The headlines read: equality has been achieved. There were simultaneously six female premiers governing over 85% of Canada’s population. The headlines argued: the rise of women in Canadian politics is unmistakable and unstoppable. One would hope this would mean gender is playing a reduced role in politics. Unfortunately that is simply not the case. Not only are only 25% of elected officials in Canada female, a closer examination of Alison Redford resigning as Premier of Alberta was covered by the media demonstrates that her downfall was influenced by her gender as well as treated by the media in a gendered way, holding her to a very visible double standard.
“Mediation” is the process by which the media turn an event or issue into a news story, and an eye-catching one at that (Linda Trimble 3). This mediation can become gendered, as seen in the Redford case. The language that described the turmoil within caucus during the days before her resignation is the language of violence and warfare. For example, a Global News video described her leadership as “under siege” with caucus in “turmoil”. Linda Trimble has made the case that using warfare-themed metaphors promotes a masculine view of political power (Trimble 5). Warfare is associated primarily with men and when this masculine imagery is used, it makes women appear to be political outsiders, unfit and unworthy of power (Trimble 5).
When MLA Len Webber resigned from caucus in protest, the media coverage reported that he had called her a “bully” and “not a nice lady”. It is clear that if the premier had been a man, no one would have called him not a nice gentleman. This juvenile name-calling appears to be only appropriate when applied to female leaders. No one has the expectation that a male leader should be nice. Gender is clearly at play where Redford is expected to comply with gender stereotypes and be weak, nice, submissive feminine leader. The fact that she was called a bully demonstrates that when a woman utilizes a more masculine style of leadership, she is struck down for breaking gender roles. A gendered double standard seems inescapable for women.
This gender double standard also emerges when we compare Ralph Klein and Redford. Redford was accused by Webber of throwing “temper tantrums”. When Klein was in power, he was known for his temper. While he was challenged him over it by opposition parties, his own party did not punish him for it. It was never seen as a detriment to his leadership. However, when Redford was accused of the same tactics, she was determined to be an unfit leader.
The double standard continued with the scandal over flights. Redford was accused of misusing government funds when she charged the government $45,000 for her flight to Nelson Mandela’s funeral. She was also accused of misusing government aircraft by falsifying flight manifests so she could fly alone. However when Klein misused government aircraft, he was not forced to resign. One could argue that his abuses were even worse. Between 2003 and 2004, Klein abused government aircraft at a cost of over $250,000 as the government planes flew empty 235 times (Lakritz). At one point, he used the aircraft for a side trip to Nova Scotia to golf (Lakritz). Klein was quoted as saying that he preferred the government aircraft because he could smoke on board (Lakritz). His view on flying alone was, ““I’m not going to stop using it and I’m not going to subject myself to two or three hours out of my day to get a commercial aircraft at the international airport. So whether there’s just me or whether it’s full, I am still going to use it”.
Redford was also accused of using the government planes to attend party events, as for example when she combined attending a hospital opening with a fundraising event in Grande Prairie (Lakritz). However, this was a common practice for Klein and when the practice was brought up he stated, “If it so happens that some party business is mixed with ministerial business, so be it. What is the big deal?” (Lakritz). When challenged about these alleged abuses, Klein simply stated, “There is no abuse going on. The abuse is in the minds of the people who think there might be abuse. Abuse is something that is very subjective” (Lakritz). His party never called for Klein to resign. His statements make it clear that his behavior was not seen to either be an abuse or if considered one, not one serious enough to merit any action. While he did receive some criticism from opposition parties, the media and portions of the public, he never repaid any of these expenses and his leadership was never questioned by his party. It is clear that the Progressive Conservative party held Redford and Klein to completely different standards.
This is further seen when she was decried for taking her daughter on the plane, but external criticism was never enough to make the PC party do something when Rod Love, who was not Klein’s chief of staff at the time, rode on government planes at public expense, even when he rode as the only passenger (Lakritz). Having her daughter accompany her can be seen as part of what it takes to be a woman and mother in a leadership role. Women in politics often face criticism that they do not spend enough time with their family. But in this case, Redford was criticised for attempting to balance family and career. Flying alone was no problem for Klein’s friends, but it became a problem when a woman did it.
While we cannot excuse Redford from her abuse of government aircraft, we, the viewing public, must reminder ourselves to look for the gender politics in play underneath the surface. Politics has not become a place of gender equality, but rather a place where sexism is just harder to see.
Lakritz, Naomi. “Double standard takes wing for Redford and Klein.” Calgary Herald 13 March 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2014
Trimble, Linda. 2014. “Melodrama and Gendered Mediation: Television Coverage of Women’s Leadership ‘Coups’ in Australia and New Zealand.” Feminist Media Studies 14:4, 663-678.