Veteran politician Olivia Chow still faces misogyny today

Despite leading the polls, Olivia Chow is at the forefront of misogynistic comments

Olivia Chow speaking in front of a window at a meet-and-greet
Leading mayoral bet, Olivia Chow, addresses supporters' questions and concerns at a meet-and-greet event. (Ireland Fidale/Toronto Observer)  

As the current frontrunner in Toronto’s byelection for mayor, Olivia Chow says she has faced misogynistic attacks throughout her political career.

In a predominantly male-dominated line of work, women in politics face tides of sexist comments and behaviour, based on superficial and unrelated factors to their campaigns and leadership qualifications.

“It’s always fair to scrutinize people in public office on the merits of their decisions and the policies they put forward,” Chow said in a statement to the Toronto Observer.

“However, it’s a sad reality that women in politics often receive sexist comments about their appearance and other things that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job.”

Chow is currently leading the polls with 31 per cent of the decided vote, She has been involved in the Canadian political sphere since the mid-1980s.

In her campaign to make Toronto a more affordable, safe, and caring city, Chow has laid out plans to build more housing, improve crisis response, and address the homelessness crisis, among other points.

Despite this, she and many other female candidates continue to face misogyny.

“It’s because there are stereotypes that are still at play, whereby women are seen as invading traditionally-male space in leadership,” said Peggy Nash, former New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament and current chair of the advisory board and visiting lecturer at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). “Whether they are in the media, or politics, or any kind of leadership position, they’re not seen as traditionally legitimate. Then there are people who think they’re fair game for that kind of criticism.”

According to the City of Toronto website, 10 of 26 current councillors are women. Women make up 38 per cent of the council, an increase from 2022 when eight of the 26 elected councillors were women.

Ageism in politics

A repeated criticism of female politicians is being “too old” to handle their position properly. Other industries also perpetuate the stereotype of the “sunset year,” once women turn 40 years old.

Clare Beckton, the executive director of the Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership at Carleton University said that ageism is fed by a myth of the comprehensible decline in older people and the dominance of the culture of youth.

“Men are not criticized for being over 40, but considered to be leaders with wisdom and experience,” said Beckton. “Although, we are seeing ageism playing out even with male candidates in the U.S., but not until their 70s and 80s.”

Winning 62 per cent of the vote in the 2022 mayoral election, 69-year-old John Tory won the mayoral seat three consecutive terms, beginning in 2014.

Yet, with almost half as much support, 66-year-old Chow is deemed too old to accomplish the same position in office.

“I can’t change how old I am. I can’t change my gender. You know, ethnicity, all of these things are things you have no control of, and have actually no bearing on your ability to perform well in your job,” Nash said.

Female stereotypes in politics

In politics, many hold the image of a “strong, decisive man, who can deal with issues of the economy, military, etc,” said Beckton. This image can go against what women are taught to be in society. Raised to be agreeable and likeable, women in politics do not fit this box of how people imagine a leader.

“Women are expected to be feminine, but not too feminine, and decisive but not too masculine,” said Beckton.

Beyond the scrutiny a woman has to face for her image or the way she presents herself, comes the struggle of having to overcompensate and work harder to be respected, she said.

“Women have generally had to work harder to prove themselves. Mistakes have been judged more harshly when committed by women. If a woman fails, there is a tendency to say that women are not suited for these roles, but if a man fails it is never about his gender. Women have felt the need to work harder to ensure that they do not fail,” Beckton said.

Women often overcompensate in their work compared to their male counterparts. Statistics Canada found in 2021 that 76 per cent of women work harder in their daily jobs than men.

Beckton also said that “the media can and should play a role in changing these stereotypes and support women as equally competent leaders.”

Facing misogyny in the 2023 Byelection for Mayor

Despite the comments thrown at Chow, she does not let the misogynistic push get to her.

“I don’t pay attention to the hateful comments directed towards me. As a racialized woman, I’ve received them a lot over my long political career,” Chow said.

“We have to stand together to fight back against racism, misogyny and other forms of hate. If we support each other, we can make it easier for women to pursue and hold public office.”

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Posted: Jun 20 2023 12:30 pm
Filed under: News Politics