Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is “a lesbian tree hugger.” Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, “a dumb bitch.” And depending on who you ask, B.C.’s Christy Clark needs to either button up her shirt or simply take it off.
These are the kinds of tweets, Facebook posts and comments you’ll find collected at Madam Premier (warning: strong language), a new blog dedicated to exposing the vitriol hurled at Canada’s female first ministers.
“Premiers are the most powerful people in their respective provinces. Their jobs are hard enough without having to be criticized on the basis of their gender,” said the blog’s owner, Diamond Isinger.
“If I wasn’t already involved, this certainly wouldn’t encourage me to enter into public life or electoral politics.”
A resident of Vancouver and a self-described “policy wonk,” Isinger only started the blog Tuesday night. By Wednesday afternoon, nearly 3,000 people had visited the site.
The blog is part of a new “naming and shaming” tactic, where activists point fingers at those posting hateful speech online. Last year, a Toronto feminist made headlines for identifying the man behind a violent and misogynistic video game. Shortly after, a Calgary man was fired from his job for mocking Amanda Todd on Facebook.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Isinger said. “I think this kind of behaviour needs to be shamed.”
A surprising number of comments — most of which are profane or sexual — appear to be posted under people’s real names.
“It signals that we have a culture that’s comfortable with this kind of thing. People feel they can say this stuff without repercussion,” said Isinger.
York University’s Dr. Jennifer Jenson says that by aggregating misogynistic comments, blogs like Madam Premier show that sexism is still a systemic problem.
“It’s about compiling it so that it doesn’t seem like it’s just one guy doing this,” she said. “When you see it this way, it’s a literal documentation of the different kinds of people who feel compelled to say derogatory things about women in power.”
Jenson’s research revolves around gender and the Internet, and she says online comments made about female politicians often differ from those directed at men.
“We never say ‘did you see the bulge in the Premier’s pants?’ That kind of statement doesn’t get tweeted,” she said.
A veteran of 18 political campaigns, Isinger said there’s a relationship between the comments on her blog and the way the media covers female politicians. She feels women leaders are more likely to be sexualized in the press, or have their qualifications called into question.
“Take Kathleen Wynne, for example. A lot of pundits and media outlets have been referring to her as ‘too radical,’ which is basically just a codeword for her being a lesbian,” she said.
At a press conference Monday, a producer for a Toronto radio show asked Wynne about her penchant for pantsuits and questioned whether she owned any skirts.
The incident sparked an immediate outrage on Twitter.
Wynne (right) was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but a spokesperson for her office said that despite a few negative comments, reaction to Ontario’s first female premier has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are past that. People are past the idea that a woman can be premier,” said Kelly Baker.
There are six sitting female premiers in Canada right now, making it the first time in history a majority of the country’s first ministers have been women.
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These women are pushing political boundaries that many are uncomfortable with and I say good for them. I do believe it was Hillary Clinton who fired back at a reporter once. The reporter asked her who her favourite designer was, and she replied “would you ever ask a man that question?” Keep going strong ladies, you are leading the way and carving out a path for future generations of women.