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June 11, 2014

Women In Power, Women in Politics

Last night I went to an event called ‘Women in Power.’ I wasn’t sure what to expect outside of knowing that there would be wine (yey), some presenters, and that it was a political event. I arrived, talked with some women who shared their experiences, and my confusion as to why we were there. When the presenters started it became clear that we were there so that we could be encouraged or groomed into entering politics in some way, and that the need for more committed, dedicated women who were willing to take the chance and run for office (at any level) is huge. Not shocking to me, knowing that women are severely underrepresented in all levels of politics even though we make up of a little more than half of the population. I’m still confused as to how I ended up on the guest list, but I am going to take it as a sign, that I need to get more involved, which is something that I have been entertaining for a while.

The first presenter was Minister Theresa Oswald and as she was speaking, about her own experience, and experiences that many women in positions of power, in politics, experience, it seemed a bit like a stand-up comedy bit. When she detailed the challenge of juggling many roles, of being late as you drop your kids off at school having stayed up late baking a perfect batch of cookies for their bake sale, while on the phone to ensure your parents’ home care has been arranged and they are being looked after, while trying to at the same time ensure that your constituents are represented and the budget you are trying to pass is a strong one, while having to work harder, show up before and stay later then your male counterpart, go home and run a household, raise your children, and maybe if there is time afterwards and you aren't too tired, have sex with your husband laughter erupted. She discussed her first experience with politics began when she was dating the then Minster of Education, and had the thought “I don’t want to be sleeping with the Minister of Education; I want to BE the Minister of Education.” Much to my amusement she also mentioned the importance of comfortable footwear and the absurdity of wearing heels which are a form of footwear I have sworn off forever.

For me, it wasn't funny, although I can understand her intention was to keep the conversation lighthearted. It was soul crushingly depressing. Because it's not funny, it's not comical. For me, that's the reality that I will face if I want to be successful outside of my home, if I want, one day to enter into politics...and who do I have to look up to? The statistics are depressing and the female role models are few and far between because the barriers for women to enter into the political realm are vast and they are steep.

One women I spoke of, who is an entrepreneur and single mother said that after fighting all day, to be heard, to be acknowledged, to grow her business and take care of her family she fights tooth and nail and that she is too tired to attend additional committee meetings, or task forces and just does not have the energy at the end of the day to focus on the bigger picture. Another woman explained that when she had started teaching in the 1970s her colleagues had to resign if they got pregnant, and would need to re-apply and hope they got hired back if they were to take any type of leave. Theresa Oswald spoke of being the first female sitting cabinet minister to become pregnant and no maternity leave policy being in place. I thought of my own experience and even though my father was helpful, understanding and an active feminist, my mom was still alone. My mother still had to fill in the gaps, have her pension and her career suffer, give up her individuality and independence and in turn was titled ‘mother.’ I want more than that. I don’t want to ever stop being Delaney in order to be a mother. I don’t want my title to be so simply reduced to one word that replaces everything else that I have worked up to that point for, while my partner (if there is one) is able to hold on to all of his titles, attributes, and accomplishments while adding one more badge of pride, ‘Dad.’

I shared stories of the covert sexism and misogyny that I had faced in University while participating in student politics. Talked about we are subconsciously taught to behave and think a certain way from the day we are born, and how over the last few years I had been un-learning, un-packing, and re-learning some of the messages so engrained. Why is it necessary to sit back and wait for my partner to propose to me in order to enter into a new chapter of our commitment together? Does it not make more sense that it is a conversation we are both involved in, both participate in and agree to. It seems to that conversation (or lack of) can and will set the tone for our marriage if there is to be one.

In speaking with my partner after returning home, who is by the way caring, compassionate, and generally very understanding of some of the struggles and frustrations I face, but still privileged in that he is a man and will never have to endure some of the treatment that I have, asked what some of the speakers identified as barriers for women entering politics. I told him that I didn’t need a political speaker to spell the barriers out to me. I knew. I know. I know what prevents women from getting involved an engaged in politics, in positions of power. Because I’ve felt them, and experienced them first hand, and every time I do, it’s a reminder that there is no gender equality. That I may have the right to vote, wear pants and work outside of the home, but that every damn day I have to fight to show up and be heard. Have to fight harder, longer, and more eloquently to be valued and respected. Have to make less mistakes, be more sure of myself, and that even so, my physical appearance and how well I take care of my family and my home will always be more valued then my ideas, my opinions and what I have accomplished professionally. That my brothers, and my partner will be respected and valued simply by being present, but that more will always be expected of me because I have boobs.

It’s bleak out there. It’s going to be, and is tough. It’s a man’s world and that is a fact. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t connect with other like-minded women, that I can’t continue to challenge my own ideas and understandings, and that I can’t continue to show up and fight every day so that maybe one day a girl will be able entertain the idea of a political career and have plenty of role models to choose from.

Fighting back,
Delaney C

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