It was a little thing, apparently. A tweet, a bit of digital detritus, something that comes and goes, with little or no attention paid. Happens all the time.
What made it significant was not its casual sexism, or even that the tweet’s author (a high-profile columnist) or its target (a former deputy chief of staff to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty) are both female.
No, what made it most noteworthy was that, after the sexist tweet was tweeted, no one really said anything. No one really objected. Not even the government of the current Ontario premier, herself female.
The occasion was the appearance of senior Ontario Liberal Laura Miller before a political circus masquerading as a legislative committee. As Miller testified about the decision to cancel gas plants — an issue considered moot by voters in McGuinty’s Ottawa South constituency, where they recently enthusiastically elected a former McGuinty aide to replace him in the provincial legislature — the columnist tweeted: “[Miller] looks and talks like a Valley Girl. This woman was the second most powerful person in the Premier’s office? Sad statement.”
What was “sad” was that the columnist — who I won’t name, and who (like all of us) shouldn’t be offering anyone tips about their personal appearance or diction — didn’t think the tweet was a problem. Nor, apparently, did any of the small army of communications specialists within Kathleen Wynne’s government. They didn’t object at all. Not a peep.
Perhaps it was because they did not want to get on the wrong side of the arch-conservative columnist (unlikely). Perhaps they didn’t notice the tweet (unlikelier). Perhaps there is a growing divide between McGuinty-era Liberals, and the freshly minted Wynne ones (likeliest).
Whatever the reason, one thing was axiomatic: What was noteworthy wasn’t the rank sexism. In politics, women get hit with that all the time, pretty much. What was significant, instead, is that even progressive political voices remained mostly silent.
In a scrum, with a straight face, Ottawa Citizen reporter Glen McGregor asks Conservative MP Michelle Rempel what hair products she uses. No one objects. Before her re-election, B.C. Premier Christy Clark gets called a “MILF” by a radio host — that is, a “Mom I’d Like to (Expletive)” — and the ostensibly progressive B.C. NDP say nothing.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath gets called “a whore” by a radio commentator, and the other political panellists on the show — labour leader Buzz Hargrove and business leader Catherine Swift — say nada.
The sexism is bad enough; The indifference of people who should know better makes it measurably worse.
It doesn’t always happen that way. Many years ago, I posted a picture of an Ontario Conservative MPP on my website, and suggested she would rather be “baking cookies” than standing on a stage with a far-right political candidate. I was roundly condemned for my stupidity, and many times, too. I deserved every bit of it, and more.
There are other infamous examples. Former Liberal cabinet minister Belinda Stronach gets called, variously, a dog, a whore, a bitch and a prostitute — and her critics (all Conservative politicians) are widely condemned. John Crosbie dismisses Sheila Copps as a baby, and ends up boosting her reputation, and diminishing his own.
Too often, however, these things pass without comment. Sexism directed at female politicos receives a collective shrug. It’s almost worse than the sexist remark that preceded it.
Oh, and Laura Miller? She’s no dummy. And she deserved a lot better than she got — not just from the columnist, but from erstwhile friends, too.