Gender and femininity shouldn’t be a reason to criticize someone in politics

Trudeau liking yoga should not be a primary criticism about him

With the 2020 United States elections coming up fast, outrageous politics are on our minds once more. Articles about who said what about who, what, where, when and why are quickly flooding our news feeds. It’s good to stay informed, but it can be hard in times when it feels like politics are more like playground spats than dignified public servants in civil debate. While Canadians may want to believe we as a society have moved past name-calling and offensive comments, the current state of Canadian politics says otherwise. 

The Conservative leadership race is well underway, and candidate Peter Mackay has already made a few jabs at the opposition. In an interview with the Toronto Sun, MacKay said that he’s a guy who enjoys an active lifestyle. “[Trudeau] does yoga. I play hockey,” he said. 

It isn’t a difference one would think a Conservative candidate would prioritize, but it wasn’t the first time MacKay’s leadership team poked fun at Trudeau’s hobby. In a tweet on MacKay’s verified account, they wrote “while running for leader of the Liberal Party, Trudeau’s campaign expensed $876.95 in yoga sessions and spa bills for Justin Trudeau. Liberals can’t be trusted.”

While it’s understandable to be upset about a Prime Minister spending frivolously, this particular point seems to stand as an attack on Trudeau’s masculinity, and drawing a comparison to hockey makes MacKay seem like a more palatable, masculine candidate. In Canada, we may like to think that we’ve evolved into a more feminist age, but it’s remarks like these that show us just how much that isn’t true. Femininity, especially when present in a male politician, is the first thing that’s criticized by their opposition. 

More recently, Parliament was debating a review of the National Parole Board after Marylene Levesque, a Quebec City sex worker, was killed by a convicted murderer on parole. Laurel Collins, a New Democrat MP, asked Conservative MP Arnold Viersen if previous Conservative legislation that criminalized safe spaces for sex workers may have played a role in Levesque’s death. Viersen responded by asking Collins if she’d ever considered sex work. While Viersen was booed by the entire room and would later apologize, the comment was inappropriate, and had no place in a supposedly equal workplace. 

Viersen tried defending himself saying “I do not think any woman in this country ever chooses this as a job. This is something they are trafficked into.”

While Viersen’s comment is untrue, and many women enjoy their job and choose sex work of their own volition, Collins acknowledged and thanked Viersen for his apology. But she urged him to extend it to all women, and said “denigrating sex work & criminalizing the very things that would keep sex workers safe contribute to increased violence.”

Ultimately, these comments within Parliament and attack ads are a reminder that femininity is looked down upon in politics, and misogynistic ideas still perpetuate our system of politics. There are plenty of reasons to dislike certain politicians, but their gender and/or gender-coded hobbies should not be an effective jab at their leadership. As we watch the U.S. move into their elections season, we should be aware of and critique these ideas when they arise — and never forget that we also face these problems here at home.

Bree Meiklejohn

Bree Meiklejohn is a first-year classics and creative writing student. She’s also an aspiring writer who loves dogs, Earl Grey tea, and pretending to know what she’s doing.

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