Examining Women’s Participation (or lack thereof) in Political Campaigns: Part 2 of 3

The Race to become Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

The previous blog post from earlier this week left us at a loss to understand why women tend to shy away from political campaigns, despite their favourable odds (we saw that women’s success rate in university student government elections was almost 20% more than their male counterparts’). Perhaps a look into Belinda Stronach’s leadership campaign in the race for the position of leader of the Conservative Party of Canada against Stephen Harper may help us understand why. An article by Linda Trimble, a Political Science Professor at the University of Alberta, takes a closer look into some of the more peculiar obstacles faced by Stronach in the 2004 Conservative Leadership race. Personally, I found the following observations to be notable, at the very least:

  • Although Stronach enjoyed at least as much (sometimes more) media coverage than the male candidates in the running to become leader of the Conservative Party, her visibility did not result in the perception that she posed a serious challenge to the eventual winner.
  • In the media stories that mentioned her, Stronach’s marital status was raised four times as often as Stephen Harper’s marital status.
  • It was apparent through the media’s criticism of all the candidates in the leadership race, that there was a larger range of language available to condemn female speech and to criticize women.
  • The media’s basis for criticism also appeared to be gendered: men were criticized most often on the basis that they were “policy wonks”, whereas Stronach’s overall competence was questioned, including the adequacy of her education.

From these conclusions about the media’s differential treatment of and response to Stronach’s campaign, perhaps we can approach some conclusions as to why women decide to participate in political campaigns at a disproportionately lower rate than their male counterparts.

However, this conclusion presupposes that women’s disproportional representation in political campaigns occurs as a mere result of women’s choice to forego the drudgery of political campaigns. I for one, am not entirely convinced that women merely choose not to participate.

Thus, I invite you to stay tuned to this week’s final post that will examine one example in particular, of what would appear to be an institutionalized barrier within our electoral system that poses an obstacle to women’s participation in politics.

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