Sexism: Niki Ashton’s toughest opponent in #ndpldr

@polilego’s take on Ashton’s pregnancy

Update: the piece I had been writing in the process of doing this research has been posted! You can read it here.

I’ve been very surprised at how little people have talked about sexism and the NDP leadership race. With two male front-runners, and the majority of attention being on the men, there has been no shortage of examples to discuss. Recent debates about how the NDP deals with violence against women came close, but barely, and so much criticism was drowned out by both the general noise of an election race, but also claims (both very legitimate and sometimes illegitimate) that people were using the issue of violence against women as a political tool.

But the bro-lidarity (as I saw somewhere and damn I wish I could give credit to who) is undeniable. Dude domination in politics is not unique to the NDP, of course, but the party that is supposed to do better than all the rest should be fostering critical reflection about how to dismantle the patriarchy within the party itself.

I want to focus on two ways in which the maleness of the NDP leadership race has bothered me.

One is an anecdote and it comes care of Avi Lewis and Maclean’s Magazine. In a Q&A with John Geddes about The Leap, Lewis said something unintentionally and accidentally profound: “I think what’s striking about all four leadership candidates — with the exception of Nikki Ashton [sic], who is playing more overtly to the left — is that they’re all trying to thread the needle between the expectations of the Ottawa bubble and the fear of being portrayed as outside the politically acceptable by the guardians of the mainstream.”

From the Maclean’s Q&A

In the same breath, Lewis references “all four” candidates and then cuts himself off to mention that, well actually, there’s this woman running who is “playing more overtly to the left,” before once again generalizing about the leadership candidates. “They’re all,” he says immediately following his aside, rendering Ashton invisible. Ashton, who apparently bucks the trend he’s frustrated with, isn’t worth more than a quick aside. Never mind that Maclean’s couldn’t even spell her name correctly.

Ashton’s platform is closest to the vision that Lewis has, but she’s an afterthought, forgettable and lumped into the mass of all four candidates. Then worse, she’s not really responsible for her own platform. His group is.

The Leap should be promoting, supporting and boosting the candidates who come closest to their politics, shouldn’t they? Why isn’t Ashton at the front of his mind? Why is she an aside, while he focuses on The Men? Are they more credible? Are they more memorable? What is going on here?

I don’t want to pick on Lewis because he absolutely doesn’t represent the worst of the sexism that has come out of the NDP leadership race. But it seems the repeated message is: Ladies, good luck if you enter politics. You will likely be ignored, even by people who align closest to your policy aspirations.

But on the Left, Lewis’ reaction to Ashton feels way too familiar. Women overlooked by men. Men doing the public work while women doing the grunt work, and so on to infinity.

Media coverage also gives us a glimpse into how The Establishmen [sic] views Ashton’s candidacy. Caron and Ashton have consistently received the least coverage. Caron is in last place, but the same can’t be said of Ashton: her polling has been respectable, enough to certainly warrant more coverage than she has received.

Some examples:

Suggested reading below the Maclean’s interview with Avi Lewis

On September 18, I counted Toronto Star articles based on the candidates names as key words. Angus and Singh came out on top with 71 and 69 articles respectively. Caron came in at 57 articles and Ashton at 52. I adjusted for articles written before the leadership race.

An analysis I did today using the National Post’s website shows that their articles have been mostly tagged with all four candidates’ names, as the discrepancy wasn’t significant when I did the same search. However, if you add up the nature of the article based the headline’s tone (positive, neutral or negative) and who it references, a very different picture emerges. Singh has the most headline mentions, at 29, with only three having a negative character. The majority were positive.

Angus only had 10, with four positive mentions and only one that could be seen as negative. Caron only had five, but three were positive.

Ashton is the only candidate to have not had any that were positive and three that were negative, out of a total of eight. Two of those articles were about her being pregnant.

The Globe and Mail is even worse: the only two articles that mention Ashton in a headline are about her pregnancy and then her twins reveal.

Of course, part of this is going to be influenced by how sophisticated each campaign team is when it comes to journalists. But it doesn’t account for all of it, especially with Ashton’s only mentions from one of Canada’s national newspapers is because she is gestating little humans. That is systemic sexism in the most classic sense.

Ashton dropped an important policy today: the most audacious childcare policy of the race. The communications cynic in me says that she should have done that when she announced she was having twins. She’d take advantage of the media’s bias towards women in politicians, pregnancy and parenthood all in one shot. But I assume she didn’t exactly because of this trap. It’s where progressive politics clash with crass PR maneuvers.

Will she get the coverage that such an important policy deserves? I doubt it. I’ll update this tomorrow and let you know.

*update** this is what searching Google News in the last 24 hours gets you: nothing.

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