MP Sitsabaiesan undraws the line

Rathika Sitsabaiesan recently appeared in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Her Twitter feed was filled with 140-character-long comments on the one thing that seems to matter when it comes to young women in parliament: cleavage.

MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan
MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan (rathikaonline)

Her response? “It’s a non-issue, and we’re not going to talk about it.”

The youngest, first and only Tamil-Canadian member of Parliament’s photograph became an instant media sensation once it was discovered that there was a version with her cleavage airbrushed out.

Former Scarborough Southwest MP Michelle Simson tweeted about it on Sept. 24: “OK, so NOW I get it. Just read in 2day’s paper Rathika’s been really busy this summer … ‘airbrushing’ cleavage out of official Parl. foto.”

Some of Simson’s other tweets about Sitsabaiesan mentioned difficulty in getting in touch with her and the lack of an official constituency office.

“It’s very difficult to find a landlord to rent to me at a price that’s affordable,” Sitsabaiesan said in response. “I’ve spent the last month having my staff work out of my apartment. But I am happy to report that we have an office now, it’s being renovated, at Morningside and Sheppard.”

Simson explained her tweets were not meant to be negative.

“To me it wasn’t any issue at all,” she said. “It just seems to me that people zero in on what female politicians are wearing, whether they’ve gained weight, whether they’ve lost it.”

Tharsini Sivananthajothy is a student at the University of Toronto in Scarborough and a member of the Tamil Student Association. She is an ardent fan of Sitsabaiesan’s work.

“She speaks out for issues like lowering student tuition fees,” she said.

Sitsabaiesan said she expected the scrutiny that she is under right now.

“I had that expectation when I committed myself to a public life,” she said. “I knew that I would be under a microscope.”

Sitsabaiesan became the first South Asian woman to win an election in the Carleton University Students’ Association during her undergraduate years.

“The community feels I’m going to be the one to solve all the problems,” she said. “But I’m a member of Parliament in Canada and that’s my jurisdiction.”

Her most rewarding experience so far? Working with children and helping them realize the extent of their ambitions, she said.

“Meeting young children who are usually racialized, who now say, ‘You know what, I want to be Canada’s prime minister’,” Sitsabaiesan explained. “That is the biggest reward for me so far.”