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Gender + Sexuality

The Backlash Against Women in Politics

MLA Shannon Phillips is just the latest victim of harassment and disinformation.

Lisa Young 12 Jun 2024The Tyee

Lisa Young is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. Her newsletter on Alberta politics is What Now?!? on Substack.

I spent a good chunk of my academic career studying women in politics — the barriers that keep women from running for office and from winning party nominations, and the impact they might have once they are elected.

Those were optimistic times: barriers would be eliminated, women would take their rightful place in political life and public policy would be better.

What I — and others — didn’t see coming was the backlash that these women would experience. The study of women in politics now is less about understanding the intricacies of nomination contests and more about documenting and theorizing the gender-based violence women in politics experience.

This affects women across the political spectrum but is particularly intense for those who have the audacity not just to be women in positions of authority, but also to challenge the status quo.

It’s not a coincidence, I suspect, that both Catherine McKenna, the former environment minister in the Justin Trudeau government, and Shannon Phillips, the former Alberta environment minister in the Rachel Notley government, have decided to leave the political arena after years of harassment and threats of violence to them and their families.

Girls and women are socialized to play by the rules. We’re offered an implicit deal that if we do what we are supposed to do, the system will reward us, or at least look out for us.

Phillips isn’t the first woman to discover that the system doesn’t share that understanding. But I can’t imagine a clearer message from the system that “you’re on your own” than the decision of Crown prosecutors not to pursue charges against the Lethbridge police officers who surveilled her.

Ask any woman who has been in a position of authority or visibility if they have an experience of the system shrugging its shoulders and reassuring them that they probably aren’t at risk of physical violence from that creepy cyber-stalker/emailer/disgruntled former employee. They’ll have one. Or more.

And so, Phillips has done the only reasonable thing she could do under the circumstances: leave politics and step out of the public eye. It’s Alberta’s loss that her talent and experience won’t be in the legislature anymore.

And it’s a win for the guys who harass and intimidate. As long as the system lets them get away with it, they will keep winning.

Who will be next? My best guess is Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek. The vitriol she is experiencing on social media, egged on by the columnists, would be difficult to tolerate.

To Shannon Phillips: thank you for your service. You’ve contributed a lot to your province and your party. And you deserved better treatment than you got.  [Tyee]

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