Politicians of every stripe must combat misogyny
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In the current political climate, in which co-operation and consensus-building are viewed mostly as quaint and antiquated notions, the idea that elected officials from across the political spectrum should unite on a single topic seems as close to impossible as the business of governing can become.
And yet, earlier this month, politicians from opposing parties — females all — spoke with one voice against the constant barrage of online abuse faced by women who seek and attain public office. The in-unison assertion followed a troubling but all-too-typical stream of demeaning comments directed at Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson.
Earlier this month, politicians from opposing parties—females all—spoke with one voice against the constant barrage of online abuse faced by women who seek and attain public office.
In response to the hateful remarks aimed at the province’s first female premier — negative comments that focused on her physical appearance rather than anything involving political policies or decisions — New Democratic Party candidate Renee Cable had recently taken to Twitter to defend the Progressive Conservative leader and call out the online harassment.
“As a… candidate for this year’s (provincial) election, let me be clear,” Ms. Cable tweeted, “I don’t support toxic bullying of any women in politics, regardless of party or position. We can disagree without doing that.”
In a story that appeared in the March 2 edition of the Free Press, numerous other female officials lent their support to the anti-bullying sentiment and shared their own stories of online abuse.
Progressive Conservative MLA Rochelle Squires recalled facing a torrent of misogynist abuse within 24 hours of first being appointed to cabinet seven years ago. NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine discussed how many women and non-gender-conforming politicians must endure daily doses of online vitriol focused largely on the way they look or the way they dress.
Liberal MLA Cindy Lamoureux said the toxic nature of social media prompted her to sign off Twitter completely and limit her engagement on other platforms, opting instead to connect with people by phone or in person.
That female elected officials should set aside their partisan differences to unite in speaking out against such abuse is hardly surprising; the toxic garbage they face from internet-dwelling trolls emboldened by their online anonymity has almost nothing to do with the personal/party politics of those who are targeted.
What is surprising is the apparent absence of male voices in this discussion of an issue that deserves a response that transcends gender, ideological inclination and any other consideration that sets people on their own unique political journeys.
Whether it reflects a lamentable relative lack of interest by male politicians in this issue or not, they shouldn’t need an engraved invitation to show up. Any discussion of online bullying and abuse should include an emphatically unanimous condemnation of such harassment regardless of where it originates and at whom it is directed.
The evolution of social media has made this much clear: the proprietors of these platforms care not a whit about the negative impacts of their creations. Limiting the abuse and toxic misinformation that have proved so corrosive to 21st-century societies is not a priority; maximizing the monetization of personal data mined while users are engaging online is.
Against that very daunting reality, it is incumbent on politicians off all stripes, and genders, to continue to loudly condemn the abuse faced by those who are willing to seek office and pursue public service.
Though it might not seem like it these days, there is still a time and place in modern politics for the setting aside of partisan differences in pursuit of the common good. The confrontation of online abuse is most decidedly such an occasion.