidates who seem to support their concern. Such politicians may happen to be more often women than men, but so long as they are selected for their individual merits, men would have no reason to complain of gender discrimination.

The blanket notion, in contrast, that we should aim for more women in politics because women will produce better results is an affront to the collective value that a person should be measured by his or her individual ideas and skills as opposed to his or her sex or race. If advocacy groups want to argue against that guiding principle, so be it, but they should be challenged by the same assertiveness from the media that would automatically be aimed at a group or person who would suggest that we should choose more men for a particular job “because they’re better at it.” And yet, when interviewing such sexist advocacy groups, most pundits don’t acknowledge the drastic measures being suggested.

I think the reason for such uncritical thought is twofold:

(1) Pundits are afraid to be seen as sexist if they criticize a women’s advocacy group, and

(2) Sexism has so many layers to it that commentators tend to treat it as one big black-and-white question: are you in favour of a society that discriminates against women or not? You’re either with them or against them, and if you’re with them, you can’t question the means they suggest for solving the problem.

The fact is, there are still fewer women in politics than men, and this very well could be the result of something chauvinistic; consequently, any means of combating the apparent problem is seen as righteous, regardless of whether it crosses ethical lines.

Some argue that such a double standard is justified by the double standards that likely caused the disparity in the first place. Once again, this line of reasoning compounds the problem by multiplying the double standards against each other; instead, then, I submit that our goal should be to seek out and destroy all sexism, regardless of its orientation: give egalitarianism a chance by having a genuine zero-tolerance policy for anything that contradicts it.

This means that one rule fits all. Commentators tend to point out examples where female politicians are treated more harshly because of their sex. I think this is a worthwhile exercise. The standard of investigation, however, is not applied equally to identifying examples of male politicians being treated more negatively because of their sex, or female politicians receiving less harsh treatment because of theirs. Such non-traditional sexism cases are sometimes noticed by the pundits, but they are rarely scrutinized with the same outrage as those where female politicians seem to be disadvantaged.

For instance, when Premier Christy Clark was criticized for making a phallic dysfunction joke at the expense of her ex-husband (after her microphone stand failed to perform at a speaking engagement), a regular pundit on CKNW’s Bill Good Show laughed and noted that Mr. Good’s microphone was bigger than she recalled. This piling onto the controversial joke prefaced her commentary that Ms. Clark’s irreverent remarks were being taken too seriously. Perhaps the commentator was right, and we should allow our politicians more room for “edgy” humour, but I suspect that if the joke were on the other sex, a Mr. Christy Clark would not have escaped criticism so quickly, and might even be out of a career by now.

Clearly, we possess a double standard in the way we respond to double standards: double standards against men are rarely treated as seriously as those against women. Until this trend is combated, a sexism-free political process is even further away than we hope.


I: THE BATTLE OF THE SEXISM (you were just here)




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